Monday, November 19, 2007

And the best cold beer is...

So went the iconic declaration by the late great John Mellion in the advertising campaign for Victoria Bitter – or Vic, as it was known – or VB, as it became – or ‘a wife beater’ as it has become in more recent times in some drinking circles. The ads are still memorable and are some of the most loved.
The question around the bars and barbeques of Australia has often come up; what really is the best beer, cold or otherwise?

I have spoken before in these pages of ‘occasion beers’; that is, beers suited to the time and place and company. I have always drunk to the motto, "The best beer is the one in your hand, second only to the beer in your hand that was bought for you by someone else." I am asked continually to name my favourite beer and I have taken great delight in the opportunity to explain my drinking philosophy.

For, you see, beers ain’t beers – as the old Castrol advertisement went – except it was about oil. Tho’, if you think about it, beer has been the oil, the lubricant, if you will, for our mateships, our pub arguments and sporting debates, our social and sometimes sexual unions. It is the fuel for our BBQ’s and picnics and dinner party conversations. It is also the glue which holds together many of our cultural traditions and is the nexus between many of our historical triumphs and the guidebook for our modern lives.*

Just the other day I was sipping a very nice ice cold Bitburger pilsner as I enjoyed a meal of Asian flavoured white fish. As I put the glass down after the first mouthful, I stopped and caught myself; I realised that I was actually smiling. The enjoyment of the moment and the nice complementing of food and beer caused an involuntary physical reaction. A vey pleasant one at that. A few days later the same thing happened when, after several very physically taxing hours gardening in the hot sun, an Eskimo cold Boag’s Draught made its way, refreshingly quickly, from its bottle to my throat and onwards.

A couple of weeks back, several pots of brewery fresh Carlton Draught with old school mates at a reunion brought about the same warm beery glow. The glow would have been warmer had the bargirl been able to pour properly and had she been in possession of a personality marginally greater than that of a bucket of sick. But the sharing of lager and tall school yard tales and of catching up on twenty something years of news was something of a tonic. And it just would not have been the same had we all been sharing tonic. The beer, when treated with respect and control added the most mysterious dimensions of distorted perspective and selective reminiscence. And it makes things seem a lot funnier than they may have been at the time.

For example, recounting the time that the ‘annoying kid’ in the year below us was wrapped in the volleyball net – poles and all – and paraded around the yard like a trophy boar was met with loud laughs, as was the tale of the time that the year twelve boys picked up a teachers Mini Moke and lifted it up onto the steps of the main office. Dodgy shenanigans in the drama room were recalled with a fondness that only comes from years of not having drama classes since and instances of what would probably constitute bullying today were remembered fondly as the immature but extraordinarily funny-at-the-time moments committed by mates amongst mates.

But the true testament to beers’ power has to be illustrated most aptly by the witty reconstruction of a language class by Dr Lager himself. The language was Esperanto and if you just said "what’s Esperanto?" then you are not alone. Esperanto was a made up language, but not one created by kids to exclude enemies or to plot terrorist attacks or the kind used by twins to give graduate students something to waste their government grants on. It was actually devised by education department officials somewhere as a universal language. Made up of words from many languages and with some ‘made up’ words in between, it was a going to be the language of the future. That future was roughly two school terms.

The story of Esperanto, or, El Nouvella of Esta Das Esperanto Gratzi, as told by Dr Lager was a great piece of beer theatre. The lead-in and the timing were delicious, the tempo change-ups and the inflections were first class. But what really made it special was the beer. Or, more specifically, the beers. I couldn’t help but think that there is only so much hilarity that you can extract from Esperanto without the right number of beers ingested. It is a fact that the best story can be made all the more funny by the addition of a lager or two. In this case the number may have been a little higher.

Away from the group or social situation, the right beer in the right place at the right time formula can still be applied. After a long and arduous shift in the restaurant and a 1am return to the Bloke House, there is great satisfaction in falling into the couch and quietly contemplating a Mountain Goat Hightail Ale. On a hot night I might lean towards a Beck’s or an Amsterdam Mariner. In either case, the beer, the solitude and the quiet are a perfect foil to a shift of hard slog.

So beer has its place in many social and solo situations. The best beer at the time is the one you choose. It might be one that you bought especially for the occasion, it might be one that was given to you on another special occasion or it might be the one at the back of the fridge that you forgot you had. It could be a ‘traveller’ after a session or a ‘knock-off’ after work or it could just be the one that happens to be on tap that has been beautifully and thoughtfully poured and presented.

Whichever one it is, I hope it makes you smile.

Prof. Pilsner

*Without checking, I think a couple of these thoughts may have been at least mildly influenced by the musings of Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell in their very informative and appropriately named book, ‘Beer. Slabs, Stubbies and Six Packs’, one of my most often referred to reference guides. It is well worth looking for as it is very well written, humorous and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just like the Beer Blokes, really.

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