BIG BOOZE

Gins that taste like fruit? Beer that tastes like co­conut! Enough’s enough, says our colum­nist

BBC Good Food - - Contents - Tony Nay­lor @nay­lor_tony

Why Tony Nay­lor’s had enough of nov­elty drinks

In 2018, new food and drink prod­ucts are widely re­garded as self-jus­ti­fy­ing. Dif­fer­ent is de facto de­sir­able. In this era of in­for­ma­tion over­load, nov­elty sells, as long as it looks great on In­sta­gram. To ques­tion this is to be shouted down as a Lud­dite. Ask, ‘is a world in which I am be­ing told to drink frosés (rosé slushies) or milk­shake IPAS (lac­tose-sweet­ened beers flavoured with, for in­stance, marsh­mal­lows or waf­fles) one which is go­ing to hell?’ and you will be de­rided as an old killjoy. It is of­ten im­plicit by the very mar­ket­ing of these drinks – there is big money in this con­stant ‘in­no­va­tion’.

But this Christ­mas, I am ask­ing you to in­ject a lit­tle scep­ti­cism into your drink­ing. We need to in­ter­ro­gate our al­co­hol in­take and de­mand of all new trends, par­tic­u­larly those pushed by the multi­na­tion­als of Big Booze: is this gen­uinely fresh? Or is it a fad? Note: I am to­tally open to new al­co­hol ex­pe­ri­ences. But I also know that at this point – 10 mil­lion years after the en­zyme ADH4 mu­tated to en­able us to ef­fi­ciently process al­co­hol, and 9,000 years after wine was first made in China – al­most ev­ery­thing that could be cre­atively achieved in al­co­holic drinks has been tried and rig­or­ously mar­ket-tested – and only the strong­est ideas have sur­vived. Tellingly, the most com­pelling ‘new’ drinks of this decade were in no way new. From craft beer to gin, nat­u­ral wine to the spritz craze, it is re­dis­cov­er­ies of his­toric styles and pro­duc­tion meth­ods that have proven the most in­ter­est­ing. The ‘craft drinks’ scene may give these li­ba­tions a mod­ern tweak (dra­mat­i­cally so in how they are sold, styled or gar­nished) but, fun­da­men­tally, their suc­cess is rooted in hun­dreds of years of painstak­ing re­fine­ment. Baf­fled by this re­turn to a prein­dus­trial em­pha­sis on qual­ity and flavour com­plex­ity, Big Booze has pre­ferred, in con­trast, to flail about in search of the next cider-over-ice mar­ket­ing mas­ter stroke. The cur­rent brand-driven trends, such as fruit ciders, easy-drink­ing rosés and fruit-flavoured pink gin all fit a tem­plate. They are sweet and fairly one-di­men­sional, usu­ally colour­ful (of­ten so-called ‘mil­len­nial pink’), reg­u­larly fea­ture an un­nec­es­sary ‘twist’ and are pri­mar­ily de­signed to look at­trac­tive in ad­verts.

And it works. Fruit ciders now ac­count for al­most a third of the UK’S cider sales, which is a threat to West Coun­try or­chards as the de­mand for bit­ter­sweet ap­ples falls and big play­ers pull out. Ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts CGA, UK sales of fruit­flavoured pink gins were up 2,194% in the year to Fe­bru­ary 2018 – ‘in­clud­ing some so sweet you ques­tion whether they should even be de­scribed as gin,’ wrote Fiona Beck­ett in The Guardian.

Even my beloved craft beer is not im­mune. A US mi­cro-trend for pas­try stouts (de­signed in co­conut and choco­late flavours to mimic desserts) seems like a quirky at­tempt to court a new au­di­ence who dis­like, well, the taste of beer. Craft beer has al­ways been provoca­tive. But is it now in its blackly funny cre­ative death throes? I hope not.

What I do know is that this churn­ing out of fruity/for­get­table/ zany drinks is a recipe for, if not dis­as­ter, medi­ocre drink­ing. You may ar­gue it is just friv­o­lous, crowd-pleas­ing good fun. But treat­ing al­co­hol as a se­ri­ous, adult plea­sure is a pos­i­tive thing to do, for many dif­fer­ent rea­sons. We should at­tempt to de­rive max­i­mum sat­is­fac­tion from it. That starts by ask­ing: do I truly love this tip­ple? Or was I suck­ered by the mar­ket­ing? This Christ­mas, please drink re­spon­si­bly.

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