When you’re an Australian male, beer is the only socially acceptable drink. We talk about going for a beer, not a wine, and certainly not a soft drink. And we only admit any desire for an evening of fancy cocktails to close, trusted friends who won’t mock a beverage that arrives adorned by a maraschino cherry and a pink umbrella.
Aussie blokes are supposed to operate under the working assumption that any time we drink a beverage that isn’t beer, we wish it was, even if we’re sipping a coffee at work or downing an energy drink after pumping iron. (Come to think of it, anyone who can invent an electrolyte-restoring beer is going to make a fortune.) If Jesus had been Australian, we know very well what he would have turned that water into.
When blokes are out with mates, and go up to the bar to get a round, it’s beer unless specified otherwise. And if otherwise is specified, there’s often a need to justify it. So I’ll say something like “beer doesn’t always agree with me”, or “I’m a bit hung over so I’d better stick to the mineral water”, implying that beer was the culprit the night before.
But, at nearly forty, it’s time I confessed to the truth – I don’t like beer all that much.
On a particularly hot day, I’ll sometimes enjoy one, if served extremely cold. Rarely will I have two, and once I get to three, I generally begin to feel queasy. That doesn’t happen with other kinds of alcohol – it seems that even my digestive system doesn’t care for the stuff.
Even more embarrassingly, my preference is for mass-produced, standard lager. I avoid anything that can in any way be described as “craft”. Although I’m often drawn to artisanal (aka pretentious) options, I end up wondering why the beers those aficionados so carefully concoct couldn’t taste a little less, well, beery. I’ve tried at least a dozen different IPAs, but never finished a single one.
But while craft beer is supposed to be about variety and interesting tastes, it’s surprisingly hard to convince your mates that the unique flavour experience you’re looking for is not to have a beer at all.
Back when I was too young to drink it, I loved the idea of a manly beer. It was what cricket and footy heroes shared to celebrate a triumph, apparently. The Romans paraded down the Via Appia when they’d done something impressive, but our boys just smashed tinnies. Especially Boonie, who smashed enough tinnies on that legendary flight to London to down any other country’s entire cricket team, and Hawkie, who in his Oxford days could scull faster than the men’s rowing eight. Legends!
I’d be very surprised if there were many Aussie blokes who could put their hand on their hearts and honestly say that when they first drank beer, they thought it delicious, and were converts for life. Beer-loving blokes, I suspect, come to love the stuff through a combination of peer pressure and sheer willpower.
In my teenage years, I didn’t much like what beer did at the rare parties I went to. Watching people being transformed into uglier, messier versions of themselves wasn’t exactly an attractive advertisement for the amber liquid. Ultimately I didn’t drink much before the age of 18.
But while I can readily admit this now, I’d find it quite a bit harder at the cricket, for instance, to be the guy who sits out rounds, or asks for a soft drink instead.
So in recent years, I’ve taken to ordering harder drinks. It’s less easy to question somebody’s card-carrying good-blokehood when they’re declining lager for a whisky. And if I think you are, I’ll order it neat.
Stuart MacGill was known for drinking wine when he bowled that brilliant legspin for Australia. It can’t have been easier turning down the endless supply of the sponsor’s product and uncorking a quality cab sav instead. I can’t imagine Warnie drinking any red-coloured liquid that wasn’t tomato sauce, and I wonder whether that difference in their beverage preferences was part of the reason MacGill was seen as less of a team player.
But peer pressure can be overcome, and the tastes of the majority can be changed over time. It wasn’t long ago that cigarettes were part of the norm for Australian men, and watching Don’s Party is a reminder of the way things were. Compared to those days, we’ve become less obnoxiously predatory, and the ciggies are very much on their way out. And our love of beer has switched to an appreciation of quality as much of quantity.
But we Australian men are still like Williamson’s brilliant creation in that play, Mal, wandering around with a beer mug on a chain around our neck, hoping other blokes will be impressed.
I only have so many thousand drinks left on this planet, and I’m determined to make very few of them beer. And if that makes me less of a proper male, then that’s too bad. I refuse to buy into our macho drinking culture any longer.
Oh, and did I mention I drink whisky? Neat whisky.