Tis The Season For Hangovers

Christmas and New Year's bring headaches with good cheer!

The apocalypse has come and gone, and if, in the words of Douglas Adams, the universe has indeed been replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable, I can't tell the difference. Or maybe I just haven't drunk enough beer to notice. That's getting to be a problem for me these days.

I've always been a bit of a lightweight when it comes to beer: one sniff of the barmaid's apron and I'm dancing on the tables and everyone in the whole world is my best friend. And I've always been prone to vicious hangovers, but the older I get the less I have to drink to experience one, and it's starting to annoy me.

Time was that if I needed to spend the day lying down in a darkened room muttering “Never again” it'd be the result of having been on a bloody good bender the previous evening and getting seriously wide-eyed and legless. Nowadays I can find myself wishing there was a volume control on the world and another to turn down the sun's brightness after nothing more than a relatively restrained and sedate session at a bar with a few friends, and for someone who loves beer and earns a living from it that's something of a handicap.

Take daytime drinking for instance. I can't do it any more.

Mention the summer of '76 to any Briton older than about 50 and they'll tell you of blisteringly hot days, drought, dead lawns, plagues of ladybirds and being encouraged by the government to take baths and showers together to save water. At the time I was working in a sweet factory where we made chocolate-covered centres. The weather was so hot that the centres wouldn't set hard enough for them to be enrobed (that's confectionery-speak for covering something in chocolate) so we were put on short time and we got two weeks off at half pay.

My friends and I used the time constructively – we went to the pub every day and enjoyed the beer as well as the glorious and unending sunshine. We'd head down there at lunchtime, enjoy a pint or three, go home at closing time (this was in the days when pubs had to close at 2.30 or 3.00pm and re-open at 5.00 or 5.30pm), spend the afternoon listening to prog rock and go back in the evening for more beer after having had a bite to eat.

If I tried doing that today I wouldn't make the second session. A couple of pints in the middle of the day are going to knock me out. I'll fall asleep on the sofa and wake up three or four hours later with a splitting headache.

This being the week of Christmas and New Year, the incidence of hangovers is likely to be higher than at any other time of the year. I'm not going to go into the physiological reasons behind why we get hangovers (that's what Wikipedia's for), nor am I going to expound any hangover cures because I don't believe they exist, except for one – getting stuck into some strenuous exercise that starts your blood pumping and your chest heaving and keeping at it until the sweat's pouring off you and the hangover's gone.

No, my only advice is to avoid one in the first place, or at least mitigate the effects. Don't drink on an empty stomach. Pace yourself – your body can't metabolise alcohol as fast as you can drink it, and a hangover is essentially a mild case of alcohol poisoning. Drink at least half as much water as beer throughout the session and half a pint before you go to bed, or a pint if you don't mind getting up in the middle of the night to unload it. Have a glass of water and a couple of aspirins on the bedside table ready for when you wake up next morning.

Do I follow my own advice? Do I, heck as like. As I'm writing this my head is full of cotton wool and my mouth feels like the bottom of a parrot's cage after having had one or two more glasses of Adelbert's Philosophizer than I should have had last night. Beer nerd, heal thyself!

But, oh man, that hair-of-the-dog beer you drink once your head clears is the best beer in the world!

Addendum:

The debate over last week's 'Craft vs Crafty' initiative by the Brewers Association has rumbled on, as you might have expected, and mostly in the beer geek forums, but one or two industry giants have weighed in on the matter, including the CEO of MillerCoors, Tom Long. In a piece that doesn't really say anything new or unexpected and which, thankfully, isn't wrapped up in too much corporate speak, he makes a few valid points, including this: “We urge those people not to confuse the style of a beer with the quality of the beer.”

This is something that folk often do with anything that's mass-produced, and they don't always do it with reasoning aforethought. I'm talking about those whom some might call a snob. People who are prejudiced against things that are popular and view them automatically as unworthy without looking at the product's merit. The kind of people who once were fans of a band but dropped them like a hot potato when they got big, only because they got big. If something's popular it's often because it's a good product, but it can also be the case that what's popular is the lowest common denominator, devised to appeal to as many people as possible with profit having a higher priority than intrinsic quality.

Budweiser, for instance, fits the style definition of an American adjunct lager perfectly, as Miller Light fits the definition of a light lager, and you have to give them ten out of ten for adherence to style because the megabrewers are very good at what they call quality control, but I would call consistency because it's equally possible to produce both good and bad quality with endless conformity.

The industrial revolution began the modern era of mechanisation, and since then we've come to equate quality with consistency because mass production can turn out millions of identical products from one process. My parents are of the generation that embraced this idea (so was I for a while, because it's what I grew up with), and John Steinbeck alluded to it in Cannery Row, in the section where Mack and the boys are on their way to collect frogs for Doc: “There was one nice thing about Model T's. The parts were not only interchangeable, they were unidentifiable.

Before the industrial revolution introduced mechanisation to the world just about everything was hand-made. Small differences and discrepancies were not just acceptable, they were inevitable, unless you could afford to get your furniture made by someone of the calibre of Thomas Chippendale. Mass production has changed that. Throughout the 20th century it became the norm and 'hand-made' once again became something for those who could afford it. Consistency, price and ease of use have become new benchmarks of quality; make all three happen and you've hit the bullseye.

The megabrewers turn out millions of barrels of very consistent, very cheap and relatively bland beer. Job done.

In one other development, the Brewers Association has decided to take down the list of non-craft brewers (which came to be called The Blacklist by its detractors) and has promised to “...post a list of 2012 craft breweries that meet the small, independent and traditional criteria, along with a press release on craft brewing industry statistics, in the first quarter of 2013.” If you're interested, the original document has been archived here by an enterprising Google docs user.

Let's hope they can come up with something a bit less divisive and make a better job of it next time.

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