The wagon

22 04 2011

I have quite a few teetotal friends. Granted, they’re not exactly in the majority amongst the circles I drift in and out of, but they’re there. Some have abstained upon doctor’s orders, some wish to disassociate themselves from a family history of alcohol abuse, some choose to live a straightedge lifestyle, others have set some strict health and fitness goals for themselves. All perfectly legitimate and respectable reasons.

"Moe, I've come here to make amends for my disgraceful behavior over the last twenty years... I broke barstools, befouled your broom closet, and made sweet love to your pool table, which I then befouled."

None of these friends harangue me over my regular raising of the wrist, nor do I bother with convincing them to hit the sauce. In his enthralling and entertaining memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens writes: “Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.” I know all this to be true (especially the first part…) although I certainly don’t attempt to stuff a booze-laden funnel past the oesophagus of my abstinent friends when they’re lackadaisically slumped in the corner of a humdrum nightclub complaining of boredom. The short of it is, nobody likes being preached to.

So, imagine how thrilled I was to open a Sunday newspaper the other week and come across an article spanning a broadsheet page-and-a-third about how a formerly habitually-shitfaced journo has seen the light, and now desires to share the wonders of “the illuminating glow of sobriety” with any sod (or sot, perhaps) willing to surrender their eyeballs for a few moments. The article can be read online: High Sobriety by Jill Stark. The Sunday Age isn’t the first outlet I’d typically turn to for thought-provoking social commentary, but even by their standards this is contemptible, obnoxious, sanctimonious tripe. Here are some samples of the absurdity being peddled to us:

I’d been a regular drinker since my teens and struggled to imagine how life could be anything short of dull and two-dimensional without it. Didn’t the best nights out usually happen after a skinful?

But I was about to turn 35. I had a grown-up job, a ridiculous mortgage and knees that now made a cracking noise every time I stood up. I could no longer afford to drink like I was a teenager.

That rush you get when a favourite singer hits a note that wraps round your heart and leaves you breathless is just as real when you’re drinking water.

But there was a bigger epiphany to come. That night I busted my long-held belief that alcohol is an essential element in any romantic connection.

Alcohol gives us a convenient safety net should the recipient of our truth-telling not react in the way we might like.

What’s harder, is finding a more constructive way to express your emotions.

Removing alcohol leaves you with no excuses.

One out of two ain't bad. I'd say it's just about right, really.

I was going to provide a little commentary for each of these extracted sentences, but I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions.

As I see it, the article is a portrait of someone lacking in self-control, someone unable to take responsibility for their own actions, and someone who appears to be barely able to acknowledge, if not completely unable to find, the middle ground. The comments section is equally depressing, full of people who seem to have known only total sobriety and full-throttle dipsomania and nothing in between.

I drink most nights. I’m not drunk most nights. A whisky, or a beer, or a glass of wine of liqueur. To the best of my recollection, not since 2006 have I rocked up to work with a hangover. Some people appear to be astonished by the notion that alcohol can be consumed for its taste. As far as I’m aware, alcohol – or rather, alcohol as a product of fermentation and the subsequent potation in which it is present – is the only recreational drug that can still be enjoyed without its effects being necessarily felt. (A similar case could be made for tobacco in the form of cigars, but that’s a somewhat grey area).

On some weekends I’m no stranger to imbibing more liberal amounts; I’ve found that it can make an otherwise insufferable venue or crowd verge on tolerable, and often turn a decent night into a livelier one. I’m not some dewy-eyed cry-on-a-stranger’s-shoulder pisshead. I know my limits, I know when I’m exceeding them, and I’m rather proud of my capacity to stay vertical even whilst thoroughly slaughtered. Yet unlike the author above, never do I use the drink as a catalyst for barfing out a rainbow of emotions or effectuating romantic situations, nor do I use it as any excuse for acts of gross stupidity committed whilst under its influence (hey, it’s all me, baby). Alcohol may be a reason, but it’s never a justification.

The quintessential Japanese salaryman after a night out with the colleagues. Absolutely textbook example here.

When the author writes, “Moderation has always been a harder proposition than abstinence“, is this really true? Are people honestly incapable of driving out to a gig or a club, drinking one beer – or two, if they stick around long enough to space them out – and then sticking to non-alcoholic drinks for the rest of the night? (Bundaberg Ginger Beer is fucking delicious, by the way. Highly recommended as a substitute if you’re planning to get back home without wrapping your car around a pole). I don’t feel that I’m at all qualified to comment definitively on Australia’s drinking culture, but the article and the ensuing comments seem to be indicative of a substantial problem in this country. Er, one of many.

Perhaps the observation on moderation versus abstinence is true. Season 9 of South Park featured a savagely brilliant yet controversial episode entitled Bloody Mary, dealing with Randy Marsh’s worsening alcoholism. The final scene is a conversation between Randy and his son, Stan, in which the following exchange takes place (which can also be watched online here):

Stan: “Dad, you like to drink. So have a drink once in a while. Have two. If you devote your whole life to completely avoiding something you like, then that thing still controls your life and, ‘n you’ve never learned any discipline at all.

Randy: “But, maybe… I’m just the kind of person who needs to have it all or nothing.

Stan: “Naw. All or nothing is easy. But learning to drink a little bit, responsibly, that’sa disciprine. Disciprine… come from within.

Australia... what we need is a little disciprine.

I’m actually tempted to give up the grog for perhaps a fortnight or a month to see how I go – at least for some blog fodder, if for no other reason. But given the fact that I actually can moderate my intake of alcohol, along with the reasonably substantial amount of single malt whisky in my cupboard, I can’t ever picture myself in Jill Stark’s corner. Much like the classic Winston Churchill quote, “Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.





Les Enfants Terrible

15 04 2011

And I do mean “Terrible” in the nicest possible way.

See for yourself.

Unibroue Maudite, Terrible, Trois Pistoles.

I seem to be buying a shitload of longnecks recently. Slow Beer (website/blog) and their Wednesday specials are going to be the death of me, or at least my finances/liver/social life. I haven’t had a Unibroue beer in quite a while, looking forward to demolishing these.





Beer porn

10 04 2011

The beer orgy continues! A diversity of the ol’ barley pop has been swilled over the past few weeks here at Nondakure HQ. In a slight change of tack, this post will be more visual than textual. In other words, I’m just being plain lazy and can’t be bothered constructing a proper piece of writing.

Tosser's Real Dry. This is the first time in 12 years I've seen beer in a plastic bottle. Says a lot about the venue in which it's served... then again, it provides inebriated bogans with an opportunity to belt each other with their drinking vessels without actually causing serious harm. And don't even get me started on the jokes about the name of the beer.

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Brew Dog Paradox. Now here's an interesting one... it's not exactly a secret that I enjoy whisky, so the thought of a beer matured in whisky casks - in this case, The Arran Malt - is a lip-smacking proposition. The only problem is that I've never actually tried Arran, so I'm not exactly sure what points of reference I'm looking for here (er, other than whisky) but it was delicious nonetheless. Chapel Street Cellars and Slow Beer here in Melbourne have a variety of other beers aged in whisky casks (including a number of peated whisky casks), although unfortunately the vast majority are beyond the sort of price I'm willing to pay for a beverage that, once opened, you have to drink in its entirety.

“A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.”

-Czech proverb

Here is a comment left by user "Eddie murphy" on thebackpacker.net website concerning Phoenix Beer from Mauritus: "I had phoenix beer when i was in mauritius it was wicked. I got really drunk and i didnt care im telling you guys once you drink phoenix you wont drink another beer. I also like cool aid ma mama makes that for me all the time. i like to smoke weed and drink phoenix beer. Smoke de sensimiila an drink de phoenix beer!! i like to sing micheal jacksons song oh tito stop teasing, im telling mom. i also like cock." I'm actually going to Mauritius in July, so expect further commentary on this beer (and in all likelihood, the local rums) a few months down the track.

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”

-Frank Zappa

L-R: HaandBryggeriet 'Norwegian Wood', Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale, 3 Ravens Dark, 8 Wired 'The Big Smoke' Smoked Porter. All picked up from Slow Beer in Hawthorn. The Norwegian Wood was impressive (apparently it's a recreation of traditional Norse beer), quite a distinct spicy and smokey finish to it, and the first beer I've tried featuring juniper twigs and berries in the ingredients. Greatly enjoyed the Hitachino brew as well, the cedar barrels definitely impart a unique flavour. Definitely keen to try more from that brewery, might even be worth a side-trip next time I'm in Japan. 3 Ravens Dark has been the highlight of the last two Fed Square Microbrewery Showcase events I've been to (see my last post), and 'The Big Smoke' was a decent but balanced wallop of smoke, roasted coffee and dark chocolate. Good stuff.

“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.”

-Arnold Schwarzenegger

Okay, so not booze, but I put in an order for some of Blair's sauces. Deadly stuff, and an absolute must for chilli freaks. On the Scoville scale, regular Tabasco rates about 2,500 to 5,000. Mega Death Sauce is around 500,000, Ultra Death is about 800,000. And I've learned to not inhale whilst taking in a mouthful of anything coated in Death Rain habanero powder.

“He was a wise man who invented beer.”

-Plato

Tusker. Significant mainly for the fact that it’s the first beer from mainland Africa (Kenya, to be precise) that I’ve tried. Not sure if the cheeky rogues who designed the logo intended to draw a comical elephant in blackface… well, at least that’s what I see, probably says more about me than the people from Tusker. Anyway, apparently the logo is a reference to the founder of Kenya Breweries Ltd who was killed by an elephant whilst on a hunt. Here’s to that elephant.

“Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer.”

-Henry Lawson

Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout. And you'd better believe it's stouter and as bitter as a North Korean despot. Okay, perhaps not reaching Arrogant Bastard Ale standards (I mean the beer, not the tyrant), but it's got some heft to it. The financial controller at my current place of employment also happens to be in a similar position at Mountain Goat... I really ought to ask if they need an extra pair of hands, so I can stand around looking lost and confused in a completely new place of employment.





“Just hook it to my veeeiiins!”

2 04 2011

As contemptuous as I am of Australia’s big-name beer brands, sometimes I resort to pouring their filthy suds down my gullet. Case in point: last week I was out at a live music venue here in Melbourne, already mildly blitzed, and determined to chart a course for further inebriation. When this is your main goal for the evening (and don’t ever accuse me of being an individual who can’t set and reach personal goals) attributes of taste may often have to take a backseat, particularly if frugality is of some concern. Unwilling to pay $8 or so for some entry-level bottled muck, I opted for some entry-level on-tap muck in the form of a $3.50 pot of Carlton Draught. As long as it’s chilled, and as long as your taste buds are already numbed from prior potation, it’s sufficiently inoffensive and does the job. And it’s not Tooheys New, which is always a bonus. Long gone are the days of dollar pots, and for a club-style venue, $3.50 for a pot of beer is surprisingly reasonable.

(For the readers beyond these Antipodean borders – all two of you – a “pot” is a beer glass size of 285mL, or 10 fl oz, used in Victoria, and apparently in Queensland as well. See this link for more beer glass sizes in Australia and the peculiar names bestowed upon them.)

I’m acutely aware of having opened myself to the charge of snobbery or elitism of some sort. But really, given the choice, why wouldn’t you drink something a little tastier, a little quirkier, a little different? Even if it means having to endure some dickhead at the bar muttering, “Hmmph, poof” under his breath as you walk away with the fancy Belgian raspberry lambic ale you just ordered. On the other hand, I also acknowledge the fact that I frequently find myself in establishments of questionable merit, thus I must also always be prepared to begrudgingly take whatever’s on offer.

Anyway, this rambling is somewhat tied to an event I attended quite recently – the Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase (and I notice that they’ve already put up the information for the next event in October). A solidly enjoyable event, and excellent value for $25. Here’s a list of the beers and ciders I tried:

2 Brothers Growler, 3 Ravens Dark, 3 Ravens Black, Arctic Fox Chocolate Stout, Bellarine Port Pilsner, Bright Brewery Raspberry Lambic, Coldstream Spring Lager, Kooinda Belgian Witbier, Hawthorn Premium Pale Ale, Mildura Storm Cloudy Ale, Mildura Choc Hops, Mountain Goat Skipping Girl Summer Ale, Napoleone Pear Cider, Napoleone Apple Cider, Otway Brewing Organic Blueberry Hefeweizen, Rebello Apple Cider, Sweetwater Weissbier, Pipsqueak Cider.

This is the Atrium in Federation Square. A most unfitting name, given that not a single right angle seems to exist in the entire bloody complex.

My highlight of last October’s event was the 3 Ravens Dark, and it didn’t disappoint this year. Utterly delicious, smokey, almost bacon-like finish. Definitely one for fans of Islay malts. Another big surprise was Mildura Choc Hops. I’ve tried a handful of chocolate stouts, but this was staggeringly delicious. Apparently it’s being released in a small handful of bottleshops soon, certainly keen to get my hands on some. In the cider category, Napoleone absolutely nailed it with their apple and pear ciders. Clean, tart, and not sweet. Rebello’s Cheeky Rascal ciders are similarly praiseworthy, especially their apple and strawberry cider – far better than the nauseatingly sweet and fruity Swedish ciders that are currently all the rage (but hey, I’ll still drink one if I’m offered…)

You’d think 20 x 60mL samples is a bit tight-fisted, barely enough to wet your whistle, although I was admittedly struggling to get rid of the last couple of drink tickets.

Let's see whether your handwriting is any better after a shitload of beer whilst using your non-preferred hand to write whilst the other hand holds both the booklet and a glass of beer.

I’m already looking forward to the next time one… all I have to do is wait seven months. Bah. Let me know if you hear of any similar events in Melbourne in the near future! And watch out for more beer-related posts coming to Nondakure soon!