I liked beer because I thought it was a grownup thing to drink. This was when I was four or five and before that causes any alarm let me assure you I was only allowed to try an occasional sip of beer, and the only time I might have even come close to drinking more than that was once when my father was changing the car’s oil and had a beer resting on the hood. Or at least he thought I did until he found me sitting under a tree in the backyard holding it. And I doubt I drank very much of it because, like I said, I liked it because I thought it was a grownup thing to drink, which is my way of saying I really didn’t like it. And truthfully I still don’t like the taste of the stuff my father drank. I can’t remember what it was specifically but it was one of the major brands of watered-down swill that’s passed off as pilsner, a misnomer so egregious the one thing both Czechs and Slovaks still agree on is that it’s like trying to pass off a sow’s ear as a Prada purse. Holding a beer was an image thing. Holding a can of beer, I thought, made me look cool and mature, like an adult, maybe even like Victor Mature, when the reality is I just looked like I had delinquent parents. I thought being an adult, being a grownup, life must be much easier. Grownups were free of all the responsibilities of being a kid. At the moment I’m having trouble figuring out what the responsibilities of being a kid were, other than homework, which I’ve since learned is a plague that affects young and old alike and when you’re an adult it doesn’t even stop when school’s out for summer, but that’s another story.
As I got older and tried beer again I thought it tasted terrible and I quit even thinking about drinking it. Yeah, I was that guy at high school parties. Lance, who had a different Mötley Crüe t-shirt for every day of the week, would crack open a can of Pittsburgh’s Pride—at 57 cents a case I think the mini-marts only sold it to underage buyers because there was no way any human being could hold down enough of it to actually get drunk. He’d hold it out to me and say, “Dude, come on.” And I’d say no. I wasn’t trying to harsh anyone’s mellow. I just didn’t like the taste of the stuff and couldn’t see the fun of drinking something that didn’t taste good because of a misguided belief that it made us look older.
Of course I’m also a child of the ‘80’s so I remember when wine coolers were all the rage. Wine coolers, if you don’t remember, were a combination of wine and fruit juice and had tropically-themed names like Beach Splash and Island Sweat, or slightly more obscure names like Davis & Thermidor or Mötley Crüet. They were an easy way for the beverage industry to make a lot of cheap, terrible wine palatable, although the innovation fizzled out once the industry realized that a lot of people will drink cheap, terrible wine no matter what it tastes like. At least that’s what I think. I’m not the most reliable source on this since I don’t like wine, although I was allowed an occasional sip of wine cooler–or to sneak off with one when the adults got together, and nobody seemed to mind, probably because the alcohol content was so low and the fruit juice guaranteed it would go through the system so quickly there was no way any human could consume enough to get drunk.
I could be conflating the origins of wine coolers with the origins of cocktails which were originally invented during Prohibition in the US to mask the terrible taste of bathtub gin. And then after Prohibition ended cocktails were kept around and even raised to a high art form, often visually pleasing because nobody was going blind from bathtub gin anymore and nobody wanted to throw the bathtub gin out with the baby, and also because it makes you look cool and mature to hold a colorful drink in a tall glass with pineapple and cherries on a plastic sword skewer and one of those little paper umbrellas.
At least that’s what I thought when I would go to a fancy restaurant with my parents and order a “virgin” version of a cocktail–a pina colada or a mai tai without the added alcohol, since those drinks were only invented to make cheap, terrible rum. Once I made the mistake of ordering a virgin martini which was just a couple of olives on a toothpick served in a long-stemmed glass.
Anyway I’ve come to like beer. Actually I’ve come to love beer, although anymore that’s not saying much because there are so many microbreweries and so much diversity there’s a beer out there for almost anyone. There’s even non-alcoholic beer for people who don’t really want the alcohol but would like an occasional beer. Or who just don’t want the side effects, which I understand. In fact I think the beverage industry hasn’t worked hard enough to perfect non-alcoholic beer. Think how many more people would drink beer if it had the same taste and none of the alcohol. Maybe not that many more, but think how much more beer people who currently drink beer could go through if they didn’t have to worry about getting drunk. Not to mention all the associated problems, but I don’t want to focus on those at the moment because this whole idea is making me feel really good and I don’t want to harsh my own mellow. Instead I’m thinking the industry should focus on making alcohol-free versions of other beverages. Imagine the market potential for alcohol free rum–good rum, that is, not the kind that needs a ton of fruit juice and coconut to hide the taste, or good scotch. And there wouldn’t be any concern about the kids drinking it because there’d be no alcohol in it. In fact I think kids would be the ideal market. And then we adults would pick it up because the way to look cool when you’re an adult is to look like a kid.