Just give 'em a beer!

02:39, Mar 03 2014

OPINION: These days, my friends and family have children approaching the age where they are being exposed to alcoholic drinks.

It's an interesting phase. It seems to be the new middle-class parent way - and I say that speaking as a member of that group - to feel that you have an obligation to introduce your child to alcohol at some stage in their adolescent years.

This usually involves pouring a modest-sized drink for your teenager, who then self-consciously drinks it while trying to look as cool and unenthusiastic as a teenager possibly can!

"It's teaching them to drink responsibly. It shows them that it's OK to drink in a safe and moderate manner", I hear the parents gush with only slightly veiled pride at their darling child's first tentative stagger into the wonderful, hazy world of booze.

I suppose it's not a new phenomenon. In my day (as the age-old prefix to some boring old-fart story must start), dads grunted some words as they pushed a half glass of beer in your direction.

For me, I was happy to taste those first brews. I was never one of those who said they had to acquire a taste for beer.


Long before I had that first glass I remember the delicious aroma of beer bottles opened for shearers and rousies at the end of a hot day on the boards.

I think things have changed though, with this more formalised and expected ritual that parents feel they must follow.

I guess it's the way we tend to micromanage every aspect of our child's upbringing in these "dangerous times".

What gets my goat though is the lack of actual sophistication that is shown when it comes to the choice of these introductory alcoholic beverages.

I had a taste of a couple of the usual tipples of choice over the summer and was blown away by the basic nature of these drinks.

It seems that the intro drink is cider, now the trendy beverage of the moment. And I use that word cider in the broadest sense for the low-brow alcopops that I tasted.

These drinks are only related to that beautiful, crafted beverage genuinely named cider by the nature of apple juice alone. Gone is the finesse, the style and the craft of fermentation in these food-grade, alcohol spiked, sweetened juices.

I gently challenged the adolescents and the adults on why these products were the alcohol of choice for this modernised ritual.

The answers were simple and along the line: "well, he/she doesn't really like beer or wine".

That answer opens up a whole new potential thesis on why we we're plying our teenagers with alcohol in the first place?

Take away the alcohol from these alcopops and you are left with a fizzy drink, a pop, a cordial.

So, the drink itself just becomes a carrier for the alcohol hidden in its depths. These "ciders", regardless of their classy marketing and pseudo old world labels, are no different than a can of bourbon and coke. They are an apple juice based Barrel 51 or Woodie. You'll never catch a middle-class parent handing one of those to their precious though would you!

It takes me back to the days when we worried that our baby boys would not eat their carrots or their broccoli. Worried sick that they would die of scurvy or never grow to be robust kiwi children, we hid the evil greens in a mashed mass of potato. Are we now doing the same so that we can introduce them to alcohol?

I think so. So let's take it a step further. Rather than hide the alcohol in fizz let's just hide it in their dessert - the little buggers will never know what hit them! Better still, can we just get alcohol encapsulated in a gelatine pill like fish oil and get them to swallow it with water. Maybe just inject it intravenously! These latter options are certainly more healthy that hiding alcohol in a sweet, high-energy, child-friendly, cordial.

Ok, so I'm pushing reality a bit but my point is that if we feel the need to introduce young adults to alcohol by hiding it in a "raspberry and lime infused cider", then they are probably just not sophisticated enough to be drinking alcoholic beverages - those beautiful fermented products that have been within our civilisation for centuries.

Let's get back to basics. Give your young a taste of an alcoholic product for sure, if you feel the 
need, but make it one that truly reflects what fermented food products should be: complex, natural and subtle flavours in a relatively low sugar, low alcohol form.

You know what I'm talking about! Give them a beer! If they don't like it, then give them a fizz. Just leave out the booze.

Ralph Bungard is the owner of Christchurch brewery Three Boys and president of the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. He concludes The Beerhive's summer series of guest blogs. Hope you've enjoyed them!

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