Gin and beer are in – but hold the wine

The Guardian - Feast - - Fiona Beckett -

Stu­dent drink­ing cul­ture is leg­endary, but is that still the case? Fig­ures dif­fer: some re­ports sug­gest most stu­dents still drink to ex­cess (note: more than 20 units a week now con­sti­tutes heavy drink­ing), while oth­ers say that Gen­er­a­tion Z are much more health-con­scious – 27% of 16- to 24-year-olds ap­par­ently now don’t drink at all, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of Na­tional Sta­tis­tics, a fig­ure that is hard to credit, given that the booze shelves of my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket were nearly stripped bare af­ter fresh­ers’ week.

This lat­ter im­pres­sion was borne out by a re­cent visit to the Bris­tol stu­dents’ union bar, where all the stu­dents I talked to said they drank al­co­hol, al­beit not nec­es­sar­ily to ex­cess. There was a lot of en­thu­si­asm for gin, which seems to have over­taken vodka as the stu­dent favourite. Beer and cider were pop­u­lar, too, not least on cost grounds, and the fact that beer is heav­ily sub­sidised by big brands such as Carls­berg. Even so, there was sur­pris­ing loy­alty both to lo­cal brews (Bris­tol Beer Fac­tory’s In­de­pen­dence was on tap) and to those from their home towns (one Manch­ester-born stu­dent, a self-con­fessed “beer snob”, even name-checked Cloud­wa­ter).

Cock­tails were pre­dictably pop­u­lar in Bris­tol be­cause of deals to be had with lo­cal app Wrig­gle, as were – a real blast from the past, these – Jäger­bombs, which are still alive and kick­ing, as they no doubt are in other stu­dent bars, too.

But there’s bad news for the wine busi­ness, I’m afraid: few of the stu­dents I spoke to said they drank wine with any reg­u­lar­ity, price be­ing the pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion, and strug­gled even to name the bot­tles they did buy. Pros­ecco was re­garded as a bit of a treat, but in gen­eral these stu­dents were more likely to drink out than in. And at Wether­spoons, too, judg­ing by this ad­mit­tedly small sam­ple.

There are, of course, some stu­dents who as­pire to drink bet­ter – Bris­tol Univer­sity Wine Cir­cle has an im­pres­sive 500-odd mem­bers, mainly, I re­call, from the law de­part­ment, whose in­tended ca­reer should help them sus­tain their more as­pi­ra­tional tastes – but they are in a tiny mi­nor­ity.

Maybe it’s just that those who don’t drink at all don’t go to the uni bar, but the mes­sage that it pays to have a cou­ple of drink-free days a week cer­tainly doesn’t seem to have per­me­ated the stu­dent com­mu­nity just yet. Though that’s pos­si­bly more likely still to be mo­ti­vated by cost than by health con­cerns.

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