By Kel Fox
For a long time, I couldn’t drink beer. From my first sneaky sip of Dad’s beer as a kid, it had been bitter, gross and not anywhere near as refreshing as people seemed to make it out to be. I wanted to be a beer drinker.* I worked in theatre as part of the backstage crew, and spent most of my weekends when I wasn’t there out in rural WA building stages and lighting rigs and putting on shows. The social currency of that crowd is a beer after the gig (probably because if you could get to the drinks rider before the band drained it dry, beer was free). In my spare time, I played in a brass band. If there is a bunch of people who drink more beer than tech crews, it’s brass bands. Sure, you can drink cider, and that’s what I did, but something about cider just didn’t leave me as refreshed as my fellow crew and musos looked after their first sip of beer. Even drier ciders got to be a bit sweet after a while. And holding a wine glass on the loading dock or sitting in the back of a truck at the end of the day just felt weird. Enjoying the refreshment of a cold beer after a long, hot day of hard work seemed like an Aussie life experience I should acquire. So, as I had done with coffee, blue cheese, Durian fruit and Carob Bears, I persevered and tried to learn to like it.**
I tried drinking Coronas with a lemon wedge. It was okay. Drinkable, even. At the end of a show, during which our manager had raided the fridge, beers would be passed around when the last roadcase had been rolled off the stage and into the truck and we’d sit and chat about how the day had gone, what muck-ups we’d made with our lighting and audio and staging cues and how annoying the touring crew had been. It’s a bonding experience I’ve had in few other jobs, hanging out at half past midnight because you’re the only ones still crazy enough to be awake and buzzing on a Wednesday, which is when touring acts schedule their regional shows. But like any bonding over food and drinks, it’s not quite the same if you’ve excluded yourself from the treats or beverages in question. I’d nurse my beer, get through half and tip the flat, warm remains down the sink.
Band was similar. After practice, we’d crowd into the little bar room where the fridge was generously stocked with beers of several types, and not so generously stocked with much else. My best friend even brewed her own beer and made many efforts to get me to like this mysteriously popular drink, although at the time she did not force any exotic home brews on my resistant palate. It was cool that she brewed beer, and I wished I could partake. I tried Stella at a bar in Esperance. Then someone said ‘Ew, don’t drink Stella’. I tried Mum’s shandies. I tried Little Creatures and Coopers Pale and Crown Lager and none of it suited. But I persisted. Part of it was a desire to not be one of those girls who only drank sugar water. Mostly it was to experience this elusive sense of refreshment that Slim Dusty sang about with such reverence (or lamented the lack of) on Dad’s tapes playing in the Land Cruiser.
Then it happened, on a particularly hard Wednesday at work considering there was no evening show, followed by a rigorous practice session with the band in preparation for an upcoming contest. I walked into the bar room and slumped on the bar.
“You look like you need a beer,” my friend remarked, a cheeky dance in her eyes.
“I feel like I need a beer,” I replied. And I did. If ever I needed the refreshment of a beer, it was today. Seconds later, a sweating bottle of Carlton Cold was placed in front of me. Seconds after that, half of it was gone. And so was my weariness. I felt it. The magical refreshment of beer had poured itself through me, leaving me uplifted and ready for anything. And more, it had tasted good. Really good. I finished it off.
“Another?” My friend asked, already taking the cap off. I grinned and accepted.
Since that day, I have been an avid beer drinker. On our road trip to the Kimberleys, we enjoyed cold beer as we watched the sun set on the Gibb River Road. After a show, I’d be the one fishing beers out of the dregs of the rider and cracking them open for the crew. The promise of an icy beer got us through many long days rigging lighting and dragging stage pieces through mud. I moved on from Carlton Cold to expand into German varieties, Aussie craft beers and all of my friend’s home brews. We almost missed our flights to Hobart once because we stopped at the Belgian Beer Café on the way to the airport. Since going gluten free, I’ve been delighted to find that my hard-won love affair with beer can continue. I still enjoy a good craft cider and if I absolutely had to choose one alcoholic beverage for the rest of my life, it would be red wine, but I have a deep appreciation for beer now that I enjoy immensely. Odd as it sounds for something that we don’t actually need for our survival, I am grateful that I learned to love it so.
*Assume I am now 18, I already drink other alcohol in moderation and have no issues with that. This is a discussion about social health and belonging, rather than the merits of abstaining from alcohol or the physical health concerns. That’s another topic.
**Yeah, I have some weird tastes in food. And a strange desire to learn to like things that don’t initially appeal.