Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ALCOHOL -Permissum imbibo caveo

I drink alcohol and have done so for many years. My current preference is for wine consumed as both an aperitif and with food.
Previously I have consumed beer and some spirits and am familiar with most forms of alcohol.
My first experience with alcohol was in my first year of University at age 18 going on 19. Beer was the drink of both choice and necessity - choice because the taste was easier to get used to and necessity because wines and spirits were much more expensive (the old import quota and duty structure made it so). Friday night was usually the only drinking night with many Victoria University students meeting up at the Grand Hotel in Willis Street.
When I entered the liquor industry it was as a part-time employee of Murray Roberts LTD in the summer of 1972/73. I was seduced by the cornucopia of choice in the very wide range of beers, spirits, wines and liqueurs that was on offer. I had a very obliging boss who encouraged all employees to try most of the offerings, which we did (and the more expensive ones after hours) in order to become more knowledgeable. This really worked to the point where the others and I became expert salespeople and helped boost the company's profits (necessary due to the aforementioned after hours sampling). I tried and learned about all of the products on offer. This wasn't just about alcohol it was an insight into centuries of tradition. Every bottle had provenance and to me was exotic from the Israeli liqueur Sabra to the Yugoslavian Kruskovac and Slivovitz, the Greek Metaxa 5 and 7 star brandies and the rare and expensive cognacs and armagnacs. The aged Malt whiskies weren’t just a spirit they were a place, a time and a country that I wanted to visit. The wines were my particular favourite. I learnt as much as I could about the German and French wines especially. The source names were a fascination and at the time much more meaningful than today (except for the rarest and most expensive ones) where branding and marketing have diluted the individual characteristics. My learning was useful as I collected wine for my personal cellar and bought and sold rarer ones. I was lucky in that the First-growth Bordeaux wines could be bought for less than $20 a bottle and sold just a few years later at over $100 a bottle – a good investment. My education was also useful in my future chosen career in the liquor industry. Over the years I have marketed and sold many of the world’s premium brands. Today when I visit a fancy bar I look at the top shelf and see many brands that I have brand-managed for example Drambuie, Cointreau, Frangelico, Dubonnet, Martini & Rossi, Chartreuse, Grand Marnier, Pernod, Remy Martin, The Macallan, Johnny Walker, Mount Gay, Coruba, Teachers, Cragganmore, Glenmorangie, Highland Park, Bacardi, Appletons, Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, Carolans, Tanqueray, Beefeater, Canadian Club, Marie Brizzard, Effen, Ursus – just to name a few. In beers I have managed Carlsberg, Tuborg and Swan and in wines Pol Roger, Krug, Charles Heidsieck, Lanson, Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Rosemount, Hardys, Banrock Station, Ruffino, Nederburg, Torres, Mondavi, Ravenswood, Nobilo, Selaks, Langenbach, Sichel, Bichot, Rothschild, Langenbach, Drappier, and many others. These to me were not just brand names but exciting products each with their own histories and unique locations. Over the years I visited the vineyards, wineries and production points of these brands on a V.I.P. basis as part of my job to see the production, experience the place and to discuss marketing matters. I consider myself privileged. I also have visited other winemaking locations, wine companies, distilleries and breweries over the years and have made the industry my life. Needless to say over the years I have consumed a lot of alcohol. Sometimes I have consumed too much and even today I sometimes regret that last glass of wine the night before. I am lucky though in that I have not become a slave to alcohol. I enjoy the evening glass or two but never feel that I need it. I rarely mix drinks and if I have a cold beer in summer I don’t follow that with wine. Similarly if in winter we have a glass of good Cognac or Malt whisky we don’t have wine before that.
This brings me to what I want to say. Unfortunately alcohol is not kind to some people. A couple of people very close to me had their lives ruined by alcohol that directly led to their deaths. Some friends and people I know have over the years had to seriously review the amount of alcohol they were drinking as it was having a detrimental effect on their lives. This Christmas someone I know has sworn off drinking alcohol because of memory gaps after drinking. Alcohol can be both a friend and an enemy.
We read daily about binge drinking by young people and alcohol-fuelled violence. There is a direct link between the more liberal drinking hours, the more prevalent liquor advertising and the irresponsible marketing of RTD’s, alcopops and cheap alcoholic sodas which are deliberately targeting young people. Unfortunately the ‘fantasies’ inherent in these brands and labels don’t have the sense of place, history and culture that I experienced when I was young.

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