One of the things that angers me most about this month's fresh assault from the neopros is the timing of it. In January loads of people give up booze for a month, they're thinking about how much they drink (even Glyn at the Rake is scaring himself silly about this) so let's hit people while they're vulnerable and scare them.
What makes me angry about this is that it misses the point - heavy drinkers such as me and The Beer Widow do occasionally like to prove to ourselves that we don't have a drink problem, and whatever your views on units etc. no one can argue that it does your body good to lay off the sauce for a while. Via the twisted logic of the neopros, the very fact that we feel the need to do this - to plan a month where we don't drink and prove to ourselves that we can go without - is proof that we do have a problem. You just can't win with these guys. It's like saying that if someone goes on a diet and loses weight, this proves they are still fat.
Two weeks in, I'm 9lbs lighter and feeling great (that's not just off the beer - it's also a diet consisting mainly of seeds, vegetables, pulses and owl pellets). But for the record, I have had no cravings - either physical or psychological - for alcohol. I haven't had that naggy, itchy feeling when you think, "Ooh, I could really do with a drink." Not once. Not even when I've been quite stressed - and when I do drink too much, it's usually stress related. To me, rather than proving I have a drink problem, this proves I don't have one. I'm sure thousands of other people are feeling the same way right now. And that's one big reason why I'm so angry about the timing of this neopro assault.
But I am missing beer. I'm missing the taste and smell of it. I'm missing going down to the cellar and looking along the rows of bottles and not letting myself think about it too hard, but just letting my appetite or my subconscious decide what's going to go best with whatever's bubbling away on the hob. I'm missing leaning on the bar at the White Hart while my pint of Tribute, three quarters poured, settles a little while the smiling barperson goes off and gets the Beer Widow's half of Leffe. I'm missing the wet half-moons on the varnished table top. I'm missing going down the the Rake and the slight lift in the stomach and tightening of the throat that betray my excitement the millisecond before I look along the bar and see what's on draught.
Last night was my biggest test yet. One of the agencies I do some work for (the guys who designed the new M&S range) were having a belated Christmas party. I'm currently helping them out a bit on an exciting project around speciality beer, and they asked me to do a beer tasting session for them before the party proper got under way.
When I agreed to do this, I thought well, I'll have one night off. That won't do any harm. And it wouldn't have. But then as the event drew closer, I thought, I wonder if I could actually do this without drinking? Do I have the willpower? Can I do a good event? Why not?
The audience was mainly beer novices, so I chose the theme "So you think you know beer". The intention was to challenge the simple 'cold fizzy lager versus warm, flat ale' misconception that many people still have about beer. So I lined up, in order, the following:
- Zatec lager - a lager that tastes like lager, an uncompromised expression of a true pilsner
- Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted - the same colour as the Zatec, but much more body and aroma despite being 4.2% to Zatec's 5%, to get them thinking about the difference between ale and lager
- Worthington White Shield - to talk about bottle conditioning, and because it is one of the five greatest beers in the world
- Goose Island IPA - to talk about hops, and because it's also one of the five greatest beers in the world
- Dogfish Head Midas touch - to talk about the history and evolution of beer, and broaden the parameters of what it might be
- Brooklyn Dark Chocolate Stout - to talk about malt, and to open up a hint of 'extreme' beer (even though it's not that extreme by most aficionado's standards, it's pretty out there for your average drinker)
- Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40 Year Old - to show the innovation that's happening and to leave conventional notions of what beer is and tastes like as a dwindling speck in the rear view mirror
- Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus - to fuck with their heads and make them cry
I adore each and every one of these beers. With each one, I poured it, talked about it, held it to the light, swirled it, sniffed it, talked about the aroma, asked what flavours people were getting, stuck my nose deep into the glass... and then put it down on the table. I didn't take a single sip.
I proved to myself that I can appreciate beer and be in close contact with it without drinking it.
And given that the audience enjoyed it, I proved I can give an entertaining beer tasting without drinking it.
So why did I feel like such a fucking idiot afterwards? Why did I feel like a bloke who's found a wallet with £1000 quid in it and handed it in at a police station - knowing you've done the right thing, but feeling slightly foolish for having done so?
And then I woke up this morning, feeling fantastic, and discovered I've lost 1lb more.
I'm halfway through the detox, and have no intention of repeating last night's self-denial when I'm back on the sauce. But long term I am going to cut out the three bottles in front of the telly on a rainy Monday night, the three pints in the pub after work just because it's on the way home, the pint of Kronenbourg in a not very nice pub in the middle of town because I've got half an hour to wait before my meeting and I just might as well have one. I'll do all of these occasionally, but not all the time.
If I do that, I'll never again have to do something as stupid as pouring away the eight beers listed above, untouched, untasted.