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In praise of beer

Do you know the secret handshake?

Do you know the secret handshake?

Perhaps I'm misreading it, but is there not just a whiff of dopey self-congratulation in the media coverage that Australians are drinking less beer and more wine and spirits?

The tone seems to be that we are no longer a nation of beer-swilling yobbos standing around pub TABs in Stubbies and wife-beater singlets because we instead sip a glass of pinot or a G and T (in white linen trousers, no doubt).

According to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month, sales of beer, which accounts for 42 per cent of all alcohol sold, dropped 3.4 per cent in 2010-11, while sales of wine (37 per cent of all alcohol sold) went down by 0.6 per cent.

The thing to remember is beer sales used to account for 76 per cent of Australian alcohol consumption, so we're drinking a lot more grape.

Meanwhile, sales of spirits rose by 4.8 per cent for the same period, with pre-mixed "ready to drinks" and spirits now accounting for 20 per cent of all alcohol sales.

Seriously, how is this a good thing?

A couple of years ago, I made the transition from drinking beer to neat whiskey and, lemme tell you - if I'd done it when I was in my 20s I'd have had to arm wrestle Derryn Hinch for his new liver or I'd be talking to my own fleas living under a highway overpass.

There's a good reason most homeless drunks sprawl on benches sucking wine or spirits and not cans of cold gold beer - the fizzy stuff takes too long to get you hammered.

Any serious boozer knows that, if you want to get the job done properly, you don't opt for the unleaded fuel of pots, pints or schooners; you switch to super and hit the spirits.

Most people don't sit down and say to themselves: "I think I might become an alcoholic this year." It's a gradual process and the scary part is it becomes something you're good at - an identity.

I was at a farewell for friends a while back and, as is my wont, I asked the barman for a double Scotch neat. He had to crack a new bottle to serve me and we became quite friendly as I shuttled back and forth for refills.

At the end of the night, he wandered over to my table with the bottle, showing me it had less than an inch of booze left in it.

"Nobody else has ordered a Scotch," he said, smiling.

"Oh, man," I said, "that's horrendous, I drank all that by myself?"

"At least you can hold your piss," he said.

But I certainly can't remember the cab ride home that night - which is something that rarely happened to me when I drank beer.

No doubt many wine and spirit drinkers have more restraint than I do - overall consumption of alcohol decreased by 1.1 per cent in 2010-11, according to the ABS - but I reckon there are also plenty who think they're drinking less (fluid) but are actually consuming more pure alcohol.

Sure you can overdo it on the cans, but I know plenty of men who stop after four or five because they get bloated or sleepy; the brewer's way of saying "time to go home".

And yes, the liver doesn't distinguish between types of alcohol, but you can certainly smash more spirits into yourself in a shorter period of time than you can beer.

I'm not suggesting we all have a cold one for breakfast, but I don't think we should be doing cartwheels about following the lead of Eastern Europe where consumption of spirits is huge and they sport the highest proportion of deaths attributed to alcohol in the world (more than one in every 10 deaths).

My sudden "professionalism" with grog also convinced me to take a break (one month without a drink, thank you).

However, when I did next have a tipple, it was a beer, rather than a spirit.

At least the first one.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

27 comments so far

  • Goosh, they stop at four or five. I couldn't manage more than a couple. Bu really Sam, the issue is just one of economics.. There is a term called premium goods; as disposable income increases lower quality goods get substituted for perceived higher quality ones. Eg beer for spirits. And our disposable income has been increasing over recent generation, so it is to be expected. Nothing to do with cultural change. We're just Cash Up Bogans.

    Commenter
    Fluellen
    Date and time
    June 06, 2012, 6:13PM
    • Lots of Eastern European countries drink predominantly spirits and I expect their disposable income would be much less than ours i.e. Poland.

      I think beer has traditionally been the drink of choice in Australia because it's a warm country and a 'man' wants a nice cold one after a long hot day of work. Where as in those freezing Eastern European countries, it's cold as all hell, so a shot or 10 'gets the blood pumping and warms you up.

      You may be right about the substitution of inferior goods for premium goods. There is certainly a difference between the man who drinks a beer and the man who drinks a whisky - mainly the way other people perceive him.

      Commenter
      http://diaryofasexjunkie.wordpress.com/
      Location
      Cyberspace
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 11:34PM
    • I wonder if we aren't slightly more nuanced? A man (or woman) ordering a 'good' beer may not be looked upon differently than the single malt with splash of water but a budweiser order in Australia (or perhaps Fosters? not a beer drinker so please excuse the lack of detail) would give a different image, no? As would a box wine purchase or a Grange.

      Class though, that quintessential Australian thing....

      Commenter
      far away
      Date and time
      June 09, 2012, 3:26AM
    • June and Far; I take your point. I did experience in Russia that spirits (vodka) was certainly cheap for a Westerner ... the beers were too heavy for my taste ...... I wasn't sure about what it would be for a local. But I do recall that whereas my beer of choice had been Cascades (hardly boutique) a mate challenging me that my half dozen was the same cost a his slab of CUB. I could only rejoin but that would I do with a dozen CUB. I'd feel horrid if I drank that much. But I was brought up in a Methodist household. Last night I had a couple of Mercury ciders by the open fire place and that was enough for me. Pathetic.

      Commenter
      Fluellen
      Date and time
      June 09, 2012, 2:42PM
  • Jeez this made me want a scotch.

    Commenter
    Mike
    Location
    Singapore
    Date and time
    June 06, 2012, 6:21PM
    • Prefer spirits. Beer tends to sit in the guts and leave me depressed the next day. Spirits give me a nice chilled feeling rather than gradually leaving me magotted. Taste better as well.

      Alcohol is a drug with the purpose of altering ones conscious. No use pretending otherwise. Each to their own thou whatever the poison.

      One thing I hate thou is people who are shitfaced on wine or beer (but think they aren't as they aren't into the hard stuff) coming up with wittisms and one liners they think are funny. They aren't they are just obnoxious pissheads. Which is fine just don't pretend to be sober or any condition to carry on a serious conversation. Usually people like that just insult others and think they are funny.

      Personally I don't drink a lot and prefer to socialise away from pubs clubs as they are full of drunken dickheads. If I plan on drinking thou then I look at it as I'm going to get drunk and plan accordingly.

      Commenter
      Dale
      Date and time
      June 06, 2012, 6:23PM
      • Prefer spirits. Beer tends to sit in the guts and leave me depressed the next day. Spirits give me a nice chilled feeling rather than gradually leaving me magotted. Taste better as well.

        Alcohol is a drug with the purpose of altering ones conscious. No use pretending otherwise. Each to their own thou whatever the poison.

        One thing I hate thou is people who are shitfaced on wine or beer (but think they aren't as they aren't into the hard stuff) coming up with wittisms and one liners they think are funny. They aren't they are just obnoxious pissheads. Which is fine just don't pretend to be sober or any condition to carry on a serious conversation. Usually people like that just insult others and think they are funny.

        Personally I don't drink a lot and prefer to socialise away from pubs clubs as they are full of drunken dickheads. If I plan on drinking thou then I look at it as I'm going to get drunk and plan accordingly.

        Commenter
        Dale
        Date and time
        June 06, 2012, 6:23PM
        • I have 7 differant types of beer in my fridge, but whiskey in my glass.

          Commenter
          Citizen Rat
          Date and time
          June 06, 2012, 9:09PM
          • There's a whiff of dopey self-congratulation with nearly every bit of media coverage in this country about anything to do with this country - as long as it doesn't revolve around bashing someone else.

            It is either about making the audience feel good, or making someone else the object of derision. To be honest, I seem to remember it being a bit better a decade ago. Not so sure though.

            Either way, I love beer because, well, I just do. I went through a brief period of drinking cider, but the ok stuff left me feeling rotten the next day and the pricey stuff is too sickly sweet.

            Scotch is hard to beat. The man behind the man behind the bar does a good job, but I'm starting to venture into trying out a few single malts here and there. They are great; best consumed in select company. Or alone. What I'm trying to say is scotch and anti-social feelings go hand in hand, like being stupid and watching Today Tonight.

            Commenter
            hired goon
            Date and time
            June 06, 2012, 9:59PM
            • I'm not oblivious to the fact that other blokes will make hard and fast judgements based on what your order over the bar. I learned this the hard way as a teenager, when a female patron at the bar offered me a shot, which she disclosed as being "coc**sucking cowboy". Being a sweet tooth, I drank it and readily ordered two more "co**sucking cowboys". Well, it was if time had stopped, the barman asked me to repeat myself, other blokes laughed giddily until a sympathiser finally suggested that I simply call it a "cowboy" next time.

              Anyway the experience has hardened me and though I'm a moderate drinker at best, I now feel comfortable ordering anything from a schooner of New to a sugar free Breezer, whatever I feel like at the time.

              Commenter
              Missionary Man
              Date and time
              June 06, 2012, 10:52PM

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