When I was a teenager, buying beer was the easiest thing in the world. It wasn’t because I had a good friend who was 6’10” and never got carded, though that didn’t hurt. It wasn’t because no-one was checking ID’s – being the young’un of the group, I missed several 18th birthdays held (finally) at bars because of zealous bartenders and bouncers alike. Well, at the time I thought them zealous. Being the goddamn babyface that I was, it may just be fair to say that I was overly brazen, and obviously underaged. No, it was easy because we just bought what was cheapest, whatever was on special, and if there were no bargains that week, it was just a slab of good ol’ Carlton.
Yes, there were other options. Yes, there were better options. But they didn’t really register – we were thrifty, and… somewhat brand loyal. You simply didn’t have to think. Life may have been easier then, but I can’t say that it was better.*
*In some ways – yes, holy shit, so much better. Rent? Bills? Work? Fucking COVID? Crushing existential anxiety? Pfft, what are these things of which you speak? Imagine returning to the time before these things. No, booze-wise, I mean.
Believe it or not, I was a nerd, and my friends were nerds. We had different bailywicks. The mathematically inclined ran the numbers and figured out that without a decent special running on slabs, the ideal ‘palatable/ABV/$’ ratio lay in buying a bottle of Father O’Leary’s ‘Irish Cream’ (described as ‘putrid’ in one recent user review on the Dan Murphy’s Website) and a bottle of Bacchus butterscotch schnapps. This worked out as something like ~20 standard drinks for south of $20. We made Cocksucking Cowgirls – not Cowboys, because we were teenage boys in the 90’s and couldn’t deal with the confronting concept of being perceived of as gay while tipping back creamy shot-glasses of what used to be described as ‘panty-droppers’ – and we got sloshed on booze so sweet as to make our teeth hurt.
As we grew in sophistication, we discovered cleanskin wines – running as low as 50c-$2 a bottle. We had turned a corner on Passion Pop and Tropicana (basically an alcoholic punch in a goon sack**) and eventually moved towards generic spirits and mixers. These were always supplemented with, as mentioned, whatever beer was on special that week. Draught? Sweet. Cascade or Boags? Awesome! Coopers? I will allow it. VB? XXXX? Sure. If it’s cheap, why not. Tooheys Red? Hmmm… a 30 can brick you say? Well, ok, I guess.
**A bladder in a box, or cask wine for any overseas friends reading this.
Things are not so easy for me these days. I can spend a half hour, easy, standing in front of the fridge at Blackhearts, mulling over all my options. Sometimes more. Is it IPA weather? Do I want a sour? Pale? A nice, roasty stout? Shall I revisit my Belgian drinking days and pick up a Rochefort? Am I going to give pastry stouts another go, or are they going to break my heart again with their cloying sweetness? Do I want something complex and interesting, or welcoming and familiar? Something challenging? Something old, something new? Local or imported? Funky or clean? Do I actually feel like a natty wine, or even a sparkling rose?
All the while, I look for the freshest, newest, most exciting things. I’ll check dates on cans, I’ll google things real quick to see when they were released, or how they’ve been received. I’ll try to recall who I’ve overly favoured recently and try to give a little custom to another brewery. Or I’ll acknowledge who’s been on a hot-streak and see if they can keep it up. What’s that Mountain Culture, you’ve dropped some new releases? Oh, go on then. Garage Project doing something interesting? I’ll be the judge of that! Range, you old dog, what have you been up to! Co-conspirators, my old friend, how have you been? What’s new?
Meanwhile, I was due home twenty-five minutes ago. I just went out for an avocado to finish dinner.
It was all so easy once. Before we were beset by the tyranny of choice. Camping trip? Slab of Draught. Party? Slab of Draught. Shitty movies or video games at a friend’s place? Slab of Draught. Park? Draught. Movie? Pre game with a bottle of scotch and a 2lt bottle of coke, lose track of time, end up having skoll most of it, blackout and recall nothing of the movie, go home somehow, vomit on the side of the road, look at it as you go to school for the next week because it never rained, then for the next few weeks because it was too dry by then to be swept away by mere rain. Mate’s parents out of town the very next night? Slab of Draught, because we were young and we laughed in the face of hangovers. Little did we know how they would bide their time and come back with a vengeance once we turned thirty, lingering up to three days to make up for the insult we offered when we had teenage metabolisms.
My point is, right, my point is… what was my point again? Ah yes. Don’t feel intimidated by the tyranny of choice. Savour the nice things that you can have now, enjoy them. Don’t agonise over the surfeit of IPA’s – relish in it. Try something Norwegian – yes, it’s come far too far and probably doesn’t really taste that good anymore. Celebrate that we have that freedom! With the nigh collapse of the global supply chain, the dustcloud on the horizon that heralds both the end of the free-market, late-stage capitalist experiment even as it heralds the collapse of the actual ecosystem, be delighted by the whimsy of the modern brewer. At the end of the day, all you can do is take joy in the small things. Plucking a perfectly formed, ripe, rosy-hued and dewy-skinned beer fresh from the vine can sometimes be the sweetest pleasure of all – take your time about it and enjoy the whole experience, top to bottom.