When I stopped smoking, almost three years ago, I noticed at once a nasty side effect: I couldn't drink much any more.
Was it because not smoking upset the beautiful, time-honoured balance of alcohol expanding the blood vessels and smoking contracting them, cancelling out the effect of the booze until the next morning? Or could it have been that without the trusty fag, I tended to hold a drink in each hand, swigging non-stop from both? Whatever the reason; after (at least, what seemed like) one glass of wine or two cans of beer, I was ready to call it a night.
That's when, as so many, many times before, China mainland came into the picture. Her beers, from the mighty Tsingtao in the northeast to the Yellow River in the middle and the Pearl River in the south, are so weak in alcohol content that I've been able to go out for dinner at 7pm, putting back one bottle after another, fag free, and not get tired until … almost 11pm!
What these beers lack in alcohol they make up for in taste. And nothing beats the excellent Mons, which comes from up north somewhere. (It's actually called Snow in English, but written sideways, vertically on the label, it reads "Mons".) It's even better than Pearl River (and that's saying something) and is the perfect accompaniment to spicy food.
That's why I was distraught the last time I visited Guangzhou, the trendsetter for everything in Guangdong province. Not only was Mons nowhere to be seen, having seemingly cornered a large part of the market over the past five years, but all my other old favourites were now "ice" or "light" versions of the original with ugly, modern, very un-beer-like labels. Worst of all, they tasted of nothing. Or nothing with bubbles, like sterilised water with Alka-Seltzer.
It was as if the whole town had been sucked dry of real beer overnight and Stepford Wives Lite put in its place.
"Is this going to be a thing now?" I thought. "No buzz from beer, but also no taste?"
That was a scary weekend, full of fear for the future. I didn't perk up until I was on the way home: in the restaurant car of the train from Guangzhou East to Hung Hom they served beer!
Proper, succulent Pearl River like it used to taste, with a huge heap of the best, plumpest, saltiest peanuts, all of which I gobbled down faster than you can say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".