The piece describes the fountain as a symbol of consumer excess in modern Chinese society, and then rails on against this excess. While I felt the same way when I read about Canadian-style suburbs in Shanghai (China being a country that already uses every square inch of arable land it has Ė and needs to), I have to admit dismay when the article took a moralistic tone. Excess is one thing, but beer immoral now, too? In China, beer is dirt cheap, low alcohol and comes in big bottles. I could hardly get a good buzz working the stuff is so light. In China, beer plays the role it used to play in 17th century England and 18th century USA, as a tool for temperance providing a viable alternative to hard liquor. The Chinese love their hard liquor, baiju, and getting loaded on that stuff is a fairly efficient endeavour. Had the article stuck to its waste theme Ė it even added up the barley, rice and coal used to produce the beer the fountain would have required Ė Iíd be cool with it. But they went back and talked about a beer festival in Chongqing as well. Now, before I digress and tell you how cool Chongqing is, Iíll just say, let your hair down, China, if just for a day. And lose the moralistic overtones Ė beer isnít the bad guy here.
Was CAMRA right all along?
Three years ago, I popped into Liverpool on my quick tour around the British Isles before the GBBF. I sat down in the least smoky part of the Dispensary I could find and sampled my way through the Cainís lineup. I loved the stuff. I mean, here I was choking half to death on noxious fumes and even that couldnít put a dent in my enthusiasm for the product. But there was talk. The brewery had been sold earlier that year to a couple of brothers from outside the brewing industry. Immigrants from a land with no beer culture. They promised not to close the brewery or mess with its cask ales, but CAMRA members were skeptical. Local Liverpudlians were resigned to hoping for the best and enjoyed the beer while they still could.
Fast forward three years and Cainís has changed. The breweryís sales have quadrupled and now the brothers are launching a new lager, Cainís Finest Lager. Now, Cainís made lager before. They produced crappy supermarket lager during their spell under Danish ownership. But this is different Ė there was a commitment to not screw things up. And now theyíre making a lager with the stated goal of having the new beer be a challenger to ďthe respected continental brandsĒ. Well, itís true that another thing the brothers said when they took the brewery over was that they wanted to take Cainís nationwide.
All of this brings me to the question of whether the two goals Ė making great beer and selling beer to the masses Ė can be achieved simultaneously. Well, the same Merseyside CAMRA that greeted news of the sale three years ago with much skepticism named the cask version of the new lager Beer of the Festival at a recent event. (Okay, the one rating on Ratebeer thus far is less encouraging). Youíve got to admit, skepticism has its place but there are times when youíre happy to be wrong, and Iím sure the doubters in CAMRA are happy to be wrong about Cainís.
Popping the Cap
There are a lot of stupid laws in this world pertaining to the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. It would take an astonishing amount of space to explain the Byzantine rules for private stores in the City of Vancouver. Well, I couldnít explain them, just tell you how it functions. No, explaining them would be pretty near impossible.
Some of the dumbest laws limit the strength of beer that can be produced or sold in a given jurisdiction. North Carolina is on its way to eliminating their law that prohibited the sale of beer more than 6% alcohol by volume. So theyíll finally have locally-made imperial stouts, which is never a bad thing. But what blows my mind are the self-righteous crusaders out there who have a problem with this. Hey buttwipe, you can buy vodka, right? Thatís a wee tad more than 6% last I checked. Unless youíre going to set the limit for all forms of alcohol drink at 6%, there is no point whatsoever to having a limit on beer. And then there is the issue of drinkability and price/alcohol ratio. Barley wine isnít malt liquor, but to the self-righteous these little facts donít matter. Facts of any sort donít matter actually. Iím glad that common sense has prevailed in North Carolina and hope that it translates to other states with equally retarded laws.
Bahrainís Only Brewery Closed
The tiny oil-rich Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain lost its only brewery last week. When it was raided by the police! (The same thing happened with a distillery in Saudi Arabia, too).
Turns out that a local man had hired some Indians to come to his farm and operate a brewery and distillery, both of which are illegal in Muslim Bahrain. You know, thereís a lot of foreign workers in Bahrain, from Western oil executives to Indian labourers. Whatís so wrong about letting them have some locally-made beer? I like Pakistanís system. There, they have a brewery but you need a license Ė basically proof that youíre not Muslim Ė to buy the stuff. It might be a touch annoying if you were an ex-pat, but when the alternative is bootleg booze itís not such a bad idea. Bootleg beer is unreliable, and its distribution cannot be tracked. It is unreasonable to expect an entire country to be devoid of beer, so perhaps the Bahrainis can learn from this bootlegging operation and the Pakistani example and set up a national brewery. And then send me a bottle.
Itís like Frank Zappa said, you canít be a real country unless you have a beer.