Beer at home means…

A generation ago, a fair number of supermarket wines and spirits counters were often separate from the main store. Discounts were less generous for off-licence booze than at present, much to the rancour of pub landlords and real ale fanatics today. Back then, off-licences offered more choice than the little serving hatch or counter in the local Tesco/Kwik Save/Victor Value store.

There was also a slightly illicit nature to ordering more than six cans of Skol. Today, a six pack of the said lager costs less than a bottle of water and is frowned upon as more weird and wonderful brews are available for the take-home market. The wines and spirits counters also had a particular tinny smell, a feeling that can only be recaptured in some local off-licences today.

At home, we are more likely to be supping Hobgoblin or Stella Artois. In the 1970s to 1980s, it was more likely to be Skol, Kestrel, Long Life, Cherry B or QC Rich Ruby. How I miss the unsophisticated days and the cosy reassuringly inexpensive glass of QC or Black Tower were as part and parcel of Christmas along with a James Bond film, The Queen’s Speech and a board game. How I miss the cheap and cheerful Liquorsave adverts.

Pass me a glass of Advocaat and have one for yourself before I take you down to The Off Licence That Time Forgot.

*                                              *                                              *

1. “…Are You Waiting for the Family to arrive…?”

The highlight of a 1980s Christmas for me, besides the presents, was a trip to my late Nana’s house in Mossley followed by my late Grandma’s house in Chadderton a day or two after. In the Good Old Days Before Bus Deregulation, it was possible to board the 343 up to Brookbottom on Boxing Day. Me, mum, dad and my sister Sarah would make the pilgrimage. I would enjoy the view from upstairs, possibly humming Last Christmas to myself.

In the 1980s, no drinks cabinet was complete without a bottle of Advocaat. With a dash of lemonade and Roses Lime Cordial (always Roses, never the own-brand variety), it would make a good Snowball and kick off the occasion as an alternative to Bucks Fizz (or any other ’80s group for that matter). Its custardy nature makes for a moreish taste.

Also popular was Cherry B, a cherry wine made from the same people who brought you that other classy drink Lambrini. The same people also do a proprietary Snowball in Cherry B/Babycham style little bottles. (Ideal for those who couldn’t be bothered faffing about with bottles of lemonade)

Throughout the 1980s lemonade was my usual entrée tipple. No expense was spared in that department, owing to its use as a mixer as well as its use as a children’s drink. Therefore, any brand sufficed (though Ben Shaws’ rinse and return bottled variety from the nearby offy reigned supreme). As I got older, I discovered the joys of an Irish Coffee (which for our younger viewers is a coffee served with Irish Whiskey and cream).

Cherry B, Lambrini and Advocaat is still available at most supermarkets. Morrisons is a dependable source, as is Home Bargains and B&M Bargains stores in and around the North West of England.

*                                              *                                              *

2. In Front of Top of the Pops prior to Christmas Dinner:

The children have opened their presents in front of you as they await the Christmas special of Top of the Pops. Given this is 1985, the dulcet tones of John Peel and Janice Long deliver us the joys of The Frog Song, Shakin’ Stevens and Madonna. The children would show the same level of ecstasy experienced by today’s multi-channelled household on seeing a new JLS video before its official release on iTunes. Meanwhile in the fridge…

A can of Kestrel is sat amid a forest of Skol, Babycham and a bottle of Liebfraumilch. As lager began its meteoric rise as Britain’s most popular alcoholic drink, there were several bandwagon hopping British lager makes such as Kestrel, Grunhalle, Slalom and Einhorn. The exception to that rule was Wrexham Lager, brewed to the traditional German lagering process from 1881 to 2001.

Popular lager fodder in the 1970s and 1980s was Skol. Still pretty much available today, its adverts invited you give Samantha one (their words, oo-er missus), or sing along with animated Vikings seen in The Sun.

For drinkers preferring a stronger or more flavoursome tipple, there was Lamot Pils. The launch of this Belgian beer to UK shores was Bass’ response to the rise of Holstein Pils and other imitators.

Kestrel was one of Scottish and Newcastle’s lager brands for the take-home market. It also spawned Kestrel Super Strength, a stronger spin-off still available today, outliving the regular version. (Perhaps the arrival of Fosters to the UK hardly helped the former’s cause)

Though mainly in the 1970s, another ‘must-have’ item for any party was a tin of Party Four or Party Seven. Watney’s take-home product was a ginormous can of (bete noire and influencer of the CAMRA movement) Watney’s Red Barrel. The law of thermodynamics made for warm congealed headless pints. Manchester wasn’t alone in this take home phenomenon as Boddington’s Brewery brought out the Bodkan (which, as you would expect had Boddies). Though these super sized unwieldy cans contained a pasteurised version of a keg product, there was more compact alternatives brewed for the can.

The first such beer to be brewed for the can is erroneously stated as Ind Coope’s Long Life, when that honour belongs to Felinfoel Brewery’s Double Dragon. Long Life came some 20 years after Felinfoel’s bitter (in 1956), though Ind Coope’s was the first national brand to be brewed especially for the can. Little did we know that this bitter would spawn a bastard offspring of imitators and supermarket brands. In the North West, there was Daniel’s Lancashire Bitter, Thwaites’ take-home only brand (still available at Home Bargains if I am not mistaken).

*                                              *                                              *

3. Amid the Turkey and Stuffing

In the decade of my formative years, choosing wine didn’t need countless books, reviews in broadsheet supplements or a dedicated TV programme. Price and taste were our main factors. If it was sweet and cheap, that mattered.

Popular plonk on the dinner table would be Black Tower, Liebfraumilch or Blue Nun. All three wines are still available today. Black Tower has hints of grapefruit and subtle fizz, whereas Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun are slightly more tart, yet palatable.

If you had a bit more cash knocking about, turkey and sprout fodder could extend to Cava or Asti – bargain basement champagne with as much fizz as a self-respecting keg beer. At Chez Vallantine, we would take The Pound Bakery of Wine Drinking Route by going for Lambrini! This, rather than thrift, more down to my mum not appreciating good wine and its easy drinking nature. I personally prefer a pint of Hobgoblin (or Beartown’s excellent Santa Claws) with my Christmas Dinner.

In his younger years, the creator of this blog enjoyed a bit of Liebfraumilch with two to three parts of lemonade. Needless to say, it always went well with my mother’s charcoaled chipolatas.

4. In front of the Telly (or Another Pint of Bitter Over There, Boss)

The last decade has seen an evaporation of the shared experience which television brought us on Christmas Day. Today, households are just as likely to watch their box set instead of gorge on the selection box. Some may prefer to go on the internet and post inane blog entries or Facebook status updates. (Like this fellow may well be doing whilst Downton Abbey’s on). Therefore, the internet and multi-channel television has made 20 million plus viewing figures an anachronism.

By teatime, we would sit in front of our favourite soaps in our ‘crowded room with friends and tired eyes’. At around 7.30pm we would automatically opt for a mince pie or a piece of Christmas cake. After the soup. After the turkey. After the Christmas Pudding (and to Hell with the diet). Some of us would finish off the dinner wine. Others may prefer a can of lager or bitter in front of Coronation Street.

We return to the fridge: there’s still a similar amount of Skol and Kestrel cans left. The bottled Guinness is in the cellar or the shed, but it is too cold and I couldn’t be bothered as I heard Colin Weston announcing the next programme. What was that I heard? Ghostbusters is on next?! Riiiiight, set the video (Mum, any tapes left?). I then settle for the can of Skol.

I could have gone to the cellar and braved the cold as 3-2-1 was on (a Must Avoid in my book). Two minutes later I did and found a few other 1980s relics. One was a can of Barbican and three bottles of Kaliber, non-alcoholic lagers, the latter with a dry taste reminiscent of Asahi. There was a lone can of Vaux Mild. Immediately I thought ‘RIGHT! I’m having THAT!’, grabbed it and returned the can of Skol (unopened) to its second home (the fridge).

Other than finishing off the Christmas wine, our drinks cabinet would show its exotic side. Another Snowball or a Port and Lemon was on the cards. Just the thing to go with a Butterfly Bun (dig that buttercream goodness).

5. Onto Boxing Day and so forth…

As you would expect, the following directions would be repeated. Slight exceptions to that rule would include any of the following:

  • Visiting the relatives (more beer and wine);
  • Heading to the sales (may include a trip to a pub or three);
  • Watching the local Derby fixture (ditto the above before and after the game);
  • Waiting for the Final Scores on Grandstand or World of Sport (a can of two may suffice);
  • Watching a circus of some description (no beer, unless it is Billy Smart’s Circus on the Beeb with a can or three, or the Belle Vue Christmas Circus where you would have carte blanche to partake in a few scoops at the Bavaria, Caesar’s Palace or the Lake Hotel);
  • Going to see a pantomime (interval drinkies I suppose?).

6. Just One More…

Feel free to add a few more drinks to our virtual cellar or drinks cabinet from the 1970s and 1980s.Before I go, I shall leave you with this clip which should transport you back to the era of Abigail’s Party:

A Merry Christmas to you all. Ein prosit und Cheers!

S.V., 19 December 2011.

One thought on “The Wines and Spirits Counter of a Christmas Past

  1. do you remember a drink from the 80’s that was a coconut cream liquer, it was in a white bottle with a pic of a coconut on (not malibu) it was a white liquid similar to baileys but cocnut. had some sort of tropical ish name?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s