I never liked olives. Too strong a flavour; salty; foreign. I used to pick them off pizzas, avoid them in antipastos, and, God help me, sooner go hungry than actually cook with the little devils. My sister claimed to have loved them ever since she spent a month in Greece in her early twenties. She couldn’t get enough of them. I thought she was being pretentious, and just wanted to remind everyone she spent a month in Greece as often as she could (which seemed to be quite often).
Over a decade of my adult life was spent with this aversion – a perfectly logical one in my mind. I had a sophisticated and interested palate (well, at least, I thought so), and I had little time for people who encouraged me to venture to the dark (or green) side of things. No time, in fact.
And then, one day, in my early thirties, I woke somewhat bleary eyed to see a large jar of olives on the small table next to the head of my bed. When I say large I don’t mean the large jar you might buy in a supermarket. I mean large as in you have somehow gone to an olive superstore in America somewhere and been supersized. It was huuuge.
[pullquote]”David”, he said kindly, “Beer is an acquired taste, but a taste well worth acquiring.”[/pullquote]
Given my prior relationship with olives waking up to a large jar of several thousand of them was quite a shock to me. I mean, I had woken up with all manner of things in my time after a night out on the drink, and certainly been surprised before (believe me), but this was ridiculous. Olives?!?
I encouraged my brain to reconstruct the events that had led to this. There had been a long and raucous function at a winery cellar door, and much of the local drop had been consumed. The preservatives used in wine no doubt were responsible in part for my dusty condition. And the olives? I had a vague recollection of another guest pulling a small jar off the shelf some time after midnight and sharing them around. My enthusiastic support of the hosts’ business no doubt led to me wanting in on the action, and, as is often the case, one thing led to another and I ended up with my unwelcome bed companion the next morning.
Still, one has to make the best of such predicaments, and I resolved I would eat every one of the blighters even if it took me years. It took me about a month, and by the end of it I was hooked. I loved olives. I wanted to eat them for a snack, with beer, with chicken, with salad, with everything I could think of. There were black ones I loved, green ones I loved, stuffed loves I loved. I pretty much loved them all. Where had they been all my life?
Even now, years later, I still love olives. I can’t imagine a week without them.
All this got me to thinking about beer. The young people today…. well, in a time when Australia has never known such beer diversity and quality it would appear that their beers of choice on the whole don’t taste like beer. At least beer as I’ve known it. It’s not malty. It’s not bitter. It doesn’t taste like coffee or chocolate or caramel or strawberry or honey or… anything really. It’s cold, sweet, alcoholic lolly water.
Ten years ago Michael Jackson the beer hunter lamented the state of beer in Australia. It was bland and watery he said. Perhaps even more bland and watery than the most bland and watery beer in America.
But he hadn’t seen anything. The beer he was talking about tasted like beer. Bland beer perhaps. Refreshing beer. But it was undeniably beer. It had a taste, even if it wasn’t the taste he was looking for. It tasted like beer.
We didn’t like it at first. Few do, if we are honest. I remember at 14 being explained the ways of the world by an older, wiser brother of a friend. I wasn’t a drinker at that age, but I had tasted beer and wanted to know how he could drink it as it was so awful.
And acquire it we did. We all did. It was the adult drink of choice – for males anyway. Culturally, we were driven to it. Our grandfathers drank it. Our fathers drank it. Our peers drank it. We drank in shouts. We drank what people brought us in a jug. We had little choice, but the choice we had was all beer. It did not take us long to acquire a taste of this complex liquid, and as the style of beers available to us increased we were able to refine our preferences and drink for refreshment, flavour or enjoyment (or all of these things) as we saw fit.
Even some women grew fond of it. Many spent time overseas, or had it foisted upon them by a zealous brother or boyfriend. They too had a whole new world opened up to them, just as I had with the olives. A lifetime of enjoyment and choice.
But would we have acquired that malty, bitter taste – a taste as old as civilization itself – if things had been different? If beers that were not only bland, but didn’t actually taste of beer as we know it, were popular?
I’m not sure I would have. I didn’t have a super palate or any particular interest in fine food or drink. I was just one of the boys, following the crowd, engaging in the rituals of mateship as they existed in my time. To be honest, if the crowd had been drinking Coopers Clear, XXXX Summer Bright Lager or Corona, then I would have been too. Low carb? Even better! And the plethora of clear beer brands would have given an ample illusion of choice if I wanted to look sophisticated or different.
So where does that leave this generation of drinkers? Some do acquire the taste of beer as it was traditionally known (even the bland, refreshing type), and from this they can leverage into a lifetime of enjoyment, flavour and beer diversity. I do hold some hope that many will do this, more than would have in my time, as despite this trend people are on the whole becoming more sophisticated and interested in what they put in their mouths.
As for the others…. they say there is no accounting for taste, but there is a certain sadness associated with people who spend their lives eating Chicken McNuggets, or the same meat and three veg, each week until the end. They might be content with their lot, it is true, and they may not really be interested, but there is a difference between an informed choice and an unfortunate ignorance of the world around you.
I guess those of us who have acquired, and enjoy, the taste of beer as it was once known can only slowly introduce the clear beer drinkers to a new world as they mature and opportunities present themselves. And who knows, perhaps once they have mastered the complex but balanced flavours of the drink that has entranced man since the beginning they too will not be able to imagine a well lived life without it.
Just like my olives.