When I was young and growing up in a country town, drinking too much booze was a rite of passage. Basically, you and your mates would get your hands on some alcohol (something, anything — port, midouri, tequila, beer) and then drink it in strange combinations at someone’s parents’ house, or in an underpass, or at the beach – then fall around and be silly or sick – possibly both.
I had assumed after a couple of years, it stops. You emerge shaken and head sore into this thing called adulthood. Adulthood would be different.
In adulthood I had imagined a different type of drinking – slow and sophisticated: a cocktail (one) in a bar before the restaurant, a glass of wine with dinner, a bottle shared between four. I guess I imagined something….. French.
Instead I feel as if my adulthood is awash with alcohol in a way that it wasn’t for my parents, when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s.
Part of this is as a result of economic and social changes. For the last 15 years there has been a wine glut, supply became more plentiful, and the price went down.
The late 1990s and early 2000s also saw a revolution in our food and drink culture.
Suddenly even the small country towns had licensed cafes and sophisticated wine lists. Palates shifted from VB and a cask of Coolabah in the fridge to being able to discern grapes and regions. Wine and craft beer became not just something to go with a meal, but interests and hobbies in their own right – even to the extent of driving tourism and significant financial benefit to certain regions.
The 1990s into the early 2000s also saw the rise of so-called laddette culture – where it become more acceptable for women to drink to excess. Catering to women drinkers became big business – along came the likes Sub Zeros and other pre-mixes, specifically marketed to women, and sales of New Zealand sauv blanc soared.
Some workplace cultures help to extend this teenage style of binge drinking.
In most of the jobs I’ve had (and I’ve had a lot) – heavy drinking is the way you bond with your colleagues. Have a big night together and boundaries collapse as if by magic. Two years of getting to know someone contracts into one night. It’s a handy shortcut.
It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve realised the two professions of my 20s; the law, then journalism, were made slightly easier by joining everyone out at the pub after work.
You could refuse of course - but there was something about those that did that put them on the outer. Strong social connections made negotiating stressful workplaces easier. And if you work in a male dominated field – and all the men take off for a Friday afternoon golf game and you’re not invited, often the pub is the only place where you can meet to build highly important social capital.