NOT DRINKING

MY DAD WORKED IN BOTTLING HALL OF THE LOCAL BREWERY but rarely drank. In those days, brewery workers would get a case of beer each, presumably to stop them robbing it (which had variable results, as evidenced by my uncle Morris, who also worked in the brewery until he was sent to prison for robbing the beer).

Round our way, the brewery was one of the main employers of dads, so, when we were teenagers (and I’m talking 13 here), cases of beer and alcohol-fuelled fun abounded.

We had cupboards full of beer and my sister and me would just help ourselves when we came home from school. Double Diamond works wonders with children’s television and I can still remember the taste of my home made Brown Ale ice lollies. I’m talking age nine or so here.

I remember going to my mate’s 7th birthday party – a proper kids’ birthday party with games and jelly and all that—where we all drank glasses of cider.

Added to this, there was always other booze in the house, in case anyone came to visit – cherry brandy, sherry, that sort of thing – and I’d pester my mother until I was allowed a glass. Seriously, man, I was quite pissed quite a lot as a kid. When the parents of the year 1974 realised I was, quite literally, rolling shitfaced on the living room floor after Sunday dinner, aged 9 or so, my dad started selling his beer allowance off. I remember feeling gutted.

I’ve always loved the warm hug of the drink, and was always an enthusiastic participant.

As a young man, my tastes developed and I started to get more into beers – Guinness initially, then onto lovely foaming nut-brown British ales.

I also found whiskey to be very pleasant indeed and would readily move on to a Black Bush or two towards the end of an evening, or warm up a cold winter’s evening – or fight off a cold – with a hot whiskey.

Wine came to me later in my twenties, as did gin and the occasional cocktail (Martinis and Gibsons, and Negronis mainly, but I do have a soft spot for a Black Russian). Oh, and Campari with a sploosh of soda and a curl of orange peel.


Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French gastronome once said, “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”, and until recently, I wholeheartedly agreed. Also pretty gloomy looking was a holiday breakfast without a Heineken or a wait for a flight without a pint of Guinness.

Other than that, I didn’t drink much; I’ve never driven drunk, never spent the rent on white cider, never pissed or shat the bed due to being pissed (although I have puked in the bed – looking at you, Grand Final Day 2016!), only ever suffered alcohol withdrawals once (Birmingham 2017, on a visit back to the old country, waiting to meet my non-drinking mate for lunch after about 5 solid weeks of drinking the equivalent of about 10 pints a day); I’ve never drunk liveners in the morning, unless it was after a particularly brutal night and it was part of an ongoing session. I’ve rarely missed work due to hangovers, but admittedly, probably should have on occasion.

Australian beer is largely pish – hate to sound un-Australian, but it’s true. Like the very worst European supermarket own-brand 12-little bottles for a fiver, bier blonde. Characterless…unless that character is one portrayed by, I dunno, Adam Sandler or Helena Bonham-Carter. I couldn’t believe how bad VB was when I first visited Australia, yet people genuinely seem to enjoy it. Well, they drink it, anyway. As luck would have it, we live in the city where Cooper’s is brewed. A pint of Cooper’s Pale or Sparkling Ale is well-matched to a hot, dusty South Australian day.

It is my firmly-held opinion that most microbrewed beer the world over is fucking putrid. The current preoccupation with beer so heavily hopped that you could preserve an aborted foetus in it is beyond my comprehension. Back in the seventies and eighties, people would brew their own beer and it generally stank. They would inevitably foist it on you when you went to their houses, with the near-Faustian bargain that, if you are able to summon the reserves to keep it down and mutter some pleasantries, you would go home trollied for free.

As a teenager (here we go again; different times), my mate’s dad would give us each a half-pint glass of 50/50 lager and homebrew. This homebrew was thick as mince and would lay at the bottom of the glass like staunch mercury, refusing to allow the lager to permeate through. It must’ve been about 12% alcohol though. Like Duvel, if it were actually made by The Devil.

Nowadays, bearded male purveyors of stinking beer like to call themselves microbrewers, give their filthy-tasting product names like Bummer Dog (©Chart Music Podcast) or, I dunno, Fanny Batter and people nod with acknowledgement of the unripe grapefruit notes until they can no longer speak/stomach any more. They’ve paid $10 for a little glass though. Capitalism, eh?

If I were a microbrewer, I’d call my over-hopped IPA Hoprophagia. You’ll either get that, or you won’t.

The wine down here is very drinkable; reds, heavy like boiled-down cough mixture; Rieslings like cold, delicious washing up liquid. And whatsmore, you can order a glass or bottle of wine in a pub or cafe and still be seen as a proper drinker, rather than a half-arsed drinker.

About 20 years ago, I started getting reflux. I managed this for years with Rennies, then moved on to over the counter ranitidine. then when that wore off, I finally went to the GP, then a specialist, had two endoscopies and ended up on Somac, which worked well for years. I’d still have occasional breakthrough bouts, but not usually anything too concerning. My gastro-intesinal tract never really felt like it was on my side, though, you know?

The start of this year was an epic drinking year. Friends visited from the UK, then more friends visited from the UK, then we went off on holiday to Vietnam, where we drank a lot of very reasonably priced gin and beer, and partook eagerly of the local wine, with its delicate faecal notes. I decided to have a month long break from the booze when I got home, to give my aching liver a rest.

Fuck, it was hard. Charlotte and I would lay in bed pining for something…anything…to take the edge off. Things got easier toward the end of the month, though, where it got to the point that I didn’t really miss it anymore. I also dropped 4 kilos – right off the belly. Despite the fact that all the clothes I had made in Hoi An look too big for me now, this is a good thing. After a couple of weeks, I noticed my reflux had gone. Completely. No medication, no breakthrough episodes, no retribution for eating raw chillis, crisps and pickles right before bed – nothing. Gone.

After the month was up, I drank a Campari, and had one pint of pale when I met my mate for dinner the following week, got a bit of reflux and I haven’t drunk since. The absolute pleasure of feeling like your digestive tract is your friend is hard to describe. Other than that, I’d like to say that I wake up brighter and breezier in the mornings (I don’t), or that I sleep better (I don’t, although I suppose I don’t get woken by rising bile any more) or that I feel less stressed and that my brain chemistry is more happiness-aligned (it isn’t). I do save a shit-load of cash, though. Or I spend a shit-load of cash on other things, is more to the point. I don’t find social situations harder…or easier.

One thing I’ve found vaguely amusing is that people give me their best attempt at a sympathetic aren’t-you-brave look when I tell them I’ve stopped drinking. Even when I tell them the reasons why, their faces say, “I forgive you for concocting such an elaborate lie; it can’t be easy telling people you’re an alcoholic.”

So, what do I drink instead?

When I go out, I drink lemon, lime & bitters or ginger beer when I’m in a pub, and water with meals or chinotto when it’s available. Coke’s nice. To be honest, and to my own utter amazement, I haven’t missed it at all, really.

At home, I tend to drink tea (of course), and water. However, I do quite enjoy chilled rose bud tea – it’s a non-sugary, grown-up drink, which is cheap and easy to make, as long as you have somewhere to buy the rose buds. This can be drunk either in it’s basic-bitch form or given a next-level pimping, like this one I had here, which contained the same sort of shit you’d stick in a Pimms.

KOMBUCHA

IF EVER THERE WAS A SIGNIFIER THAT YOU’RE A THOROUGHLY 21st Century type of dude, surfing the zeitgeist like a pro, then making your own kombucha is it.

I’d seen a bottle is a supermarket a couple of years ago and given it a try, being quite underwhelmed by the pop-vinegar experience. I wasn’t keen to go back a second time, but would read lots about people making their own and how good it is for you.

I work with a chap who is one of those shining examples of what a healthy lifestyle can do for a middle-aged man. He glides round the office on a fluffy cloud of probiotics, offering his (fucking delicious) protein balls around, does hot yoga, karate…you know the kind of thing. He’s a bit of a fermented food evangelist – well, he would be – and gave me the inside scoop on kombucha and its benefits. He also showed me how easy it is to make and then gave me the SCOBY.

It’s now coming up to a year later and I’m still making it every week. I don’t bother with the second ferment and flavouring, but just have a sploosh every day in my muesli smoothies. This, I find, is much more pleasant than drinking it as a drink. Also, I understand it can be a bit harsh on the old tooth enamel, and at my age…

The good thing about making your own is that it is cheap. You don’t need to go out any buy loads of specialist equipment or supplies. My total ‘kit’ consists of:

Large coffee plunger (a few bucks from Big W)

Chopsticks

Tea strainer

Small plastic funnel

Rubber band

Kitchen roll

Pop-top glass bottles ($2 each from Big W)

The total ingredients are:

Green or black tea

Honey or sugar

Water, boiling.

SCOBY

All you do is make a large pot of sweet tea. Wait for it to cool, then add the SCOBY and a sploosh of your previous batch, cover it and leave it for a week to ten days.

When it’s ready, you get a lovely home-brew, yeasty smell from it. You just put the SCOBY to one side, decant it (straining it if you want), and add the SCOBY to the next batch. Easy.

Each time you make a brew, your SCOBY will grow a layer, so you just throw the top layer (the ‘mother’ in the compost).

Motherfucker

And it’s forgiving – my SCOBY has survived through the hottest of Adelaidian summers and coolest of winters, doesn’t mind if it brews for a few days more than usual, because I don’t get round to making the next batch, or if the ingredients are a bit over or under.

I recently had a commercially-produced bottle, (this, here) – which overwhelmingly tasted of artificial sweetener and was really rather unpleasant. Made me realise, actually, how good my home made stuff is.

ICED COFFEE

UNTIL I MOVED TO ADELAIDE, I’D NEVER TASTED ICED COFFEE. Along with AFL, pawpaw cream, emu oil, bikie associates and the chicken parmie, it’s one of those things that are almost ubiquitous here, and virtually unknown in most other places.

Very soon after arriving, we’d noticed that it was everywhere; predominantly Farmers Union down here in those days, although their market share has been encroached upon by many pretenders to the iced coffee throne in the intervening years. Apparently, it out-sells Coca-cola – this is one of those things people in Adelaide tell to newcomers (along with “It’s a large country town”, “two degrees of separation” and “I like to smoke a bit of ice to get the housework done”). I remember me and the little ‘un, keen to start living the ADL dream, going out one morning and sitting on a bench overlooking the sea (or ‘ocean’. As we’d come to know it) and drinking a Farmers Union Strong, which tastes like cold, watery-milky instant coffee with a shit-load of sugar, served in a tetra-brick. Not bad at all.

Iced coffee: the perennial Adelaide favourite.

I later went on to try the fancy ones available in cafes, which suffer from the curse of Australian food, which is Too Many Ingredients. Essentially, they end up being a coffee-based knickerbocker glory.

I’d assumed that iced coffee was introduced to Australia by Vietnamese migrants at the end of the last century, but, according to wikipedia, it’s been around a lot longer than that. The warm weather makes you want your drinks cool, I suppose.

Just the first of many Vietnamese iced coffees.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to visit Vietnam, where I did my best to drink as much coffee as possible. These varied in quality, from those where single-filter coffee, full of bitter dark chocolate notes drips tantalisingly slowly into a glass of ice, cooling before it touches the layer of condensed milk in the bottom of the glass, where both elements mingle into, what has to be, one of the world’s great coffee – if not taste – experiences, to those that tasted a bit rough-arsed and Caterer’s Blend-y.

So, here’s my recipe for iced coffee. Sometimes I drink it with sugar; sometimes I don’t.

Large shot of espresso (see here).

Milk (whichever variety tickles your fancy)

Brown sugar

Ice

Dissolve the sugar in the coffee and pour over the ice. Add the milk. Drink. Best served whilst wondering if the weather will ever get cooler again.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT COFFEE

I FUCKING LOVE COFFEE. Always have. It helps you wake up, helps you think; helps you poo. Living in Adelaide, a city where the inhabitants try to distract themselves from the ennui caused by living in Adelaide, by being obsessed, not just with coffee, but with perfect coffee, has only made this love more potent.

Quality froth.

I try to start every day with as good a cup as I can manage and drink two or three more cups each day. I avoid regularly buying from coffee shops, despite working near one of the best, largely because I’m a bit of a skinflint, but also so that – when I do go out for a cup – I like it to feel like a treat.

I bought a cheapo espresso machine a few years ago, which was quickly flogged to death in this household of relentless coffee drinkers. When my mum died and I inherited a few quid, I invested in a fancy DeLonghi coffee machine, which, although it was eye-wateringly expensive, lasted years with the occasional service and repair, churning out decent coffee, multiple times a day. We were all fucking bereft when it finally gave up the ghost. When I priced up a replacement, they were, sadly, just too expensive to justify the outlay.

As luck would have it, I’d been in an op shop (thrift/charity shop) and picked up a boxed, Bodum glass milk frother a couple of years previously, just because it was too good to resist at $5. It looks and functions like a traditional cafetière (French press/plunger), but without any metal parts on the jug, so you can put an inch or two of milk in it, pop it into the microwave to warm up, then plunge the plunger up and down to froth the milk. I thought I’d dig this out of the cupboard and give it a whirl, not having very high hopes, to be honest. Turns out it makes hugely thick, luscious, frothy milk. Well done Bodum. It also produces good results with your non-dairy milks, too.

I did a bit of internet research and found the Brikka moka pot, made by Bialetti, which has a little valve inside which is supposed to add crema to the coffee. I invested in the 6 shot version. It makes consistently superb coffee, frequently with a decent crema, which I drink with my frothed milk which takes, rather conveniently I think, about the same amount of time to prepare as the coffee takes to percolate.

It’s also worth noting that this process takes about the same amount of time as using the machine, once you factor in waiting for it to flush out, warm up etc. You also avoid having to clean the machine, which was always a proper ball-ache.

The only problem I had was sitting the moka pot on the gas stove. The iron trivet-thingy was just too small, so it would always be a bit of a balancing act, leading to the occasional spill – and fuck me, it makes a mess if it falls over.

To resolve this, I managed to buy online some small, flat, circular iron things which sit on the stove to support the pot. Unfortunately, due to my inability to read Japanese, I bought three, but never mind, eh.

One afternoon, on a day off, I was pottering round the house when I fancied a coffee, so made and drank a six-cup special. This gave me the worries. Quite uncomfortably so. So, for the sake of my mental health, I got myself a smaller version.

This wonderful little gadget (also made by Bialetti, as it happens), delivers a single shot of espresso straight into the cup and is perfect for giving you a little coffee-caffeine hit, without causing your brain to spoil your precious day away from your place of employment by causing you to ruminate over conversations you had ten years ago or why your boss is such a cunt.

I’m not getting paid to recommend this.

During the day at work, I drink black coffee made in my little cheapo one cup cafetière/plunger/French press. Whilst I’m not one to skimp on the essential ingredient, I’ve recently discovered that the organic, fair trade ground coffee sold by Aldi is, to me, pretty hard to beat. It’s not just because I’m trying to be woke, either.

It’s frothy, man. [Shout out to the 70’s kids out there]

A note about milk. Currently, I’m drinking oat milk at home and will happily go for whole milk, soy, dog, cat or oat if I’m out and about, depending how the mood takes me and I appreciate the taste variations.