British Culture and Life-stages

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Years ago, when I watched soap operas I learnt that the pub was the focal point in British communities. EastEnders has the Queen Vic and Corrie (Coronation St) has the Rovers Return. Though the occasional fight or drunkard would present, these two pubs were on the whole a place used throughout the week in the evenings, for locals to meet friends and family, and have a drink. The general usage of the pub was not to get drunk, but to meet socially in a comfortable environment outside work or home.

I believe there is a growing shift from this regular habitual moderate drinking at pubs towards drinking at home, or, drinking less regularly, at the end of the week, and drinking a lot more to make up for it!

Our drinking habits are considerably affected by our life-stage:

Under 18

Most teens will have had some experience drinking alcohol. Whether that’s drinking at a meal with the family, or going to a house party, or even stealthily convincing a barman you’re old enough (though I think that’s had a huge crack down since the days when I was a teenager).

Young Adult

As a young adult, suddenly you have the freedom to go drinking. Often people are less familiar with their limits, or enjoy getting drunk as most of their best tall stories will relate to being in a drunken state. Often most social gatherings will be around drinking. This is especially typified by university students -where deals will be specially directed to student offers, with ‘freshers’ events centred around getting drunk as fast as possible. At this most inexperienced and liberated stage in a young Brit’s life they are at their most vulnerable. One of the main elements in rapes and attacks are drunkenness; A&E is full of people who are either drunk or have been involved in an accident or fight involving a drunk.

Parents

Firstly women whilst pregnant are advised by the government to limit their intake of alcohol, the boundaries are vague -the NHS says to try to avoid it altogether, but if you still want to limit it to 1-2 units once or twice a week. Drinking whilst pregnant can cause harm to the unborn baby.

When people become parents they find all ‘me’ time seems to be lost (one reason why I really don’t want children for a good while!) Luxury’s like sleep, social activities, two-seater cars and even finding time to feed or drink yourself go out of the window. Ok so I’m exaggerating a little, but a lot of these are really true! Drinking in the pub becomes a rare pleasure. Finding venues which are baby friendly and are easy to wheel you pram into are a priority -some pubs will be quiet enough and the right atmosphere for this, others not so. If you don’t choose to take your sproglet  with you then drinking becomes several times more expensive and time consuming as you find a child-minder and pay for their time. Other than physical limitations like time and money -new parents often seem to mellow out -they have less of an urge to go out on the town.

Parents of older children: easier as they might want to stay over their friends at the weekend, sleepovers provide the best time for you to have time with your partner. Maybe one child is old enough to look after their siblings if you pop out for a few hours. Or certainly drinking at home (in moderation of cause) is a good way to introduce the concept of adults habits in a controlled setting where they can see a role model for consuming drink responsibly. Parents of older children are more likely to also have a more mature career, more income, yet less impetus to spend on activities around drink but on more long-term items like upgrades in household items, mortgages, etc.

And parents of older teenagers: after all the years of my parents driving me to Drama, Choir, friends houses, school, the doctors….. everywhere….. I finally learnt to drive at the age of 17. With the little time I had left before I left for uni I drove them to the pub to enjoy a rare drink where the pair of them could drink their alcohol of choice rather than the usual pint for me and Coke for my partner. We lived out in the sticks -that’s the general term for countryside for those that don’t know- so walking to the nearest pub would take an afternoon!

I noticed during the phase between my older sister leaving for university and me preparing to for university, my parents were a little more spontaneous in their leisure, perhaps due to a sense of their own personal freedom, anticipating an empty nest.

Adults (childless or otherwise)

Certainly in the City (my own example is London), our jobs tend to require that we go socialising in a pub or bar after work on a Friday; and often quarterly drinks are even subsidised by firms. With the exception of Muslims who really miss out on this social interaction with their colleagues. Granted, we should make more of an effort to provide more social outings which aren’t centred around consuming alcohol when we live in such a diverse multicultural society today.

Perhaps in the countryside this is a less common ritual, and is more frequently a case of meeting friends outside work.

The older generation are perhaps the most in tune with this moderate and often attitude towards pubs. We have ‘old man’ pubs in Britain -however I think the lager drinkers often call any pub without a massive flat-screen for sports an ‘old man pub’. Maybe its because older people have the time to sit and enjoy a pint, maybe out of all the social activities this is the most appropriate for them -price and activeness- maybe they have learnt from their youth that drunkenness only gets you a few unexplained bruises and a massive hangover, so enjoy drink wisely….

A Common Flaw

After viewing documentary programmes on British terrestrial channels recently I have noticed that middle-aged adults -of all classes- are also over-consuming drink, not just Britain’s teenage and young adult population.

BBC2 ‘s ‘The Tube’ shows footage of suited City workers and women in clubbing outfits on the way home on a Friday night. Most of these people are inebriated, which has some horrible consequences. A tube worker comments that it wouldn’t be Friday night without a fight happening; a cleaner mopping up sick said, that never has she had an apology from drunks who vomit, who act as though they aren’t even embarrassed by their behaviour.

Channel 4’s ‘Making Bradford British’, as I have previously mentioned, shows how understandable it is that Mohammed, an Asian taxi driver, believes that British behaviour is about getting wasted on nights out in town. This view from people of cultures outside my own has made me feel embarrassed to be British -from people of other faiths, countries, or born into this country from immigrant decent.

A further programme recently on BBC 3called ‘Sun Sex and Suspicious Parents’ is focused on documenting young British holiday makers having their first holiday without the parents -only their parents were watching…. this documentary is not for those without strong stomachs. Though I believe this is showing the most extreme cases of what teens get up to, it did show an element of what is expected as an entry ritual into adulthood.

What does all this say about us as a Nation?

Seeing these documentary footages -and also seeing it in real life at uni and generally in city centres- made me feel sure we’re on a downward spiral, with our culture being centred on morally abhorrent behaviour rather than on the values we held say 50 years back -when our British pride was about courage and valour, make do and mend, and politeness.

Drunkenness leads people do be careless, have less awareness, exaggerated emotions, and leads to violence, rape, accidents, general harm to health etc.

Though this dark side is present across many ages, classes, life-stages, genders, etc., I believe that there is still a large percentage of people who do not often abuse alcohol in this way, and simply enjoy moderate and light consumption as a way of social life.

Furthermore we should be proud of our brewing heritage, and our gorgeous old pubs and the sexy new ones. This is our social sphere -yes it can be abused and consumed in excess, and yes its not perfect now we live in a more diverse nation, but it’s a character and a tradition Britain has had for centuries.

Our famous poets, novelists and playwrights drew inspiration from them and wrote in them.

And all through the ages its something that’s bound us as a nation because its accessible to all classes. And its offered the little bit of pleasure that lets us escape from the drabness or difficulties in life, or, has aided us in celebrating the life events we come by -graduation, weddings, engagements, job promotion, new years.

Irrational yet Rational Decisions

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Emotional Beings

Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi said that 80% of our choices are made emotionally. He called marketers to put emotion back into advertising -it made me wonder -how far do we rationally choose the choices we make? And how can we make sensible predictions about decisions if we are emotionally making them?

I never have been a great decision maker when it comes to personal choices. Its silly really, I can choose rationally when it comes to work -weighing up what is good in short and long term, and balancing the trade-offs. But when it comes to picking out a meal in a restaurant or a pint in a pub I have butterflies. Which shall I pick? I’ve gotten better with practice over the years, and my boyfriend helps with a little reminder: “This is not your last meal”.

Going to Catford Bridge Tavern I am like a child in a sweetshop. There are so many to try on tap, and they all look interesting. To spice things up a bit the choice is more that what’s on tap today: it’s a bit like a rolling beer festival as these ales are replaced by new ales when they’re finished -so the variety just keeps on diversifying. A word of warning -don’t get too attached to one! But it adds to my excitement, as I know I’ll be greeted with new choice of guest ale pretty much every time I visit, even if I visit twice a week it seems.

So how do I choose? I walk up and down the bar taking it all in, and generally pick whatever is a polar opposite to what I last tried: a stout when I last had a light, hoppy ale, or a nutty deep brown one after a slightly chilled porter.  I am a variety seeker. Perhaps this is a rational strategy after all. I want to try as many things as possible in this finite life we live.

Or I simply like the badge:

They have some beautiful branded (iron scorched) wooden badges for some Moors beers. The beauty of a logo or badge can really draw you in to give it a try. Though they say don’t judge a book by its cover, I can’t help it. I’m like a moth to a light.

This Hobgoblin brand logo appealingly reminds me of the elaborate and otherworldly book covers of Terry Pratchett’s Disc World series.

Attitude to Risk

What I love about ale is its at a very similar price point to one another, and hasn’t got too much ‘risk’ involved; as good pubs will only purchase quality, and the price of a pint will not break your bank if you decided you really don’t like it. To top this, most pubs will let you have a little test try if you are unsure.

Whereas if I’m choosing a meal the prices can vary greatly, they are much more costly if you do make a mistake and so salience is higher; there is more room to disappoint as I think the capacity for expectations is greater in food (I have an anticipation of how a lasagne should be -if they interpret this differently I may be pleasantly surprised or really disappointed). Whereas I do not presume to expect a particular type when I buy a beer -I’m no expert, I’m like an experimenter with no hypothesis……just happy to get a pleasant sensation or outcome.

Emotionally Involved

I’ve not been fortunate to try the tailor-made Ruby Hop Cat yet -an ale brewed and named specially for The Catford Bridge Tavern. I have to say, knowing there has been a finite number of barrels made and that some have already been drunk, is a huge incentive to go back and try before the opportunity passes me by.

I do think this personal affiliation with a product makes it far more desirable to me. If I feel part of the brand, its values or its associations, I am far more likely to make an effort to choose it.

However perhaps this bond is only part-way in influencing me. For example I have an emotional connection with Shepherd Neame. I bought a trip around it’s brewery last year and learnt about its staff, its practices and principles. I tasted its beers and learnt about its product line. We enjoyed it so much we went back at the end of summer to the Hop Festival in Faversham where the brewery is situated. I now have two positive events in connection with this brewery, and know which ales of their I particularly like.

However this is not always the deciding factor: On Friday night we were out at this lovely pub somewhere near Old Street in London. I instantly spotted Spitfire and was about to ask for it, when I noticed one next to it of another brewery that I’d not seen before. Unfortunately I can’t remember its name except I think it has something to do with Angels or Wings or something. The variety seeker came out in me and I chose that one instead. It was tasty and I’m glad I went for it. But I would have had a certain positive outcome had I chosen the Spitfire, as it’s a favourite Shepherd Neame of mine.

So in the world of beer, if a pretty new thing comes my way with an inviting label, if I haven’t tried it before, chances are I will choose it, in spite of my love of another brand.

What a beer hussy.

So how can advertisers lull my variety seeking emotionally irrational yet vaguely rational mind pick theirs over the competition?

Convincing the Pubs

I guess more importantly how do brewers get the bars to stock theirs in the first place, in order for me to have the opportunity to choose it?

Guinness, for example (sorry to use Guinness in another example!), is so often chosen as their token stout, that it almost seems like the only choice to us consumers. However I tried a lovely MJ Fortis of Ilkley Brewery the other day and fell in love.

Delicious.

MJ Fortis goes nicely with the pork pie and piccalilli.

A stout you’re more likely to have heard of is Murphys -(both on tap at the Catford Bridge Tavern). But these stouts are far less likely to be as successful countrywide, simply because Guinness is the only one usually stocked in pubs these days. Even though there are plenty of really good quality stouts to try. So the key for brewers is to get into the hearts and minds of the independent pubs out there with the luxury to choose.

All that considered I still have considerable choice where-ever I go; whether in a wonderful real ale pub or other pubs. So what makes me choose the drink I choose, if I only had the chance to try just the one?

  • Is it the most eye catching pretty design of badge
  • Or the position it sits at the bar? (this was noticed recently by a barman who moved the position of a beer after a week and found its popularity shot up)
  • Or is it the name sparking associations in my mind of happy times?
  • Maybe its the relative strength
  • Or the fact that some logos offer a clue as to what type of beer will actually come out like?

*for example Dark Star brewer’s Revelation : For the Love of Hops :OK so I know it will taste very hoppy! (Though I confused ‘Dark Star’ brewery and the deeper colours of the badge with imagining a darker beer….silly really)

  • Is it less personal and more of a social choice -the associations the people around me will make if I order it? -how does this change from social scenario to social scenario, and person to person, gender to gender…..

Whatever the secret is behind my decisions I would love to know! Meanwhile I consume blindly, and live fully. All hail Ale.

Pintsize Power

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On Tuesday I wrote a post on Catford Bridge Tavern, and I’ve had an overwhelming readership of this posting, interestingly from many parts of the world. I’m really pleased people have discovered the blog, and pleased to spread the word about my new favourite pub!

For anyone new to my blog, this is a project to give my reflective view on consumerism, in particular: consuming alcohol.

Since Wednesday’s lecture I’ve been thinking about:

‘dark consumerism’ and where the power lies in the phenomenon of consuming drink.

Deborah E. Gibbons says we have no choice but to choose. Consumption is not really an option, but a necessity. The choices we make shape our lifestyles. When we wake in the morning and you turn on the light you are in-fact consuming. But what about when it comes to non-essential consumables, and hedonic consumption like alcohol?

Determinism

How far do we have power as consumers? So much is already decided for us. Of course we have free will but wasn’t I somehow destined to be a drinker? I was born into a middle class, traditionally British family, with no radical views. I was born into Britain where drinking is not just acceptable but a very central part of our culture. In the countryside we have wonderful old pubs. The local community is founded on the Church the Post Office and the Pub. Now less of us are Church-goers, and many Post Offices are being shut down, the pub is a lifeline to our community as a gathering place.

As young adults there is virtually no social event without the presence of alcohol. If, however, I’d lived in another country, or been brought up in the Salvation Army or Musilm etc, life would have been very different.

I believe one of the things that divides us in a multi-ethnic society is alcohol. In Channel 4’s ‘Making Bradford British’ an Asian taxi driver sees drunken mini-skirted young women, and lager louts sprawled in the streets at night. He says being ‘British’ is about going on nights out and getting bladdered.

This is a jaundiced view of our country, but sadly it is also one part of our culture. One I feel is getting out of control.When did we lose control?

Alcohol is a Drug

Alcohol is essentially a drug. A mind altering substance. I hate drugs and would never think of using them, even if cannabis became legalised I wouldn’t try it. I’ve put too much into my education to actively choose to mess up my brain with drugs! But alcohol is a light form of drug is it not? It alters perception. It makes you more confident and heightens you’re emotions whether happy or sad. And the scary bit is it is addictive. People get treated for addiction all the time.

So why do I accept alcohol and not other drugs? And why is caffeine OK? Well, I believe all things are essentially bad if over consumed. Even Oxygen is bad for you if you consume too much of it! Life is all about balance. And OK we don’t always get this balance right, but it is possible. Lots of beers even have a good mix of nutrients in them that are helpful to the body. Hence Guinness’s old slogan that its good for you.  Though really there’s also bad stuff in there so overall you can’t really market that as a ‘health’ product these days!

I see alcohol as a treat, much like sitting down with a Cadbury’s Cream egg or a thick slice of mum’s homemade chocolate cake. I know it’s not going to be kind to my hips, or my internal organs, but hey -you have to life life!!

Power to choose and our underlying motivations

Who is responsible for the effects alcohol is having on our country?

  • Should we re-address parenting?

Difficult. And I know people from great family backgrounds that still go crazy with drink anyway -can it be helped by parents? Especially as the poblem is not just teenagers but adults too.

  • Should marketers stop advertising to us -like cigarettes?

No, I love beer and lager ads. I don’t like Fosters, and I won’t be more likely to drink it, but I love their ads. I truly believe marketers do not have the power to put need or want there without it first beginning within ourselves. You might want a Dyson because the adverts have made you aware they have this new technology -but it essentially fixes a problem you knew you had (if you do the housework). You might try a beer or a perfume because you like the ad. But if you didn’t like the smell/taste, you wont buy it again however funny or sexy it was.

  • Should we raise the minimum age to 21 like America?

Teens start drinking before the age of 18, what will raising this limit do?

  • The government is further considering the minimum pricing of alcohol -will this make a difference?

I know if alcohol became too expensive for us in my undergrad days we’d probably have made it, or bought it on the black market. I knew smokers that did that with their local off-licence: there’s cigarettes under the counter you can ask for with no English on the packaging -at a suspiciously low price….

Pricing is a factor though. The biggest changes  to your consumption of alcohol can be the product price. Pubs where they have a slightly higher price usually yield different clientèle. The punters are completely different from those in say a Weatherspoons. These punters’ motivation for drinking in this local is about enjoyment of the drinks in themselves-not in ‘getting pissed’. If I simply wanted to get pissed I find the cheapest place to get the cheapest bottle on the shelf, or pint in the bar.

But it goes further than these broad characterisations of punters and pubs. Often you find yourself in a situation where you are in a place purely because of social courtesy. Then if its really expensive -or you can’t see a price list -you get more ‘long’ drinks to see you through longer. Or you don’t get what you want want but something that’s on offer.

Though we might choose to consume alcohol, and where and when and how much and what type, I put it to you that in this culture, alcohol is chosen for you if you want to remain a part of that cultural society. It is like a rite to entry, a ritualistic shared experience that says: you are one of us.

But then this just won’t fit with my pure enjoyment of alcohol -well ales mainly. I love them. I love the variety, their smells, tastes, colours, textures (bubbly/thick/etc), everything. There’s some alcoholic drinks I don’t particularly like so I don’t drink them.

I’ll take last night. A friend’s birthday. Before I went I really didn’t want to go. I had a headache, my partner had cooked tea for us, I was tired. But, I went. And I’m glad I did. The cocktails were great and on a deal, the group was mixed with people I knew and people I didn’t -always fun getting to know friends’ friends 🙂 and I wanted to celebrate a friend’s birthday, so it was great to see her.

So going back to my consumption of alcohol and my choice -no, I didn’t have a choice of the venue, but I did have a choice whether or not to drink alcohol. Though I expect I would have gone home a lot sooner had I not been slightly intoxicated to get over nerves of talking to new people and annoyance at ear-piercing noise.

Free will is limited to a certain extent:

As much as we may like the things we consume, perhaps a good half or even 3/4 of the time we are actually consuming it because the social scenario leads us to. After-all, I don’t drink alone (often)!

Your comments are welcomed.

Catford Bridge Tavern

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This will probably be one of many I will write on Catford Bridge Tavern.

Apologies for the lack of good pictures of the inside of this pub -I’m terrible at taking pictures inside at night…. I’ll try to give you a good description about why this pub is so exciting to me. And hopefully some of you reading will live locally enough to venture in and see what I’m talking about.

There’s no question Catford was ready for a change.

There are not many pubs in the area, and none of them have looked particularly welcoming to me.

Every day we passed the Copperfield, a pub next to the train station, which has an infamous reputation. Know for gangs, Cocaine-toilet-seats, stabbings, raves, intoxicating smell of cannabis within a half a mile radius, booming music at all times of the day and night, drunken women driven around on car bonnets, sexual exploitation allegations, and ‘rivers of urine’ at closing time….. the Copperfield slunk away from massive debts just before a Licence review last December.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Excitement has been brewing in Catford since early January when we heard Antic Ltd took over the licence for the Copperfield. It’s name has been changed to one more in tune with it’s roots: Catford Bridge Tavern.

(Used to be called the Railway Tavern back in the days of black and white photos).

‘Catford Tavern’ has been followed by a snowballing number of locals on Twitter in the period leading up to opening with around 400 followers before Opening on 1st March.

The pub was packed on Opening, last Thursday night, and I had work to do so I didn’t go in this night. Instead I went in on Saturday and Sunday nights when the pub was much quieter. Considering my expectations were heightened by all the pre-opening buzz, and my semi-delusional ideas that this new pub would save the community of Catford and bring it together, one would imagine I might have had a climb down…. but no. I was really pleased to see the pub has even more going for it than I’d anticipated, and much more to come even (they open another section of the building soon for food).

Firstly, yes it is a beautiful old building and there was a lot of original charm to work with. It now has a shabby chic appeal to it with lovely old books in nooks, a fire place, tea lights, mismatching comfy chairs, old tables, lamps in corners, second-hand props such as old mirrors, dressers and suitcases make you feel completely transported to a haven. Right by a main road and a busy bus-stop and yet no outside noise, or intrusion.

I’ve also never been to a pub with so much variety. There was the Devonshire Cat up in Sheffield that was always packed full of punters, as it had a huge array of ales, ciders, lagers and wines. The Catford Bridge Tavern is similar in that there is a huge, huge amount of things to try on tap (and in bottle too). However it goes one further: they are offering really good bar snacks. So far I’ve tried the pork pie with home-made (chef-made) piccalilli, sausage roll (never knew how good these are with a pint!) and the Rosemary-Chilli Nuts (a-mazing : all different kinds of nuts in this and the chilli isn’t too strong -very addictive snack). There’s more I’ve yet to try, and believe me, I will be. All I can say is with this variety and quality a mere walk away from my house, my wallet’s going to be very light from now on….

Another key part to this pub’s success is the feeling of being a part of something exciting, new and special. The pub has a well-used twitter account, where they’ve set up a listening culture from the word go. Sometimes soliciting opinions from us-with questions like would you like a quiet space away from the main room? Suggestions for drinks? And they’re currently in the process of having a beer brewed specifically for our pub -and we get to offer names for the brew -which lots of people have participated in.

People also make suggestions to the pub, and they truly seem engaged and interested in giving them a go -as long as the suggestions aren’t too out there!

This is a new experience for me. Most organisations have so much bureaucracy that it is impossible to make changes or feel like you make any impact at all on the business. Clearly the owners and managers have a good idea about their ideal pub and a great eye for friendly bar staff, but they also aren’t averse to taking on the ideas of their customers too.

I hope this pub will reap the rewards of their efforts, and that lots more people visit in the coming days and weeks to try out the place, because once you’ve gone through the doors, you will be truly smitten.

To New Beginnings

So excited for Catford community, today is the day (finally) that Catford acquires a new pub on the map. Ok so it has been on the map before, but….. this new pub is special

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It’s been bought by a company who are known in the area for a number of brilliant looking pubs -each with their own character, but clearly a mark of quality (which is not always so prevalent in this area of South London!) The company is Antic Ltd.

We were in dire need of a good pub -there a so few around to begin with as the estate was built by Methodist teetotallers, and the ones we have are plagued by drugs, gangs and stabbings……nice. But, the council shut it down for that very reason, and now we have a new guy in town, bringing us the finest alcoholic beverages and fodder 🙂 They are engaging with over 300 people on twitter, who are following the pub before its opening, asking questions about people’s preferences etc. The plan is to serve quality food (they’ve shown us sample menus) and have loads of real ales on tap.

So exciting. I think it will be a much needed place to unite the community together. And I can’t wait to go home after my lecture and enjoy my first pint there.

Bring on Catford Bridge Tavern!!!

Cultural Norms

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How do the British differ from other countries?

When I go on holiday I must say I am generally most interested in the food they have to offer, I do travel on my taste buds. However it has given me some insight into how different cultures associate with drink.

I’m not in any way qualified to comment on the following cultures, but this just seems to be the case from the outsiders perspective I have from visiting these places on my travels.

China

China for instance doesn’t seem so preoccupied with drinking, the streets seem safe at night, and the idea of falling around drunk in public would just be strange at best. Their relationship with the authorities sees little deviation from the status-quo, but also socially it just wouldn’t be accepted.

What you notice is alcohol is around and available but it is not noticeably abused. There are only really 1 main beer brand that you see, and that’s countrywide (which is huge!): Tsingtao. There are others around, but this is the clear winner by far.

Beer seems to be the staple in alcohol. This I think may be a climate thing -it’s refreshing, I generally don’t drink to get inebriated, I drink to refresh myself. That’s why I love sitting in a sunny beer garden with a semi chilled beer to quench my thirst. China is a warm climate (mostly) and wine is probably the most popular in Europe where the climate is more ambivalent.

From my experience on there,  there was a lot more ‘local’ or home-brews of strong spirits, often with interesting colours and ambiguous safety or strength. I was only tempted into ordering some, when a hostel owner asked us to try as he was having some himself.

Wine is expensive out there and from trying one -I wasn’t that impressed with the quality…. perhaps its a status thing that the upper classes choose?

Morocco

Alcohol is against the country’s religion -Islam- and is treated much like drugs. It can’t be found in public shops or restaurants (for the most part, but we did find an exception: an out of town British pub with pictures of the queen, the beetles and our Union flag) and if you get to know a young local, they’ll take you to the right place -which is secretive- in my experience we were taken to this overpriced restaurant off the beaten track with belly dancers -like a haven for the rich and unscrupulous.It wasn’t my best night in Morocco -we have one overpriced round of drinks, found they guy who’d taken us there was not interested in paying for his share… and it wasn’t really what I had in mind on holiday in an Islamic country…..anyway very much like its an underground activity like drugs.

Well it sort of is a drug isn’t it? Its just we’ve come to accept it as a tolerable one in the UK. If taken appropriately, and for the right reasons.

France and Italy

Lovers and producers of wine. Go to localities, countryside and towns you will find they are very in touch with the product, and its producers. On the whole these countries are much more civilised than the UK when it comes to drinking -they are surrounded by the stuff, families allow their children to have it with them at meal times (watered down) -in France it is an extremely cheap product as they don’t have the huge taxes we have on alcohol. So why not the abuse? Well it’s a lot to do with the culture. They take pride in the quality, they have knowledge of their local vineyards, etc. Its about quality over quantity.

I’d love to say this could be replicated in the UK…..

Britain

I had the pleasure of attending a Hop Festival in Faversham, Kent, last summer. It was the time for harvesting the hops which make the main ingredient of beer.

For those not in the know, the esteemed and oldest brewery in the country, Shepherd Neame, resided in the beautiful country town of Faversham. Shepherd Neame is the brewery responsible for such masterful delights as the Spitfire, Master Brew, Asahi and Bishop’s Finger.

The festival has several stages for the many live acts -of morris dancing, live music and comedy- dotted around the town, and all the local shops put stalls out and there are cute little scouts selling cookies and cake. It is my Heaven. There are a multitude of different ales and ciders to try, and local brewery staff to meet, the pubs all have bands playing and their gardens and bars full of happy drinkers.

And the whole fairytale story is picture perfect with most people opting to have real hops in their hair like drinker’s halos. You couldn’t be more in touch with the source of the product.

I would like to say that for the most part everyone and everything is blissful throughout both days of the weekend, except in the evening. Most of the crowds had left -people went back to their camp-sites, left for dinner, and the teenagers came out. these teenagers were disgustingly drunk -fairly young and were just hanging on the streets littering, kicking rubbish about, puking…… ergh. It was a sad sight. How had the gotten the alcohol? Who had given or sold it to them? where were their parents!? Some of them looked very young. Its sad because it was such a big occasion in the year for this town, and you want some inclusion -but how do you do that with strict laws in place? Instead of enjoying the atmosphere and being part of the fun in the day, they had to resort of other means of drinking, which just ends up completely un-policed seen as its under-cover, and therefore they end result is they are just completely pissed.

I remember when I was younger and under-age, I was allowed to drink with the family -half a glass with a meal, for a barbecue.

When we were about 15 – 16 my small group of friends would look after one of my friend’s younger siblings whilst her parents when out for a Friday night down the pub. They wouldn’t be back late and they knew they could trust us. So they treated us with one bottle of beer each, to share the evening with friends. It was low strength, and it was one bottle. They knew we’d have babysat the girls anyway, with no need of a bribe, but I really felt it was a lovely gesture. It showed they trusted us, and wanted to share in the Friday feeling. I loved those Fridays together. We’d play cards and watched Big Brother (which was big back then -and was great for non-harmful gossiping!)

I wonder what teenagers experiences are nowadays? And whether it’s different from teenagers across the water in France?

Marketing Tricks

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Hi, just wanted to share with you a link to Zythophile’s blog about the oddity that surrounds marketing certain types of beer.

Knowledge empowers the variety seeker

I think this comes from the lack of knowledge surrounding this product category. The average person on the street will only know a small collection of beer types -quite like wine in a way. And so you don’t want to scare them into thinking they’re ‘experimenting’. Wrap it up in a seasonal title – Christmas Cheer, Jubilee Frolicking, Easter Nectar etc, and its suddenly an acceptable bit of seasonal fun.

Matt and I both like many types of beers, but on the whole I tend to like darker beers and Matt likes paler ales. But we also like variety and it can depend on my mood or the weather, or the limited choices I have.

But far beyond pale and dark beer, there is a myriad of styles out there. There’s Indian pale ale, bitter, stout, porter, fruit, milk stout, lager, spiced, strong ale etc.

What interests me is that We care more about Brand names than our knowledge about beer styles, as a nation. And the Guinness Stout point being an interesting case that I believe this blogger may have uncovered a truth:

The Guinness drinkers wouldn’t accept another stout as it’d be not the same as what their taste buds are used to, and non-Guinness drinkers would be put off trying it at all with the name stout.

And I bet its a supermarket thing in general. I do like to take a stroll down the beer isle at Sainsbury’s. But, though I may try out a few things I’m likely to buy at least a couple I’ve tried and loved before, and the new things in my trolley will most probably be from a Brewery I’ve already tried and loved (often I try to go for a deal that maximises the variety of bottles rather than getting a case of one type I like -as variety is important to me).

On the whole we are timid to try things new and strange. ‘Milk Stout’ -erghh people would say, Will it be flat? Will it be weirdly milky? What’s its shelf life?

Decisions Decisions

In the pub the pressure to make a decision is greater, so you have to make it faster and look more confident about your decision. Because you’re with people. Or even that you don’t want to be laughed at or scorned by a busy barman. So perhaps in this more intense setting you will simply choose the ale with the prettiest logo, or the one with the easiest name to spot or pronounce -not on what style of beer it is at all -in fact it might be a surprise to you when you see its colour or consistency.

Or, more likely for many, you’ll go for a brand that’s always on tap that you’ve heard off of the TV or whatever you’d friend picks.

Your comments and thoughts are welcomed.

Glassware

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Anmer Club

I went home last weekend to visit my parents. On the Saturday evening we went to their local, Anmer club, for Pea and Pie supper. The club is a lovely old building which was been serving a small group of people who mainly work on Sandringham estate. Over the years though it has opened up to other locals in the area. Anyways, this little club was packed full of about 30 people, some of whom had been making us this wonderful supper (the sweet suet crust pastry on the beef one was a-mazing btw). The atmosphere is great: wood burning stove, beautiful wooden rafters, old b&w pictures of the club, friendly people. Everyone knows each other and everyone says hello, Matt and I are welcomed in nicely too -they can see we’re relatives, and get chatting with us at our table.

The bar itself has only one thing on tap -Thwaits Bitter. The chalkboard above and side-by-side with a dashing portrait of the Queen in her twenties, lets everybody know what’s on tap this month, and the strength. It was nice, a good beer. If I hadn’t wanted that I could have gone for a bottle of something but that wouldn’t really be in the spirit, I feel.

What I’m getting to is when I sat down with the beer I suddenly noticed something wrong -the glass (though a beer glass) said ‘Guinness’. So wrong. A flicker of irritation when over my mind -probably some sort of OCD that I’ve never discovered) but then was quickly followed by a thought that this bar was so small it only had one tap -and so they can never get it completely right as the draught changes. But it’s funny how it even crossed my mind -“that’s wrong”.

Importance of Glasses

Coming from an events industry background I remember the importance over glasses. Red wine glasses being bulbous and perfect for swilling to get those aromas, white being thinner in shape, with a design for ease of balance, as you hold this glass from the stem, so as not to warm up a cold beverage.

When placing glasses for a non-served event, the table must be neatly presented, all glasses must be polished to an inch of its life, and placed equal distances from each other. We used to get our staff to place them in diamond shapes or triangular for smaller parties.

What shocks me is the shear amount of variety glasses out there relating to each drink.

Whiskey glasses

Shot Glasses

Port Sippers

Sherry Glass

Beer Glasses

Rituals

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Wine: the ‘Bullshit Production’

Watch from minute 7:20 of this clip for comedy description of wine.

I love McIntyre’s joke about the ‘Bullshit Production’ – taking roles in this whole pretence when consuming wine at restaurants. Yes, I also look at the wine menu with not a clue other than: white, red, less expensive, bloody-expensive.

Have you noticed this is a highly gendered sequence of events, and is also very hierarchical?

First the head of the table -assumed by the waiter- is asked to ‘try’ the wine: -no-one else- just him on behalf of the rest of the party – the head of the table is determined as basically the oldest or richest-looking man at the table. Once tasted, the wine is then poured into the glasses of all the women at the table, followed by the men. Weird huh?

Its like some sort of matcho system harking back to the days when women did not get out of cars, the doors were opened for them first, and men did the jobs that required daring or smarts……

There are also some other wonderful rituals I’ve come across which I will quickly touch upon:

Tequila Shots

Lick the skin between your thumb and forefinger (so the next part sticks), pour on salt, lick salt off, quickly down shot, followed even quicker by a tandem of crinkled, squirming facial expression and sucking on a lemon wedge.

Generally undertaken at the very same moment as all your friends, and perhaps a few people who you didn’t know until half an hour ago.

Give it another half an hour of this and you’ll not know who you are or where you’re stumbling to…..

Table etiquette for dinner parties

Port is passed to the Left. Everyone who’s watched Titanic should know that! 😛

Rounds

Ooooh peer pressure, you only got more influential since my school days…… rounds are the basis for people feeling as though they must buy all people in the group a drink at the bar, and this must go on till the last person has bought a round.

Opt out and you look cheap.

Opt in and you may end up getting pretty drunk if you’re anything like me and can’t consume that much alcohol in one night!

Benefits: the group stays intact for longer – avoiding half the group queuing all night at the busy crowded bar. Group cohesion.

The better option, that I see mostly these days -when you go to the bar you ask around and get the people who are finishing theirs, rather than timing it to buy all a drink simultaneously. This is better because then its less about group policies, and more about getting a friend -or two- a pint, knowing you might get a pint from them in return tonight, or maybe just next time you see them -its much more informal and less pressured 🙂

Can you think of any other rituals in drinking?

Next post: a little something on packaging and the plethora of glassware surrounding drink…….

Valentine’s Crush

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Happy Valentine’s Day all.

Ever had that ‘beer goggle’ experience, and waking up the next day next to a guy and you’re not sure how this all happened? I haven’t. Ha ha ha I can gloat. But for many this will be true. Yes ‘beer goggles’ are a common experience. One which makes you think the person you are talking to is devilishly attractive. In reality he’s not.

I imagine tonight of all nights this will be a beer goggle frenzy as the singles head out to town in search of love – or other.

Here’s a link to a wonderful Beer Goggle calculator: http://www.lemondrop.com/2009/04/20/beer-goggles-debunked-by-science/

But I guess what I’m really interested in the the phenomenon that you feel really sexy when you drink. Is it about posing with that Martini glass in hand, or the extra confidence you expect to have with your Dutch Courage? I think props can play a major role in how you feel. If you’ve ever acted in a drama group then you’ll understand that weird sensation of actually becoming that person when you try on the costume, and look at yourself in the mirror after hair and make-up -suddenly you have empathy, a new confidence you never had, etc. …

This definitely extends to life in general too. Its one of the reasons cited by schools in defence of their school uniforms, or why dress up in the bedroom can bring out the dark horse in the most unexpected of us girls.

So how far do we use drink as a prop to tell a story about ourselves or to play a character? Well its probably why cocktails are popular despite the varied quality and consistent high price from bar to bar. Its all about the glass and the presentation when it comes to a cocktail.

And is its such a overt thing to buy it has a social element to it. What do you want to say? I’m sexy, I’m manly, I’m different, I’m Irish, I’m driving…….I feel myself going back to the social identity theory so I will finish here.

p.s -what should I drink on Valentines with my partner?……