Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 1998

* Fear of Flavour *

I was talking recently to a confirmed lager drinker, a man of some intelligence, who has clearly given some thought to his preferences rather than just blindly accepting what the advertisers tell him. But, as far as he is concerned, the sole point of drinking beer is intoxication, and the less flavour the better.

He much prefers smooth, bland lagers such as Foster's to those from Germany or the Czech Republic which to his mind have an unpleasant aftertaste - in other words, they taste of malt and hops. Drinking from the bottle is a good way of avoiding the aroma of beer. And he has tried the original Czech Budweiser Budvar, but thought it much inferior to the American Budweiser.

These views may be anathema to anyone who appreciates beer, but we have to recognise that they are very widespread. In many other fields, blandness and predictability are a big selling point - how else can you explain the success of the Toyota Corolla or Céline Dion? Indeed, closer to home, the typical real ale enthusiast tends to choose his clothes for comfort and durability rather than being at the cutting edge of fashion.

Beer lovers often consider it a self-evident truth that people will prefer beers with strong, distinctive flavours if only given the chance to sample them, but this is not necessarily true. While no real ale should be bland, we must recognise that there is a place for those with flavours that could be described as subtle. If every beer was bursting with in-your-face hoppiness it would deter many potential converts.

* Bite Your Lip *

I don't like to see people drinking beer out of the bottle. It's an ignorant, ill-mannered and unhygienic habit, and it shows you couldn't care less about the product. It's about on a par with picking your nose in public. If you guzzled wine or whisky straight from the bottle, you'd come across as a hopeless drunk - so why should it be any different with beer?

I suppose you have to expect that youngsters will do this kind of thing in their early drinking years. Far worse, though, to see thirty- and fortysomething men like my "friend" above necking a Bud in a pathetic attempt to appear young and trendy. And it's regrettably so commonplace that to express your disapproval is likely to be considered a social faux pas, and you're best advised to bite your lip and say nothing.

The distressing thought occurs whether in forty years' time, our pubs - if we have any left - will be full of old blokes drinking insipid lagers out of the bottle. Or might they have grown out of it by then? We can at least derive some hope from the fact that trends do not last for ever - you don't see people sticking slices of lime in the necks of bottles nowadays.

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