Monday, September 29, 2008

A Beer to celebrate with

The Hawks got up! The underdog team of young toilers and precocious talent managed to outplay the more highly fancied and near-undefeated Cats to take the 2008 Premiership Cup. While nowhere near the calibre of their last Grand Final meeting in 89 when Hawthorn established a sizeable lead by three quarter time before scraping home by six points at the death in a brutal encounter that saw half a dozen players leave the ground broken and battered and others play on with everything from split webbing to punctured lungs, the game was still a battle until the last stanza when the Hawks knew they had annexed their 10th AFL title.

And still I haven’t toasted my champion team. But as I watched the game and then after as I watched news reports of the teams’ celebrations, I couldn’t help but think how much things have not changed since I first began drinking beer and watching football, and how much they had changed at the same time.

Here were the Hawks of 2008 raising the cup in one hand and a Crownie in the other, just as the Hawks of 91, 88 and 89, 86, 83 and probably 71, 76 and 78 as well had before them. The 1961 team probably drank water or tea as coach John Kennedy snr was something of a fitness fanatic and a hard arsed task master to boot. The faces were different but the beer was the same.

Crown Lager – 'Crownies’ to you, me and everyone else – was Australia’s first premium beer. First brewed in the 1920s it was available only to diplomats and statesmen until 1953 when it was launched to the public to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It has graced the tables of official functions, awards nights, weddings, parties and anythings ever since.

But, without being too unkind to the beer or its fans, the beer is just OK. Rumours abound that it is everything from a super premium special brew, to the top skimmings off the VB tank to longer-matured Fosters. At the end of the day, it’s a premium beer because it has a unique bottle shape, a gold label, the name ‘Crown” and because the marketing men tell us that it is. It is very drinkable but there are plenty of better and more premium beers going around.

When our gang (who still get together five or six times a year some 30 years down the track) first began gathering for Melbourne Cup day, Grand Final, birthdays, Bathurst car racing weekend or the christening of a bar fridge, we drank VBs. Or Melbourne Bitter. Or Carlton Draught. That was about it. Even at a wedding, the same. But for a real treat, when you were feeling really flash – Crownies. They were more a statement than a beer. But they were still just a beer.

Today I don’t even think of Crownies as ‘special’ – certainly not in terms of taste or value for money. But the beer world, or the sporting/entertainment/arts world anyway, seem to still see it as a status beer, a mark of success. A statement of achievement and honour. Did I mention that I don’t think it’s anything special? And yet we still see it in the hands of every award winner and trophy holder and game winner every year. Sponsorship aside, I reckon it is still seen a special.

And to put this into a modern perspective, today Crown Lager retails at around $60 for a slab of 24 375ml bottles. An import lager like Miller, Bud or Stella Artois are usually in the mid fifties. A true standard craft beer, Coopers Sparkling Ale comes in at just over $40. A standard, mainstream, common old garden variety lager like VB, Toohey’s New or XXXX sits at between $36 and $43 and they all take it turns to be on special each week at something like $33. It is debatable that it tastes any better than any of them. Corona retails at about the same as Crown and Crown is infinitely better than that unwashed Mexican swill. But that’s another story.

Tonight after I hand over the pager to the new on-call team and get myself home, I will toast the Mighty Hawks, the 2008 AFL champions. But I will raise a glass of something that is really special and something that tastes really special and which feels really special to me. But it won’t be a Crownie.

Prof. Pilsner

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