Life is not all beer and Skittles

I SEE that western civilisation truly is about to collapse. Never mind votes on Europe and multifarious other matters. Beer is getting sweeter to take account of the tastes of young people raised on sugary drinks.

A generation of cavity-mining young people is said to be so used to sweet drinks that alcohol is being sweetened to ease their entry into more adult pleasures.

On one level this upsets the old rites of passage. Alcohol isn’t meant to be easy. Beer should taste pretty revolting on that first sip. I can still recall being offered a taste of my father’s beer at a young age, maybe ten or so. And it was horrible, bitter and sour and just weird, and leaving that young taster to wonder why anyone drank the revolting stuff.

Thankfully, down the years, and through dedication and determination, I persevered and was rewarded with a liking for beer. Proper beer, hand-pumped real ale in a pub or decent beer from the bottle when at home.

Beer is a small but important pleasure in life. If it becomes a big but important pleasure in life, then your gut may have to expand to accommodate all those ale-slopping calories. If like me you are too vain to carry about a big stomach, then a degree of exercise may be required, a little running or cycling perhaps. Or a good walk, which is to say one further than to the nearest pub.

Making alcohol sweeter is a nasty business, a sneaky way to infantilise adult pleasures. It’s also going at things from the wrong way round. Once the young drinker took time to acquire a taste for beer or wine. Now they are supping the sweet blandishments of a food and drinks industry that wants to keep them addicted to sugar.

They are being led straight from the sweetshop to the bar, without having to change their habits much at all. From fruit gums to gummy sweet drinks, from sucking sweets to drinking them; and from guzzling sugar-drenched pop to guzzling sugar-drenched alcohol.

Just how depressing is all this? The market share of sweeter alcoholic drinks has risen by 50 per cent, according to research carried out by Grocer magazine, reports today suggest. And if you want to push a wine lover over the edge, tell them that the most popular new alcohol last year was Echo Falls Fruit Fusion.

Yesterday when I put out the recycling, I had to include a bottle of just such a fake wine, as drunk by one of our guests. My wife saw me walk past the kitchen window with the empty bottle and guessed what I was muttering about. Well, really – I don’t want the rubbish collectors to think that I would drink such sweet slop. Being a booze connoisseur/snob takes time and effort. You don’t want all these young upstarts spoiling everything with their sweetshop swill that passes for alcohol.

Sadly, I am standing against a tide of sugar-infused horrors. Today’s young drinker is likely to drink a vodka and red bull, a fruit wine or one of those expensive beers with added spirit that are then sweetened with sugar and glucose syrup.

Craig Clarkson, a director of Heineken, says in today’s Daily Telegraph: “We are growing up in a time when people do not drink the drink their dad drank.”

That quotation contains both a sad truth and an impressive degree of alliteration. As it happens, I am a dad who still drinks the drink his dad drank. My father could not say the same, as his father was teetotal. Funnily enough, on special occasions my Methodist grandparents would bring out the ‘wine’ – non-alcoholic cordial that was, if memory serves, terribly sweet.

Overly sweetened alcohol is horrible stuff, and must be doubly bad for you, but no one will listen to such a bitter cry of complaint. It is true that beer needs malted sugars for the brewing process to work. What it doesn’t need are extra sugars and syrups to ease the swallowing.

Never mind the old saying that life is not all beer and skittles. Nowadays you beer might well have Skittles in it. And if that sounds far-fetched, a quick skim of the internet produces the drink-mixing tip that Skittles vodka is the drink to be making right now.

No thanks. I want clear, bright and bitter beer. Or wine that doesn’t taste like boiled sweets. And malt whisky that tastes of all the complicated things malt whisky should taste of. But only on a Friday night. Friday night is whisky night, you see.

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