Bottoms Up

It’s no lie, alcohol has its role on the Williams campus. Our goal in writing this biweekly column is to increase that role. But we’re not here to promote the overzealous consumption of beer, though Pabst will forevermore have a place in our hearts (and our stomachs). Rather, we’d like to encourage the conscientious, if enthusiastic, enjoyment of fine wine and beer, and, on those occasions when time is short but desire plentiful, good liquor. On that note, in today’s column, we examine – and let’s please be honest, we know as much about good alcohol as College Council knows about parking – a bottle and a brew, both alike in (un)dignity.

First, Fat Bastard 2001 Shiraz, from the Pays d’Oc region of France.

Steve: Mmm, hoppy.

Adam: There are no hops in wine, Steve.

Steve: Oh.

Upon first visual examination, Fat Bastard is intriguing. Due to the English nomenclature (the wine acquired its admittedly strange name when its maker tasted it for the first time and commented on its hefty weight and full body), the use of “shiraz” rather than the French “syrah,” and the hippopotamus logo (?) on the bottle, one might hastily presume that this is an American wine. But no trigger-happy elements are to be found here; after tasting, it is apparent that Fat Bastard reeks of French sophistication.

Or, pseudo-sophistication. Let it be noted that this wine is best accompanied by R. Kelly, not Chopin. While its deep color became apparent immediately upon pouring, what the wine displayed in hue it lacked in quality. Possessed of a decidedly meaty nose, Fat Bastard’s aroma left the impression of pepper, red berries and cannabis, though maybe that was just the girls next door. (The above represents our best attempt at wine snobbery, but truly, we couldn’t tell musty from nutty from plain old pot.)

As we swirled the wine, we noted that Fat Bastard had some ugly legs – the alcohol residue left on the side of the glass. The wine’s “legs” recalled chickens rather than Jennifer Garner. We both found the first sip bracing, with the wine’s sweet start and finish eclipsed by its hard, coarse taste and distracting mouth feel. (We swear, those are all legitimate terms.) Steve described the experience, saying, “It feels like multiple cotton balls have been stuffed into my mouth. I mean, not in a bad way or anything; some people like that stuff.” Adam thought that the feeling was akin to unripe banana on the back of the teeth, with an acridity on the palate.

Both of us found, however, that the wine improved with consumption (as any wine is bound to do). As is true of most shiraz, after opening up a bit the wine did exhibit an appreciable spicy boldness. “Get in my belly” jokes aside, we certainly preferred the second glass to the first, and one can only imagine what a third might offer.

Our second attempt at haughty analysis centered around the local Berkshire Brewing Co.’s Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale.

Adam: Needs some more time in the bottle.

Steve: Beer doesn’t age, Adam.

Adam: Ah.

While searching for Steel Rail info on the net, we came across many interesting things. The domain is actually owned by the British Broadcasting Company, not the Berkshire Brewing Company. Who knew? Upon pouring this brew, we noted its golden but cloudy color and thin head. We agitated the beer, and attempted to characterize its scent, but we couldn’t. Steve remarked, “It smells like sparkling,” and then suggested Crystal Light; Adam’s first impression was “yeasty,” but he then settled on Welch’s white grape juice. More suggestions followed, all fruity: Orangina, Lifesaver, star fruit, Michael Jackson, etc.

The beer itself, while lacking character (like Rodney Dangerfield), was certainly smooth, with some complexity on the finish. Lightly carbonated, the medium-bodied ale’s sweetness was refreshing but not overpowering. A sour aftertaste of hops lingered, but dissipated quickly. We did find, however, that a pint was enough to make us yearn for a heartier brew. This isn’t a beer for drinking games, but we’re sure that no one on this game-free campus is looking for such a thing anyway.

In conclusion: bottoms up for BBC’s Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale ($2.95 per 22 oz. bottle from the Spirit Shop). Fat Bastard 2001 Shiraz ($10.49), while purchasable at its relatively low price, should be reserved for gift baskets or for meals when your friends’ company leaves something to be desired and you need a few drinks before desiring your friends.

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