Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Beers Bad Rap

There are really very few things that get me ticked off. It takes even more to get me annoyed. A lot more still to make me filthy. But there is one thing guaranteed to fair dinkum boil my wort and pale my ale and it is the shite that do-gooders and know nothings spout at every available opportunity to bad mouth beer.

The thing that got me going this time round was a series of letters to the editor in the big national dailies. And, no, the topic wasn’t even beer. I can’t even remember what the specifics of the topic were but, in general it was drugs and druggies and rehab and gambling and poker machines and smoking. Not beer.

And here is a sample of the sort of thing I’m talking about. Letter writers whinge deluxe about the fact that ‘we poor smokers are being discriminated against’, ‘why pck on drug addicts when beer is more readily available?’, ‘smoking bans in pubs and restaurants are un-Australian’, ‘Cigarettes are a legal product ..’ Blah, Blah Effin’ Blah.

And here’s the bit that really gets my Mountain Goat – they invariably seem to tack on the now standard suffix to these whinges that goes like this; "Why don’t the Government do sumfink about beer drinking. This evil brew causes much more problems and stuff like that and kills people and they crash their cars and kill thereselfs and innocent people and why don’t you just go and ban that."

I know that I’m paraphrasing a little and probably shouldn’t have used the quotation marks, but you get the gist. Every day it seems that the same theme is repeated. These people seem to think that beer and smokes are one in the same. I appreciate that plenty of smokers are incapable of enjoying a beer without also filling their lungs with smoke and I also appreciate that some people only feel the need to have a smoke when they are drinking. But drinking beer is NOT the same as smoking.

First, and remember this comes from scientific fact and is repeated in anti smoking advertising – "Every cigarette is doing you harm." I completely agree that excessive beer drinking is not a good health choice but, please, don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that one beer is as bad as one smoke! You will not die from moderate, social or regular beer drinking. The same cannot be said of moderate, social or regular cigarette smoking. I know there are plenty of smokers out there who don’t subscribe to the lunatic theories of the above-berated letter loonies and this blast is not directed at you.

To those to whom this missive IS directed, beer is, was and always will be a safe form of drinking water, a prized food source and a valuable cultural lubricant. Smoking will always be an activity of choice for many and the cause of a premature death for many more. And don’t even get me started on smoking whilst driving a car, smoking around children and the elderly or the dropping of ciggie butts on the ground, you lazy pricks. You and the lazy pricks who leave shopping trolleys next to your car when the trolley bay is ten steps away are blight on society.

Anyway, enjoy a smoke if that’s what floats your boat, or a quiet ale or a noisy lager or whatever it is that you need to do to live, thrive and survive and remember the words of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers – Bill & Ted; "Be Excellent to Each other!"
But stop picking on beer. It loves you anyway. And I love t.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

You Just Might Learn Something

I recently had the pleasure of looking after a group of young-just-under- twenties who were out celebrating a friends’ birthday. I love these occasions because, as an older – not old – restaurant staffer it is almost like looking backwards into a crystal ball. You sort of see the way you were when you were that young and dumb. And you also see the things that really set one generation apart from the next and the one that preceded you. And it’s not just haircuts and music I’m here to tell you.

It’s beer as well. I thought that, as beer drinkers, we might have evolved over the decades. Has my generation and the one before that and the one before that not passed down the knowledge of experience? Have we failed to deliver on the simple task of beer-ducating the modern young drinker? Has the beer ball been dropped? No. Probably not. It’s just that every nineteen year old bloke has that mutant genome sequence abnormality that makes him think that he is a hundred foot tall and bullet proof and that all the girls think he’s SOOOO HOT! Like, whateverrrr! Duh!

And he thinks that beer is just beer.

And, really, the beer drinking habits of the average school leaver drinker haven’t evolved very much at all. It’s all still basically about quantity over quality, fashion over flavour and chucking over choice.
“Ay, mate, can oi ‘ave one of them big arse fancy imported glasses like what that bloke got? ‘Sept wiv VB innit?” No. No you can not. And get a haircut.

The boys in question were very taken by the 1160ml glasses that St Arnou kindly provide us to help market the St Cloud Hefeweizen. Four of the lads decided that this was a challenge that they needed to undertake. Nay, conquer. After ascertaining that three of them had never had a wheat beer before – let alone an unfiltered version – and that the fourth thought that he’d had had one and it tasted ‘rooly terrbull’, I did the right thing. Kicked their arses and revoked their drinking licences. Not really. I got them a small taster first and talked them down to pints. One got through his quickly and the others nursed theirs into ale old age. By the end they wouldn’t admit to not enjoying it but were merely lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t let them have ‘them big arse ones’ – cos’ that would’ve been a real challenge. In the end it was the challenge of putting away as much piss as they could rather than trying a new style of beer. Or even learning that there even WAS a style of beer other than VB.

There is one other aspect of youth drink culture which is a little different today. The dreaded RTD virus. The ‘Ready-to-drink’ or pre-mix scourge. I have nothing against the concept of pre mixed drinks per se and I reckon the debate over lolly water alcohol and kids not knowing how much they are drinking and alcohol abuse is for another forum and not here but I just can’t help thinking that these cans and bottles of pre prepped crap are part of the problem rather than the solution.

I mean, you’re in a restaurant first of all. You need to learn to identify a restaurant from, say, a pub, pokie venue or sportsbar. That’d be a start. So don’t ask “Ave youse got stubbies? You know, loike JDn’coke n’ shit.” Why would you want to pay a premium for a stubby of Jack Daniels that you are then going to neck straight from the bottle when the real thing is sitting on the shelf in front of you? These things are supposed to be designed for convenience, to take to a picnic or an outdoor concert recital and such but when does that become laziness? Just seems a very girlie way of drinking spirits.

To further link the points made earlier, you are also passing up the opportunity to try a better product. As a cook by trade I always like to order something that I can’t easily make at home when ordering in a restaurant.

Same with beer. I like tap beer when I’m out because it’s something I can’t do at home. Yet. Still have to convince Mrs Pilsner that I can safely drill holes in the family fridge to accommodate the tap system. One day. Anyhoo, why drink standard spirits when you can have a go at a Gentleman Jack or a Makers Mark or one of the many other small batch and specialty stuff offered by good restaurants like the one I hang about in? Take the opportunities that life gives you.

As a ‘finisher’ I’ll put it in words that even the filthy-drunkest dumb arse plonker at the table can understand. Chatting up the dumbest, plainest, drunkest girl at the party is easy but the results are predictable and often fairly disappointing. And, if you’re lazy enough and happy enough to go through life like that, fair enough. Get used to ending up in a job where you’ll get to say lots of things like ’would you like fries with that?’. Or, have a crack at the pretty foreign exchange student friend of your mates’. Take things slowly and take the time to appreciate the differences. She may be a bit harder to understand at first and she may even look and smell a little less like what you’re used to, but keep at it. Listen to her. Savour the subtle variances. And in the end ... she might slap your face or tell you to piss off.

But at least you can say you tried.

She might also recommend a nice friend she knows from Belgium or the Czech Republic and you might get really lucky!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Beer has its Rewards.

I think that the advertising slogan was ‘Knowledge has its Rewards’ and I can’t really remember which company it belonged to, but it is relevant to the Professor today. That is, the beer, the knowledge and the rewards.

There comes a time in your life when you can sit back, crack a coldie – metaphorically, not a Carlton Cold Coldie- and contemplate the thought that maybe you have achieved something in your life. Not in a smug, open misere kind of way but in a quietly satisfied subdued and laid back kind of way.

The restaurant was paid a visit by a sales rep for a craft brewer of some repute with the intention of getting his product into the fridges of the bar and down the beer holes of our patrons. It is a brand that I know of and have seen in only one bar in town so far, though not available in any of the mainstream bottle shops as yet. I haven’t tasted it yet.

Now, our head chef is not a man given over easily to unsolicited visits by sales people and not one to be easily led to change the menu or take on new products without some serious convincing. So it came as something of a surprise to find that he had not just dismissed the opportunity to get this brew on the shelf but had asked that some product be left for me to test drive, review and assess.

So I feel a great sense of responsibility and anticipation. Not that I’m so vain that I think that the future of the brewery rests on my opinion or that a negative response will put a beer salesman out on the street, but still it’s a warming thought that someone somewhere is awaiting what a humble Beer Bloke thinks of somebody’s’ 330mls of Pale Ale and Pilsner. I guess talking loads of guff about beer at work has had a good karma effect. Now, if the heads of all the other breweries in Australia and around the world catch on to this site, maybe they will send some cases of free stuff for me and the Dr to sample and review glowingly. But if Mr O’Brien is reading, I have already planned a review piece on your gluten free Pale Ale and Lager. They form part of a post titled; “I had never tipped a beer down the sink until I tasted this”.

*A quick post script; in response to Zak from Sydney on a proper and serious beer myth question. You state that your homebrew presents a little ‘malty’ and not as refreshing you’d like. Priming with white sugar won’t have any effect as the quantity per bottle is nothing. Dr Lager and I have used white sugar in every bottling and the taste is not affected. The maltiness may be due to the amount or the type of malt. If you are using dry light malt for a lager, it may be worth using a bit less and upping the level of dextrose to bring the alcohol volume up. Dextrose will ferment out completely and not add extra body. You might also try a liquid malt for a more commercial and less ‘homebrew’ taste. We have found Coopers’ and Brew Cellar liquid malts very good and the bulk stuff we get as a homebrand from the Brew shop is excellent as well. The refreshability factor may only be due to the ‘lagering’ process. We have found that putting the beer away for two to four months produces a noticeable smoothing out of the homebrew-like finish. Good luck.*