Originally published in U Magazine, April 2008
There’s nothing wrong with a man drinking a fruity cocktail, is there? Actually, don’t answer that yet.
I don’t know why I feel like I’m in confession here, because I haven’t exactly sinned. But then, if you’re transgressing unwritten North-European boozing laws, which were malletted into stone before Moses first grew a beard, you have to be prepared to explain yourself.
You see, I’m not, by nature, a pint-drinker. It might not look bad in print but in reality it’s the drinking equivalent of being a vegan; if you tell people, they take a small step backwards, look vaguely distressed and start to talk to you as if you’re an illegal immigrant. “Well, what do you drink, then?”
I knew I wasn’t going to be a habitual pint-drinker from an early age; specifically, the New Year’s Eve party that someone spilled beer all over my baby sister – I can still smell that Thovaline/McEwan’s Export combination and even the memory makes me gag. But that one mishap sowed the seeds of my difficult relationship with beer.
My first ‘problem’ in dealing with it was growing up in the west of Scotland, a place where even blood transfusions take place in a brewery. Trying to worm your way out of pint-drinking in favour of something tasteful is more humiliating than arriving at a pub wearing an England football shirt; a terrible silence descends, followed by the type of raucous laughter an RTE sitcom can only dream of. The first thing I remember drinking in a pub was an Appletiser; it went down much better with me than it did with the beer-supping lads I went with. The next thing I ordered was a Baileys – and that, naturally, led to my excommunication from the group.
“So you don’t drink beer,” they say, “what about whiskey?” I don’t like whiskey. “What, you’re from Scotland and you don’t like whiskey?” No, and I don’t like golf either, before you ask. My one and only experience with whiskey led me to sail the River Thames while slumped unconscious inside a locked toilet, and I’m not going there again – mainly because I’m afraid they’ll remember me.
My second ‘problem’ was that I was brought up by an Italian mother. Now, for someone with tastebuds, this is pretty much like winning the lottery of life. Not only did it mean I grew up eating the best food in the world, I was, in time, introduced to some of the best drinks in the world; full-bodied red wine, Martini Bianco, Campari, sambuca, amaro, limoncello… no shortage of alcohol or, more pertinently, flavour in any of those tipples. It’s just that none of them are seen here as being particularly ‘manly’ – unless you throw several flaming sambucas down your neck in a juvenile attempt to prove your virilty, or, indeed, how far you can projectile vomit.
Let me share another problem: imagine being an indigenous, full-grown adult male anywhere in Britain or Ireland and ordering a Campari and soda in your local pub – it’s a truly piano-stopping moment, where the regulars suddenly morph into a grizzled mob, replete with burning torches with which to chase you from their midst. But the plain, honest fact of the matter is, Campari is a really, truly, table-thumpingly delicious drink, which mixes divinely well with soda water, with orange juice and even with gin; the latter of which has the potency of miserablist paintstripper and is the only cure for those appalling dinner parties which are soundtracked by David Gray records.
I’m with Scrubs’ Appletini-loving John Dorian on this one. For a man, the joy of a ‘fruity cocktail’ is not that it makes you in any way ‘fruity’, it’s that you don’t need to imbibe pint after pint of something utterly tasteless to be merry or manly. You don’t end up feeling massively bloated either and, best of all, you fail to develop one of those gigantic bellies that always seem to shout a flabby ‘hello’, usually from under a GAA fan’s over-stretched, eye-offendingly gaudy jersey. It’s a win-win in the taste stakes.
We’ve had Al Murray’s widely misunderstood comedy character, Pub Landlord, to thank for keeping that stereotype firmly in place; ‘pint for the fella, fruit-based drink for the lady’ – like the Landlord’s ironic xenophobia, many just assume that this is what keeps the world on an even keel. However, when even my dad (a curmudgeonly Scot who used to keep his ‘back to the wall’ because he wrongly suspected that our washing machine repair man was gay) orders a G&T as his tipple of choice, there’s no natural reason why I should think that my drinking habits in any way detract from my masculinity.
Oddly, I’ve even noticed that some men get to a certain age and start to admit to each other that they never really liked beer, or at least not that tasteless, watered-down horse-piss they serve on draught in pubs. No wonder Germans actually laugh amongst themselves at Britain’s mock-superiority where beer is concerned – and no wonder people from Ireland and Britain flock to Oktoberfest every year, for the relief of a tipple they can actually taste.
But what of women? How do these stereotypes sit with you? Do girls, who feel they may have an equal chance with either, plump for the guy drinking copious pints or the guy sipping cocktails? Would James Bond (pick your favourite) be every bit as alluring or heroic if he was guzzling down pints of Smithwicks in front of his croupier? Answers to the usual address because, personally, I’ve never found that it mattered.
My first girlfriend was very much a fruit-based drink woman; spritzers, perries, Cinzano, that sort of thing. My next girlfriend drank sundry, anonymous pints – usually about four, then she’d start to wobble and get argumentative. Neither presented a particular problem to me – although the latter’s gassy farts were particularly offensive in the night. Still, the last thing I would ever be is judgmental over a woman’s chosen intoxicant.
However hypocritical, though, I have to admit there is something a little more naggingly attractive about a woman drinking something, well, womanly. And I don’t mean those expensive beers that require a wedge of citrus fruit to give them a tang, I’m talking about wine or, yes, fruity cocktails. I’ll happily order a G&T for myself and a Malibu and pineapple for her – although, truthfully, I’d be pretty desperate to try hers and I’d maybe even get her to order one for me next time. Plus, let’s face it, she’s going to taste a whole lot nicer with a fruity tongue rather than a lagery one.
The thing is, I can enjoy a cool, refreshing, quality bottled lager with a pizza or a curry along with the best of them, and… oh, it’s no good pretending. When it comes right down to it, I’m a wine quaffer, a gentlemanly G&T guzzler, a fruity cocktail fanatic, I don’t care who knows it. It wasn’t me who put the ‘camp’ in Campari and if people think drinking that makes me gay… I’ll just have to ask my mum to get me an Italian passport.