Unfortunately, the booze in the southern hemisphere failed to put tumescence in my trousers in the same matter that the women did. As I suppose it should be, I’m far more partial to women than I am to imbibition--though the two have seemed to share a rather complex, symbiotic relationship through my life--but as an alcohol enthusiast, I’ve been prone to popping a boner over a good brew or two. Especially in San Diego. That place is a mecca for mastered brews. Ballast Point, Karl Strauss, Stone, and the list goes on. Even some of the spirits that are distilled there locally are more than pleasant to the pallet.
But before I come off as some pretentious prick, with refined taste and a finicky liver, I’ll tell you that I have neither. And though I have an immense appreciation for good grog, I’ll pretty much drink whatever is available, save for Charles Reibenbach Lager, and urine--although I have been known to make concessions. The quality of the contents in my glass has often been limited by the quantity of contents in my wallet. Which wasn’t awful at all in the States. I could usually afford an eighteen pack of Miller Light to get me through a Friday night with friends, and I actually enjoyed the shit out of it. And luckily, between the privilege of working with some fine breweries through the radio station, and my lovely employers at the High Dive, I was able to indulge every now and then with some of San Diego’s finest beverages.
That being said, in regards to my former comment on tumescence, trying maintain my rather modest drinking standards in Australia was like trying to maintain tumescence while repeatedly taking a swift kick to the dick. The kick of course, being supplied by the heavy foot of commerce. I’d never seen alcohol so highly priced in my life. In fact, the first time I saw a case of Coronas in a liquor store for fifty-five bucks, I swore it had to be a typo. But sure enough, every other case of beer in the joint was forty plus, and priced comparably at other clinics around the city. And, as you’d imagine, the over the bar charges were weighty as well. Even just for the low quality domestics. Not that it deterred us of course, we had a job to get done, and the resources to deliver us unto success--on top of the fact that I figured our celebratory circumstances allowed for acquiescence on the matter. But in any other circumstance, paying ten dollars for a pint of moderately palatable piss water was something that I wasn’t keen on making a habit of. Ten for a pint of Karl Strauss, Tower Ten? No problem. But the day I start paying ten dollars for a pint of Bud Light, is the day I invest in heaters for hell, or I check myself into rehab.
And there are some really delicious beers in Australia. Some, that I got to enjoy as employee of a couple bars. But they are few and far in between, and might require that you hock some of your mother’s jewelry before you plan to have a night out on them. And there’s a reason for that. It really all just comes down to taxes.
Australia has one of the most complex alcohol taxation systems in the world. Looking at it, you might have figured that a text book and a Scrabble set got into a knife fight and ended it all with a grenade. And I could try to explain it technically, but the boredom might have you seeking such a grenade, and I... Yeah, fuck it. I’ll just be honest, I can’t explain it technically. I’ll leave that shit to Hawking and Pissarides.
Essentially, in an effort to reduce alcoholism and the detrimental costs of alcohol abuse, both socially and economically, Australia began placing heavy levies on alcohol. Beer and spirits on one hand, are taxed based on the alcohol content. Which basically means spirits take the high cost cake--unless it’s Brandy for some reason, which is given a concession. A bottle of Smirnoff Vodka, or spirit of the sorts, will run you around fifty-five in most places. Wine on the other hand is taxed based on the initial value of the wine. Which given the quality of some of the wines we’d end up drinking, left me wondering if they had been taxed at all. And yes, there are good ones, they just tended to be a bit out of my budget most of the time. Furthermore, wineries throughout Australia are given excise exemptions as well. Which subsequently equates to a ton of established and establishing wineries throughout the country, including some of the world’s finest. If you’re a bit of wino, it’s not a bad place to be. You’ll definitely get the best BAC for your buck.
Anyway, given the taxation laws, there are far fewer breweries. Unfortunately the small fries trying to make a name for themselves, and give the people a sample of their sauce, are subjected to the same levies that the big fish are, which makes it fairly difficult for them to compete. And unless the people begin sucking down their insanely high priced independent brews, they get sucked up. And I should say, the Big Fish, ‘is,’ as Foster’s Group--yeah, the whole, ‘Australian For Beer,’ Foster’s--controls nearly all of the alcohol manufacture, sales, and distribution in Australia. Mostly bad ones at that. However, I would be remiss, and dishonest if I didn’t mention that their Matilida Bay, Fat Yak, is exquisitely delectable. Though even that one, is just so goddamned expensive.
So, that primarily put us in the wine section, once the funds began to fade. Specifically, the boxed-wine section. You can steal yourself about four liters for roughly twelve bucks if you aim towards the low shelf. On the backpacker trail, they call it ‘Goon,’ though nobody seems to know why. I’d hear at one point that it was actually the Aboriginal word for ‘pillow’, as the bladder inside, once emptied, can be blown-up with air and used as a pillow after the contents knock you down about six flights of the unconsciousness stairs. And as far as the ingredients are concerned, they list traces of everything from fish, eggs, milk, and nuts, which leaves you wondering where in the fucking hell the grapes are. Although after about a glass or two, you stop wondering, or caring for that matter. And after a hard night of anywhere from five to twenty-five glasses of it, you’re crippled with a hangover the next morning, that feels like Frankenstein is repeatedly dragging you back up those unconsciousness stairs with his fingers through your eye-sockets. I’d become rather familiar with those stairs.
Now as far as Australia’s plan for reducing alcohol related damages... In 2008, they accumulated 6.1 billion dollars in revenue, verses 15 billion in damage recorded in 2004/2005. The United States on the other hand, with roughly fourteen times the population, accumulated 5.7 billion in revenue and recorded 220 billion dollars in damage in 2005. And whether the 15 billion dollars of damages in Australia accounts for costs involving productivity losses due to alcohol abuse, I’m not sure. I’m not exactly looking to write a dissertation on the matter. I just found the figures fairly formidable. And whilst it could have been a coincidence, or a phenomenon made possible by other factors, Kevin and I began to notice a few results of Australia’s program.
“Hey man, you notice how few drunk and delirious homeless people there are here, I’ve barely seen any?”
“Probably because rent it is cheaper and booze is so expensive.”
And please don’t think that I’m advocating we tax alcohol in the same manner in the States. I hope that I’ve made it apparent that I’m a fan of cheap drinks. And I’m sensible enough to know that it would probably just boost the production of moonshine like it’s done in some areas of Australia. I know as well as anybody that sometimes, you’ve just got to get fucked up. But I do imagine that something could be done to help prevent the social, and economic damage created by the abuse of it. In fact, I think that there is a substantial amount of much needed reform that the country could consider. Like even the way that we view alcohol in relation to the young people who will be drinking it for years to come. I think it says a lot to someone to tell him we trust him enough to vote, to operate a firearm, and get shot at on a battlefield, but we don’t trust him to have a beer in a bar. This of course is something that I could write a dissertation on, but we’ve got more ground to cover. I’m just going to say that America has the potential, after all,I know it’s trite, but we did put a fucking man on the moon.