I went to Sainsburys today. Not a dramatic admission, granted, but worthy of inclusion here because it got me to thinking about the fragile infrastructure that divides the connoisseur of fine beverages with significant alcohol content and your more Hogarthian consumer. And let’s be honest, it’s a pretty fine line. Let me clear this one up a bit for the benefit of any readership that may have already embarked on their own personal journey:
Of all the aisles of one’s supermarket of choice, the couple that supply the grape and the grain are surely the most well trodden. Here there exists a curiously British microclimate, quite unlike any other. Grown men dramatically slow as they approach this particular section, their velocity utterly dependent on whether they are shopping alone or with a significant other. If it is the former, you can be fairly confident that a brewers ‘vintage ale’ will slip itself into the basket and be justified at a later time. Approximately 8.5% volume and in a presentation box to boot. Sweet.
From here, you leisurely browse the higher shelves, occasionally releasing the odd bottle for closer inspection. To the untrained eye this appears to be the hallmark of experience, but to the seasoned drinker all the signs are there. A deft handspin clearly suggests that the vintner has erroneously slapped alcohol volume to the rear, whilst the inclusion of two or more bottles of the same product almost certainly signifies some kind of sordid bin end deal, from which neither distributor nor end user comes up smelling of roses.
Next up is hard liquor, always a tough one. These shimmering beauties in their idiosyncratic shapes and sizes, all vying for your attention, require more than a modicum of discipline if you are to make it through the rest of the day unscathed. Probably best to give them a wide berth but, Santa Maria, they so have your balls in a vice. Maybe just this small Italian one, distilled by monks in mountain ranges many miles from civilisation? Or perhaps this square one from Tennessee, originally conceived by a philanthropic hillbilly with a beard as long as your arm? Go on, you know you want to, and what’s the worst that can happen? And then there’s the agony of the mixer. The one that’s been around since the 70’s usually does the trick, but right next to it there’s another that says it’s organic, natural and poured over the thighs of virgins for added flavour. Probably. Screw it, it’s going in x12.
It is at this point you become aware that you are not alone. A young man with facial growth that needs a little more time has clocked your basket and is shooting you a look. Pity. His own brims full with tins of own-brand cider, total value of which is one thirtieth of yours. But here, in this sacred space, all discrepancies bleed into themselves and alcohol, just this once, becomes the great leveller.