Bottoms Up

Beware false advertising – First Chance Dance resulted in a first chance for neither columnist. One is in a loving, committed relationship and, plus, happened to be away for the weekend, and the other focused too much on the “pre” and not enough on the “party.” So we figured we’d inaugurate this, our first column and our last year, with a situation as frustrating as the bar line was long: we pit a tempting beer outside our budget against a bad wine with a reasonable price. Like those unfortunate hookups that we know occurred this weekend – but that didn’t happen to us, (un)fortunately(?) – this combo is doomed from the start.

First, Hoegaarden. This is a “white beer.” And this weekend Williams hosted its first ever “Prep School Party.” Go figure.

But in this case, “white beer” doesn’t mean Nantucket reds and J. Crew flip-flops. White beer is wheat beer, meaning that it’s brewed primarily with wheat malt and contains only touches of hops – in layman’s terms, it’s light, smooth, thirst-quenching and it won’t give you bitter beer face. Hoegaarden advertises as the “original Belgian white beer.” In today’s world, when McDonald’s makes “America’s favorite French fry” (isn’t America’s favorite French anything an oxymoron at this point?), we really have no idea why being the “original” is that enticing. The Model-T was the “original” car, but who wants one of those today, when you can have a Hummer or a hunter-green BMW, instead? (Maybe Dorothy hasn’t left prep school after all).

As original as it may be, this beer deserves clichéd accolade: it’s damn good. Maybe not $8-a-six-pack good, but when offered, don’t turn it down.

Adam: It’s cloudy. Perhaps “wandering lonely as a cloud,” like Wordsworth.

Steve: Or, as Foucault would say, you’re having problems determining its mode of subjectivation.

Adam: I am a cloud.

After pouring correctly (it’s not that tough, but there are instructions on the back of the bottle), the aroma of fresh morning dew rising from a turf-less Poker Flats assails the senses. (Or maybe that’s just us waking up, counting the days until our Elysian field is torn asunder and falls, vanquished, before the mighty Poker Stadium: We who are about to die salute you.)

Despite its Belgian roots, this beer can’t hide its tropical yearnings. While not necessarily fruity, it is sometimes served with a lemon and, drinking it, you wouldn’t be amiss if you guessed a citrus tone amid the Isabelle-inspired effervescence. The first sip brings a strange combination of sweet and spicy; Hoegaarden feels like Christmas in July. It’s got a great mouth feel, and it convinces you right from the get-go that you could drink it all night. . .or all morning, depending on whether it’s Homecoming or not (we can’t wait). The finish is a little strange, with notes of celery, but it leaves the hope that maybe the drinking will burn more calories than the brew contains. While that’s probably not true, drink anyway. Order with caution, however, as the name might get you into trouble: it’s pronounced “who-garten,” not “red light district.”

Next up, Paringa Individual Vineyard Shiraz 2002, hailing from Australia. Our first reaction: “Eww.” But we’ll get to that.

Adam: The legs look like wax-drippings!

Steve: Adam, all the legs look like wax-drippings. Everything we write about legs – and everything else for that matter – is just first class crap.

In its 2001 iteration, this wine received great reviews from Wine Spectator. I guess that that just goes to show you how much wines can change from year to year, or how little even the experts know. (Probably the latter). When Paringa first touched our lips, we were excited: its beginning promised a fruity bouquet, full-bodied with notes of sweet cherry. When Paringa hit our tongue and then snaked its way back to our tonsils, we almost gagged. Salt! Or, as Steve remarked, “salty fish explosion.” Guest taster/Record editor Jeff Nelson ’04 exclaimed, “I feel like I’m drinking asphalt!” Record editor Ohm Deshpande ’04 asked, “Did you buy this at the dollar store?” (Ok, we promise, no more personal shout-outs; but hey, isn’t that what buys admission to the podium at Convocation?)

This wine has a few redeeming qualities (emphasis on the “few”). Its texture is rich and round, and your first sip won’t be your last (even if you only keep drinking due to a salt-induced thirst frenzy). Paringa lacks the spiciness for which Shiraz wines are best known, substituting instead a rawness that has its moments. But after each sip, what lingers of this wine’s personality is its edginess. It’s like that Liz Phair song: you like it O.K., but all that you remember is, “Give me your hot white. . .” well, you know the rest. Like a middle school play, Paringa takes perseverance. Only after a few glasses is it enjoyable. So drink up, and don’t stop.

Therefore, bottoms up for Hoegaarden. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Probably. Especially if you have a boat. As for Paringa, it’s not worth the $11. It just confirms what we’ve always known about those damned Aussies – criminals, each and every one of them.

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