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A warning from the mines of abstinence

I write to you today from the long dark of Moria.

OK, so technically I am not really in the mines of Moria, largely because they don’t actually exist, and if the world of JRR Tolkien really did exist, and you could visit it, that probably wouldn’t be the first place I’d go. Not that it isn’t possible to live in a fantasy world, as candidates for The Greens regularly demonstrate, but in my case Moria is a metaphor (or is it allegory?) for my annual month of abstinence from alcohol.

Just because I am not really in Moria doesn’t mean bad things can’t happen though. Following the old adage that nothing improves a bad mood like spreading it around, I have managed to convince a mate of mine to join me in this annual piety. In the interest of maintaining his privacy I’ll call him Gerard, because if I call him Mr Tuffield some people might work out who he is.

Gerard and I genuinely appreciate the many benefits of going on the Feb Fast journey, although we usually do so from the safety of April. During the actual month of February those benefits seem difficult to remember, and Gerard’s thoughts tend to turn to the idiot that got him involved in this, and what can be done about it. This is where the bad thing that didn’t happen in Moria (but may as well have) comes in.

Gerard decided, probably by way of revenge, that we should try some of the de-alcoholised drinks which the alcohol industry has created to punish people for turning away from their product (or at least that is how it tasted to us). So, how bad was the zero-alcohol beer?

When I was a young bloke playing cricket out at Ipswich, we chose our drinking spots based on a rigorous and highly selective process, which involved applying the following scientific formula: was it on the way home from wherever we had been playing cricket? (This was known, for reasons which do not concern normal people, as ‘The Atkinson Derivation’).

This process was excellent in terms of time-saving, but not so good in terms of the average quality of establishment we visited, in so much as sometimes it meant being in a pub where the guys in our cricket team were the only ones not related – REALLY closely related – to everyone else in the place; other times it meant making sure you finished your drink before the locals finished building their Wicker Man. Given that the process ensured we encountered beer at the soonest possible moment after we stopped playing cricket, we felt the risks were worth it.

The process meant that we sometimes ended up at a particular pub which I won’t name for reasons which are about to become obvious. At this pub there was always a certain guy who would collect the glasses from tables when people left, and we had assumed he was actually employed by the pub until we realised that he was drinking whatever was left in each glass, even if a cigarette had been put out in it (or indeed if the cigarette was still lit). Although I have never done this myself, I am pretty sure that the taste of zero-alcohol beer would be very familiar to this guy, assuming he has not died of whatever virus was growing in the bottom of those glasses.1 To keep the Moria theme going, I’d rather face a Balrog.

So I am not recommending zero-alcohol beer, unless you are the guy in the above story. Gerard and I are nothing if not stubborn, however, and undeterred we decided we would try de-alcoholised wine. In terms of idea quality, this one was up there with Greg Chappell thinking it was far too long since someone had bowled an underarm in cricket, and that it would be quite the treat for fans if it happened again.

Forget 12-step programs – you want to quit alcohol, have a crack at de-alcoholised wine; fair dinkum, it was worse than sauvignon blanc. The first one we tried had a bouquet which I would describe as ‘aeroplane toilet on a long-haul flight’ and I fervently hope that was just a coincidence. It tasted exactly like I expect wine would taste to someone who doesn’t like wine, assuming the wine had been strained through a pile of unwashed gym socks beforehand.

The second one claimed to be shiraz, but on the palate seemed more like something made by someone who had not only never tasted shiraz, but had never heard of it either and had taken flavour inspiration from the makers of medicine back in the 1970s. Back then, the quality of a medicine was measured by how hard it was to get down, and most kids refused to take it on the basis that they couldn’t think of any symptom that wouldn’t be preferable to the medicine. That said, I’d drink that stuff by the bucketful before I’d line up for another glass of de-alcoholised shiraz.

I realise that I have been quite harsh on the de-alcoholised alcohol industry (which strikes me as being akin to the oxygen-free air industry, but I digress) and so I stress that I cast no aspersions on the people who like this stuff, those who make it and, most importantly, their legal teams.

It may well be that if you try it, you’ll love it, especially if you have recently had your tastebuds surgically removed; just don’t say you weren’t warned. If you are minded to try it, I recommend ‘warming up’ on real alcoholic drinks beforehand, preferably to the point at which you can no longer distinguish sump oil from Bollinger; then you’ll be ready.

I also note that, for humour reasons, my column is largely a fact-free zone, unless I make something up that, in a staggering coincidence, turns out to actually be true. You should not think that my friend and I have been sitting around shaking and counting the hours until the end of February (although it is true that we tried de-alcoholised beer and wine, and really, really wish we hadn’t).

Indeed I highly recommend the occasional break from alcohol, and encourage everyone to give it a shot. Just don’t do it at pubs near cricket grounds, because in some places not drinking is nearly as bad as not being related, Wicker Man-wise.

© Shane Budden 2022

Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.

Footnote
1 Note to self: Start internet rumour that coronavirus evolved in this way, and time how long it takes Donald Trump to endorse it.

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