Why can’t I drink like my Dad?


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As a boy, I spent a fair amount of time in pubs. My Dad enjoyed a pint, and being the Dad he was, he felt it was important that I became accustomed to British drinking habits from an early age. I should point out that my Dad wasn’t plying me with beer from the age of eight. I was simply in attendance during the nightly, post work drinking hours.

Saturdays, after I’d played rugby in the morning and the weekly shop had been completed, I would return to the pub with my Dad, and sit there while he played dominos. Sundays worked to a similar agenda, but the drinking would be split into two sessions – one either side of the Sunday roast.
My Dad wasn’t dragging me into seedy, back alley bars. We were living in a West Yorkshire village at the time. The pubs he drank in were village pubs – warm and cosy, family friendly. Everyone knew everyone’s name. But whether you agree with my Dad’s parenting approach or not, I will say this – some of my happiest childhood memories are from the times I spent listening to my Dad holding court in front the beer pumps.

During the four years I lived with my Dad, I only saw him ‘drunk’ twice – once on his fortieth birthday, when it seemed the entire village turned up to buy him a Jack Daniels. The second was one Christmas night when I wandered downstairs to find my Dad and my stepmother giggling inanely whilst trying to finish the game of Monopoly that had started at eight that evening. Four years of drinking, quite a lot of drinking (my Dad’s quota for week night would be four pints, a Saturday/Sunday session would see him clock up eight to ten pints) and only two drunkenings. One piece of advice my Dad gave me as a boy, ‘If you can’t handle it lad, don’t drink it.’

You see, to us Northern Englishmen, the ability to ‘handle the ale’ is a cornerstone of manhood. You simply can’t be a ‘bloke’ if you can’t handle the ale. I’m pretty sure there’s a law written down somewhere. Real northern men can drink and still continue with the day to day. It seems my Dad could handle his ale very well.

Spin on a few years – I am sixteen and living in San Antonio, Ibiza. I had my first job, busboy in a small rock n roll bar. The place was tucked away on a side street around the bayside of San An. It seemed like a good point for my drinking days to begin. I started casually – a few beers, maybe a shot of spirit to finish off the night. I would stagger from work and fall into a pizza place on the way home. Sleep would usually see me off before the take-away pizza was consumed, but that just meant I had something for breakfast the next morning.

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After a few months of nightly consumption, I started to push my limits, from four to five, five to six. My drinking confidence was growing. But one point did niggle at me – the unit of measurement. Brits drink their beer by the pint. My Dad drank his beer by the pint. The people of the Mediterranean drink their beer by the half pint. So six beers in Spain – that was three beers in the UK. My Dad would still have seen me under the table.

It was a month before my twentieth birthday, and I was in London. Bright lights, big city, and the days of girly half pints behind me. I was back in the pub, back with the lads and the football and the clichéd jokes and barstool politics. My time in Spain had seen me become a lager drinker – which was handy, because the British ale industry had collapsed. The real ale (or bitter, as it is known to us English folk) that was available was usually sour after spending months languishing in the barrel. So, imported lager it was. My pint count climbed, steadily. I was ok until pint number four. I would be confirmed drunk by the time half of pint number four was consumed, and absolutely smashed when I returned the empty glass to the bar top. I don’t remember the staggering walks home, but it seems I continued to seek out take away food. There’s nothing quite like waking up with a hangover to find stone cold fish and chips in your kitchen. Stomach spinning stuff.

Mid-twenties – I was stuck at pint number five. And I do mean stuck. My friends were putting away six, seven, even eight pints. Come on Rob, six pints. You can drink six pints. Alas, level six of The Game of Beer remained hopeful and distant. It was around that time that one of my friends nicknamed me Four-pint. My claims of being able to drink five were lost beneath the sniggers and laughs of my drinking mates. My masculinity had been dinted. What would my Dad have said if he’d seen me sliding down the bar after four or five? It was around that time that I discovered whisky. My education went Irish, Scotch, and finally Bourbon. Oh yes, Rob had found his drink. I could get to six whiskies. Six whiskies suited me well. I drank Blackbush or something blended if I was waiting for pay day, one of the Singles if I was flush. But the issue of volume remained. By the time I’d hit my six-single-ceiling, my mates had only got to pint number three or four. I was already swaying and slurring. They were just warming up. I missed many night time adventures during The Whisky Years.

It was somewhere around my late twenties when a shift in British drinking culture saved me from becoming a pub pariah. I had returned to my hometown of Liverpool. The place was a very different city to the one I had left as a teenager. Businesses were flourishing, the universities were expanding and the bars heaved with loan rich students. But around the pubs of Liverpool, real ale was getting back up off the canvas. I ventured into this new drinking scene of flat flavourful ales, the sort of ales that had filled my Dad’s glass. One pint, fine. Pint number two, still fine. Pint number three, the pint I had previously believed to be the ‘tipping point pint’…. still fine. OK, pint number four – I was feeling it, but I was steady. Pint number five went down singing hymns. I paid for pint number six and asked the barman how strong the beer was.

The reply?

3.6% abv.

The beer my Dad drank was around 3% abv a pint. I was a member of the imported lager generation. Everything I’d been drinking was 5% and over. Honestly, when this epiphany struck, it was as if the light of beer heaven itself was shining its amber glow upon me. A new world had been found. One where Rob could venture out on a Saturday afternoon, purvey the pumps, and go for the 3-3.5% ‘Session Beer’. Look at me now Dad – it’s six o’clock on a Saturday evening, and I’m speaking in coherent sentences. My girlfriend isn’t shaking her head and asking when we’re leaving. I’m even chatting football – something I know fuck all about, but what the hell – it’s Saturday. I was redeemed, returned to brotherhood of northern men. One of the lads. OK, the hangover was still going to kick the shit out of me, but that was tomorrow. Tonight, I am handling the ale.

There was one drawback. The great resurgence of real ale in England is pretty much being spearheaded by hipsters. So gone are the days when a man can simply order a couple of pints and turn to watch the football. Oh no, now you’ve got to hear about the malt and the barely and the rye, the three different types of hops, two of which have been harvested under a full moon while Astral Weeks was being played from a Sony tape-deck. And we are paying well over the odds for our beer because the pub we’re drinking are cool whilst not being cool, and everyone hates each other while being completely connected through the medium of brewing. I’m not sure my Dad would approve.

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But, hipsterism aside, all is well. I have found my beer and realised my limits when it comes to whisky. I’m not so hung up on the drinking numbers game anymore. I think that’s called maturity. I will let you into a secret, I do miss walking into my kitchen the morning after the night before, and finding a yet to be eaten take away congealing on my kitchen work top. Last night’s take-away for breakfast – frown if you want, but you don’t know what you’re missing.

 

– Robert Leigh

TWITTER: @RLeigh78

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