Bottoms Up

So, this past weekend was Spring Fling. We had the Roots: whether or not your hearing has recovered, you can’t deny that no other group has gotten the Williams campus into a show as much as these guys did. (And, as far as the post-show goes, they created a record for hook-ups with students –trust us.) We had a weekend of fun before two weeks of hell: Nothing starts off studying for exams better than three consecutive nights of debauchery. Work was weighing us down, but that was quickly forgotten. We had the culminating expression of all of those pent-up desires that somehow survived the winter: the liberating fling connections that are the product of so many cold months. And, finally, we had pig: while not a surprise, the burnt pig corpse on display every year at the Spring Fling barbecue really whets the appetite and inspires the imbibing spirit.

On that note, let us turn to our first beverage: R. H. Phillips Toasted Head Chardonnay 2001.

Adam: It’s a very flavorful chardonnay.

Steve: Strange, usually I’m used to just chugging the s&@t.

Adam: That’s when it comes from a box, Steve.

Inspired by the burnt pig carcass, we couldn’t help but pick this wine, one of the higher-end (but still affordable) offerings from an otherwise highly commercialized winery. (Dining Services chooses to serve R. H. Phillips at most of its trustee gatherings. You’d think that making seven figures would preclude your drinking such a beverage, but the trustees don’t have a choice; a nice Chateauneuf-du-Pape is rarely found at the Faculty Club.) We poured the wine without difficulty this time, but were confounded by its color. A relatively pure mellow yellow, it reminded Adam of weddings: light and cheery, but with dark undertones of impending doom. (Now that’s an optimistic view, eh?) Steve was too transfixed by the bottom of the bottle’s resemblance to Mt. Fuji to remark.

Toasted Head’s legs proved non-noteworthy (although perhaps they, too, bore a certain similarity to Asian mountain ranges), hinting at the wine’s mild alcohol content. This chardonnay gave off a multitude of strong aromas, with pear barely cutting through the mangled mixture. That the nose was slightly overwhelming was only partial preparation for the taste: what a spicy wine! While not as sweet as we were expecting, we were both taken aback by the combination of different tastes packed into every single sip. Steve was reminded of aspen by the wine’s raw, unfinished woodiness. Adam couldn’t escape the wine’s saltiness, making him wonder if its taste was part of an elaborate marketing scheme designed to keep customers drinking; perhaps, like Gatorade, this beverage should be chugged after sporting events (especially golf). At times, notes of sticky butterscotch popped through, but otherwise this chardonnay was pure spice. (Perhaps that’s caused by the aging process that gives this wine its name, whereby barrel heads are charred to achieve “caramelized oak tones” – but who has ever had a craving for caramelized oak?) Steve remarked that, were he to take a sip and then light his breath on fire, he’d breathe out incense (don’t try this at home, Brian Michener).

Next, onto Long Trail Amber Ale, made in nearby Vermont.

Adam: I feel like I should swish.

Steve: Did you have to swish in elementary school?

Adam: Yeah, but too bad it was with fluoride, and not with beer.

This beer, currently served on tap at that soon-to-be-venerable (?) Williamstown institution, the Red Herring, caught our eyes because of its local relevance and its relatively reasonable price (for microbrews). It exhibited a decidedly standard color, amber and copper with nice fizzies and a thick head. Certainly less fruity than other beers reviewed here recently, Long Trail gave off an almost unpleasant true beer aroma. We concur that this would not be a good beer for a first date, unless it’s going so badly that that first kiss is out of the question.

That said, Long Trail is a great pub brew. It’s hearty enough to serve to your friends on the football team, but has enough panache for your mom, and maybe even for your godfather (here’s to you, Don). Its semi-sweet beginning quickly yielded to a full-bodied middle, with only a hint of the metallic on the finish, sort of like lightly chewing on a piece of aluminum foil when you had those braces in 7th grade (although minus the pain). It somehow reminded Adam of matzoh, and Steve was impressed both by its Germanic emphasis on barley and by the artistic residue that it left behind on the glass, a mix between flaking plaster and Jasper Johns. This beer brought us both back to older times: Adam felt that Thomas Jefferson would have found this beer enjoyable on a cold 18th century night, whereas Steve was reminded of the good ol’ days with Grendel ripping the folks in the mead hall to pieces.

In conclusion: bottom’s up for Long Trail Amber Ale, with a mixed verdict on the Toasted Head Chardonnay. The beer is an all-around winner, a team player, a once and future favorite. The wine, on the other hand, is remarkably difficult to categorize, possessing so many different (and perhaps counteracting) flavors that these (pitifully poor) tasters don’t quite know what to make of it. Perhaps save the R. H. Phillips for a sultry summer night when neither you nor your significant other have showered, lending blessed ambiguity to the scents surrounding you: B.O.? No. Musk? Maybe.