In praise of beer

Perhaps I'm misreading it, but is there not just a whiff of dopey self-congratulation in the media coverage that Australians are drinking less beer and more wine and spirits?

The tone seems to be that we are no longer a nation of beer-swilling yobbos standing around pub TABs in Stubbies and wife-beater singlets because we instead sip a glass of pinot or a G and T (in white linen trousers, no doubt).

According to a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month, sales of beer, which accounts for 42 per cent of all alcohol sold, dropped 3.4 per cent in 2010-11, while sales of wine (37 per cent of all alcohol sold) went down by 0.6 per cent.

The thing to remember is beer sales used to account for 76 per cent of Australian alcohol consumption, so we're drinking a lot more grape.

Meanwhile, sales of spirits rose by 4.8 per cent for the same period, with pre-mixed "ready to drinks" and spirits now accounting for 20 per cent of all alcohol sales.

Seriously, how is this a good thing?

A couple of years ago, I made the transition from drinking beer to neat whiskey and, lemme tell you - if I'd done it when I was in my 20s I'd have had to arm wrestle Derryn Hinch for his new liver or I'd be talking to my own fleas living under a highway overpass.

There's a good reason most homeless drunks sprawl on benches sucking wine or spirits and not cans of cold gold beer - the fizzy stuff takes too long to get you hammered.

Any serious boozer knows that, if you want to get the job done properly, you don't opt for the unleaded fuel of pots, pints or schooners; you switch to super and hit the spirits.

Most people don't sit down and say to themselves: "I think I might become an alcoholic this year." It's a gradual process and the scary part is it becomes something you're good at - an identity.

I was at a farewell for friends a while back and, as is my wont, I asked the barman for a double Scotch neat. He had to crack a new bottle to serve me and we became quite friendly as I shuttled back and forth for refills.

At the end of the night, he wandered over to my table with the bottle, showing me it had less than an inch of booze left in it.

"Nobody else has ordered a Scotch," he said, smiling.

"Oh, man," I said, "that's horrendous, I drank all that by myself?"

"At least you can hold your piss," he said.

But I certainly can't remember the cab ride home that night - which is something that rarely happened to me when I drank beer.

No doubt many wine and spirit drinkers have more restraint than I do - overall consumption of alcohol decreased by 1.1 per cent in 2010-11, according to the ABS - but I reckon there are also plenty who think they're drinking less (fluid) but are actually consuming more pure alcohol.

Sure you can overdo it on the cans, but I know plenty of men who stop after four or five because they get bloated or sleepy; the brewer's way of saying "time to go home".

And yes, the liver doesn't distinguish between types of alcohol, but you can certainly smash more spirits into yourself in a shorter period of time than you can beer.

I'm not suggesting we all have a cold one for breakfast, but I don't think we should be doing cartwheels about following the lead of Eastern Europe where consumption of spirits is huge and they sport the highest proportion of deaths attributed to alcohol in the world (more than one in every 10 deaths).

My sudden "professionalism" with grog also convinced me to take a break (one month without a drink, thank you).

However, when I did next have a tipple, it was a beer, rather than a spirit.

At least the first one.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.