Make mine a Hoopers Hooch

16th May 1997 at 01:00
When I was at university it was the old story of sex and drugs and rock and roll, without the sex and drugs. Anyway, the greatest of these is rock and roll, at least until you are emotionally mature enough for sex. As for drugs . . .

We were at a small party at a cottage in the middle of nowhere. The host invited some of us to a rickety hillbilly workshop in his garden and started passing round a strange, homemade pipe. I decided it was time to go and play with the dog.

Some time later my friend Les emerged. I normally knew him as one of the brightest physicists in my circle, a deep thinker whose laughter had to be hard won but was worth the effort. "Hee hee hee!" he giggled under the influence. "Hee hee hee!" So that's what it does.

Of course, my friend came to no harm. He did not move to Leith, start calling people "ya radge" and end up fishing down toilets for opium suppositories. Had the same guy been high on booze he might have become aggressive rather than neighing with laughter at nothing whatsoever. Les wasn't like that with alcohol. He had little time for it as a mind-altering drug but was forever in search of the perfect pint.

By the end of his stint at Edinburgh University he knew just where to get the best glass of McGrundy's Old Disgusting. A few times we went to the Athletic Arms - Diggers to the cognoscenti - for the ultimate heavy. The place was almost always packed. There were as many people behind the bar as you get serving in Burger King though the atmosphere was somewhat different. Everyone drank in unison because to lift an elbow out of synch would have been to start a domino-like reaction that would have spilled everybody else's beer.

I was rarely able to appreciate the virtues of this 80-shilling emporium. By the time Les started to go there I had moved back to Carluke and only came to Edinburgh by car for the evening. I was not experienced enough at either driving or drinking to contemplate doing the former after the latter. Nobody is. Diggers epitomised one reason for drinking, namely for the taste.

I live in an area where outdoor drinking in public has recently been banned. This has led to some reduction of dumped green bottles that once contained the product of kindly monks who feel the youth of Lanarkshire need a tonic. But the Buckie bottles have been joined by a new arrival. Behind the bushes in a swing park near you is the alcopop.

I still have not worked out whether these things are thoroughly nasty or refreshingly honest. A product that contains alcohol but tastes like something that does not contain alcohol is surely being sold as a drug. In some ways this could be seen as honest and unpretentious, an admission about the real reason many young people drink. On the other hand it legalises a culture of intoxication. We know that kids have a devastating, if occasionally twisted, logic when it comes to hypocrisy and whit's fair and no' fair.

Or maybe I'm too uptight. Maybe alcopops are just a way of making the rite of passage of early drinking a little easier. How many of us drew our cheeks in, whippet-faced at our first pint or found whisky slightly less palatable than Venos?

So here's an idea: make your fortune by selling lemonade as alcohol-free Hoopers Hooch. All the sugar of real Hooch but no sair heid the morning after.

Gregor Steele once tried a low-alcohol lager that tasted of dog fur.

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