Tonight we’re stepping into uncharted, enemy territory and talking about wine (gasp!). Well, kind of (phew!). We’re watching the wine-centric 2004 Alexander Payne film Sideways while sipping on Uinta Brewing Company’s XVII Anniversary Barley Wine Ale. To put my cards on the table, I have never had a barley wine, I don’t know anyone that’s had a barley wine and I had zero idea what it would taste like, so this was a bit of an experiment. I also know nothing about wine so I probably snickered inappropriately a few times whenever the film got a bit snooty. So let’s get liquored up and get started with tonight’s combo.
I had a rough idea of what Sideways was all about going into it but most of the personal reviews I had heard were on the negative side, which I understand. Naturally, most of the people I talk to about movies are closer to my age than say, my parents. The film shines a very harsh, sad light on the male mid-life crisis; its confusion, its legitimacy, its awkwardness and its loneliness. So, understandably, this movie is not going to hit home with a lot of younger viewers such as myself. However, I may have to disagree with my age-bracket and say that this movie is doing and saying a lot (with minimal dialogue, might I add). The characters are all dealing with very real, tangible and relatable issues that give credence to the generally panned masculine mid-life crisis. Sure Thomas Haden Church’s character is suddenly sex-crazed, but there is something lurking behind his sexual appetite that gives his carnal desires a more human and, dare I say, justifiable explanation. I mean, his character is kind of a dick (snicker snicker) but he makes me smile so he can’t be all that bad, right? In a rare instance of having too much to say, I’m just going to briefly mention a few other things that I liked, and disliked, about this movie, before moving on, lest I bore you with my oaky tannins and barrel-aged wisdom.
1) I really enjoyed the dialogue in this film. It’s quiet, slow and, in an unusual cinematic moment, actually reflects how real people speak and interact. Very refreshing.
2) The film has this very subtle, under-the-radar bluesy/jazz soundtrack that just seems to perfect fit the setting and themes.
3) It was very creatively and thoughtful photographed. The audience is not always shown the action but rather the reaction or the aftermath of certain scenes, which adds some humor and creativity into the mix.
Some things I didn’t like?
1) I felt like Paul Giamatti’s performance was the only which had real depth. Sure Thomas Haden Church has a solid delivery, but his character kind of hits the same note throughout the film. He also makes appropriately timed witticisms and sexual comments and he also has a perfectly-timed emotional collapse. It all felt too…expected.
2) The transitions in this movie really bugged me. More often than not, scene changes were denoted by long or awkward cross-fades that made the transition all too noticeable but not in a clever-twist-of-editing type of way. It felt more like the filmmakers weren’t sure how to move from scene to scene so just threw some cross-fades in for kicks.
3) Small gripe: Apparently Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are sexually desirable? Just asking.
Okay, enough of this wine crap. Let’s drink some beer! Which is kind of how I feel about this beer. Generally when I think of wine, as in when I think about how people other than myself enjoy wine, I think of subtly and refinement. Uinta’s XVII Anniversary Barley Wine is not subtle. Refined? Maybe. But this 10.4% ABV bad boy hits you over the head with how strong it is and I mean that in the best of ways. A beautiful, rich copper color gives way to a strong malty aroma and flavor, which is followed by alcohol. Seriously. This beer is quite tasty for those who like strong ales but for those who are used to only 5% beers, this barley wine may be a kick in the pants. However, its heavy, full body segues naturally into a remarkably simple finish. This body combined with the (much) higher ABV makes it the perfect cold weather beer. I’m sure some people will be put off by its strength (I was a bit taken aback after I first sip, but then I thought it would only be fitting to give it a second chance…) but for those who wanted to get a little buzz off a single beer on a chilly night, I would recommend this barley wine. The other benefit of this beer, and of this whole beer and a movie experiment, is that it encourages me (and hopefully it encourages you) to try new beers. And let me tell you, I’ll be searching for barley wines in the future.
So there you have it, folks. A remarkably thoughtful and rich evening here. This barley wine was strong, comforting and filling while the movie had a balanced mix of comedy, tragedy and classy alcoholism. A winning combination!
And remember, if you think you have a winning combination, let me know and I’ll try to make it happen!
Tonight’s Tasting Notes:
Uinta’s XVII Anniversary Barley Wine Ale:
Very, very strong
Gorgeous copper color
Strong malty flavor with hints of spice and fruit
Good mix of sad and funny. But mostly sad
Thomas Haden Church is hooooorrrny (and Sandra Oh is a firecracker!)
Easy to relate to as you age, like a fine wine