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It’s one of those wonderful events you dream of but never expect – half-price beer. And not just any beer, but premium, top-quality stuff.
Six months ago I visited the liquor section of a local Safeway supermarket and found them selling Coopers Original Pale Ale, Hahn Witbier, James Squire Amber Ale and others, all super cheap.
“We’re discontinuing these lines,” said the shop assistant. “They’re almost all gone, so we’ve knocked down to half-price what’s left, to get rid of them today.”
There were only about six boxes left, and I bought virtually the whole lot. As I left, I asked the guy why they were discontinuing the sale of such good beers.
“We want to make space for more mixed cocktail drinks,” he said. “That’s where we make our biggest profits.”
I thought of this two nights ago when I attended a talk on teenagers and parties, given at my sons’ high school. The presenter was a local policewoman, Susan, an attractive blonde woman with the build of an East German swimmer, who told us she was previously in undercover.
What she said was blunt:
* Teenagers nowadays want alcohol at their parties, and they’ll bring it in, no matter how strict your supervision. They’ll hide it in trees, in your neighbour’s property or wherever, to retrieve once the party starts. The latest trick is to gift wrap it and pretend it’s a present.
* Kids know they can’t take home their alcohol, because they’ll get into trouble, so they finish everything they bring. And because they know they’ll get into trouble if they arrive home drunk, they drink all their liquor in the initial 30 to 45 minutes of the party. They go from sober to screaming drunk in a flash, then spend the party getting sober again.
* Some parents [I think she might have been looking at me when she said this] allow their teenagers a little alcohol at home, and are happy when they find the kids actually don’t like it. But that’s because they’re serving them expensive wine, when what the kids want are [the above-mentioned] cordial-like mixed cocktails.
* She said she tries all the new cocktail drinks as they hit the market. The latest milk-based drinks have no alcohol taste at all. They’re like liquid Mars Bars. And as most of these drinks are vodka-based they don’t leave an incriminating alcohol smell on the breath.
I went out and bought four of these drinks, and last night tried them. Mudshake and Cowboy are milk-based cocktails tasting, respectively, of caramel, and butterscotch and cream. Vodka Cruiser is like a fizzy, passionfruit-flavoured soft drink. Flirtini is a raspberry-flavoured vodka cocktail, and the only one of the four that makes you feel like you’re drinking alcohol.
All four were extremely sweet and syrupy, and each left a bitter, metallic, chemical after-taste. Each had an alcohol content of around 5%, and cost from $3.30 to $4.00 for a 275ML bottle. This is two to three times the price of a 375ML can of beer with similar alcohol content. No wonder the supermarkets want to make more space.
I’ve been thinking hard, and am still not sure where to direct my anger.
It’s clear that our kids are being royally ripped off, but it seems nowadays that if they’re not buying over-priced alcohol then they’re spending their money on new ringtones for their mobile phones, or on designer wallets, or whatever.
It’s disgusting that liquor companies are making alcoholic drinks that taste like chocolate milk shakes and are clearly aimed at the young. But if you have a liquor industry you can’t really expect them to make only drinks that people don’t like.
It’s dreadful that it is, apparently, not overly difficult for young people to obtain alcohol, though I don’t think that’s new, and, anyway, it’s probably pretty inevitable in a free society.
I think to me the outrage is that we have given our kids so little to believe in, that, when they get to a party, about all they want to do is get blind drink as fast they can.
October 22nd, 2003