Drinking the Bottom Shelf »

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.

Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Bartles and Jaymes Wine Coolers

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My dear pals Yvonne and Hallam are getting married Saturday and I couldn't be more excited: The invitation promises a short ceremony followed by a clambake on the beach. I've never been to a proper clambake, and I'm flattered that Yvonne and Hallam know me so well that they didn't even have to ask, "Hey Will, what would be your ideal scenario for our wedding reception?" They just instinctively knew that I would like to go to a clambake on the beach. Will I be a little disappointed if there aren't bikini bridesmaids serving Old Crow and pie where the champagne and cake normally go? Well sure, but this isn't exclusively about me. It's our special day, not my special day, so if my costars insist on, say, naked bridesmaids with rum and mini eclairs, I'll understand.

I've been to some great weddings, but this one is all but guaranteed to be my favorite. I love the bride and groom both separately and together, it's an easy commute from my house, and if there's any god involved, it will surely be some kind of endearingly crazy pagan-witch-devil-yoga thing. Not even a hurricane or Kenji in flip-flops* could prevent this from being one of the best days our lives.

*Am I the only one sick of seeing the man's feet in This Week at Serious Eats World Headquarters?

And good thing, because Kenji exists to antagonize us, and this is apparently Natural Disaster Week here on the East Coast. I hope for everyone's sake that this Irene either skips over us altogether or lays historical waste to the entire wedding. If the former, hey, great, dry clambake! If the latter, well, that'll make for some memories (and maybe the flip-flops will be swept out to sea). I guess Yvonne might be a little disappointed to lose the deposit on the folding chairs and/or whichever aunts aren't strong swimmers, but Hallam is an immoderate man after my own heart, so I'm sure he'd approve of some weather carnage if his only choices were full-on hurricane or pissy drizzling annoyance.

Best-case scenario, of course, would have been an earthquake wedding. I've heard very bad things about big earthquakes, but I'm speaking of the middling one we had up here on Tuesday. That was sort of fun. My apartment shook for a minute or so, and then I indulged in an hour of the Internet's "Holy crap! Earthquake!" fiesta, and then I got on with my life, which on that day meant I got on to the farmer's market.

It was a failed market mission though, and not just because the peaches that were $1.50/pound on Monday had suddenly become worth $3/pound after an extra day's banging around in the back of the truck. The bigger disappointment is that there wasn't any post-quake looting. I didn't even bother to bring cash, because TV'd led me to believe that earthquakes were right up there with reduced education spending, police misconduct, and sports championships as perfectly valid reasons to steal. Ugh. Cambridge is so soft sometimes.

But in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't loot, because I've never stolen anything before and I'm too old to start picking up new vices. Which is why I'm not drinking a Coke Zero right now, even though I'm feeling a bit faded after lunch and could use the caffeine and the excuse to waste time on a vending machine run.

Until I tried it a couple days ago, I'd thought Coke Zero was just a transparent marketing ploy to push Diet Coke on doods who were too tough to drink the girly stuff. Well, it is certainly that, but it is also a slightly closer replication of real Coke, and the extra shot of cinnamon and the cool black can would be enough to launch me toward a new addiction if not for the aforementioned reluctance to add any bad habits without subtracting a corresponding present one. I figure that if I start drinking the ridiculous Coke Zero, then I need to stop judging others by what they drink, and I'm not ready for that.

As drink snobbery goes, mine is pretty mild. I don't care if you drink vodka or fruity fake cocktails. Just the other day I drank myself a blueberry beer, which helped ease the hangover I'd picked up while dabbling in gin and Red Bull the night before. When it comes to tacky drinking, I'm as guilty as the next guy...unless the next guy is drinking a wine cooler.

It's such a boring cliché to bash wine cooler drinkers that I really wanted to find some redemption in the two new flavors of Bartles and Jaymes I rescued from the singles bin last month. I respect that not everyone likes beer and not everyone wants to get wasted on Mad Dog or high-proof premium malt beverages, but I couldn't find a single reason why anyone would prefer B&J's Raspberry Pomegranate or Exotic Berry to hard cider or Twisted Tea or Mike's Hard Whatever.

The major drawback to these wine coolers is that they're only 4% ABV (25% lower than the alternatives listed above). That's simply not enough kick to provide even a mild buzz unless you drink way more than your tongue's going to allow without a fight. They don't taste bad, but they're too damn sweet.

The Pomegranate Raspberry smells like fakish raspberry in a pleasant way, less like a Pop Tart and more like those faux-healthy frozen dessert bars with chunks of real fruit encased in sugar-ice. (I didn't detect any pomegranate, though I trust it was in there antioxidizing things at the very least.) But the actual taste was much sweeter than the smell suggested, and I had to struggle to finish a single bottle.

The Exotic Berry label art implies that my familiarity with raspberries and blackberries qualifies me as more worldly than I'd known. That's a nice ego-boosting first impression, since drinking this kind of thing usually makes me feel like a rube. Then I took a sip and realized the label's talking to all the people who drink wine coolers for nonprofessional reasons, i.e., rubes. It tastes like Splenda-spiked white grape juice. It's even sweeter than the Pom/Razz, almost to the point of granularity in the way it dries your tongue.

Friends: Don't drink wine coolers. Whichever enemy oversees the weather: Don't rain on Yvonne and Hallam's parade.

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