Foster’s. The amber nectar. The taste of true refreshment. Australia’s first ice-cold beer, founded in 1888. Brewed exclusively outside of Australia. Never drunk by Australians. Piss. Dish water. A byword for tasteless big brand lager.
And the beer I drank the most as a student.
I remember it took me many months to stop pretending to like lager; the only choice for teenage boys desperate to reflect masculinity (Why couldn’t it be as tasty as a Smirnoff Ice??). And I won’t pretend that it foreshadowed a more refined palette, unearthed by the great wave of craft beer that we are fortunate to be riding.
We drank for different reasons then. And price was the most important factor. You could buy the same beer everywhere, and nothing else. Except at the Notting Hill Carnival where you drank warm Red Stripe and felt (feel) like a legend. When the difficulty was in being served a drink, rather than choosing one, shouting “Foster’s please mate” gruffly at the barman attracted a minimal amount of attention.
Foster’s was my gateway beer. 4% Abv, inoffensive, with a faint hint of cool thanks to its Aussie-ness. According to the never ending stream of expensive TV ads at least. Its neighbours on the bar all had their proponents and critics. For me, Kronenburg was too flavourful (ha), Stella already had some particularly nasty connotations and was too expensive and Carling was somehow too cheap. With the gift of hindsight I know I was merely reflecting the carefully thought out brand messages/pricing that skilfully guided me to Fosters in the first place. And equally the well-balanced range of beers on the bar front, which let me pick one with confidence.
I wonder what the experience is like now. As far as I’m aware, Fosters has all but disappeared from London pubs. If you are old enough (looking) to get served at the bar, then has the pressure changed to pick a cool independent beer in front of your mates? Are you expected to know your IPAs from your NEIPAs and DIPAs? Or are you still influenced by price and availability. Is Camden Hells the new Foster’s? I don’t mean that as a slight against CH. It would be indicative of a remarkable improvement for Londoners.
Age-checking has become much more stringent since I was trying to dodge it. In licensed pubs and bars at least. Our first taste of alcohol was through a lenient corner-shop owner, or a disinterested checkout assistant. I think the beer range in off-licences has been much slower to update and include good craft beer. And at the same time, they have maintained all the old shelves of tinnies. It is also the domain of ridiculous price squeezing by the big brands - 20x 440ml cans for £10?? I genuinely cannot understand how they make any money doing that. They probably don’t.
If the above assumptions are true, then the experience of new beer drinkers remains depressingly similar to 15 years ago. But, apart from that obviously being a bad thing for small breweries like ourselves… maybe that’s not a bad thing? So much of the joy of exploring craft beer as it is today, is grounded in the ageusia-like (credit: Covid vocab) experiences of yesteryear.
I’m not ashamed to say I lost my virginity to an Aussie. So I’m raising a glass of far-superior beer to Foster’s. Good riddance. Rest in peace old friend.