It’s no surprise that Australians love a drink so much when you consider how much booze came out on the First Fleet – 12,000 gallons of rum, says Max Allen in his new book Intoxicating: Ten Drinks that Shaped Australia.
But Max goes further back than the “European invasion” as he calls it (telling) to when Indigenous people drank the fermented sap of the Tasmanian cider gum.
Finally a wine/drinks book that’s of interest to everyone including teetotallers and gospellers.
It’s a short social history of Australia mixed with personal stories about Max’s many encounters with drinks.
He’s a deep thinker. A sentimental bloke. Low tolerance for cork taint and bullshit. He’s finicky. Every word counts.
Max’s inquiring mind shines through. He just has to know why it is so.
Max tours the VB brewery; sneaks through an unlocked gate to check out an abandoned Corio distillery; goes to a gig by Aboriginal singer Archie Roach who sang Down City Streets and once drank flagons of McWilliam’s Port; tastes 150-year-old shipwrecked Champagne; bums apples from an orchard to make cider on the way to becoming a self-confessed “terrible cider snob”; makes wine from native grapes.
Yes there’s nudity. Oz Clarke had a picnic with Andrew Pirie and two women at a nudist beach in Sydney in the 1970s. Oz recalls, “Bollock naked, rolling around, plastic cups, just waving the flies out of them, with salt all over our lips, we poured and drank our way through Grange (55) and Maurice O’Shea, all naked and happy and drunk.”
A lot of wine industry reports have been released lately; they can’t be taken seriously because Covid will change everything.
Intoxicating is all you need to know about where we’ve been as a wine community and where we need to go.
If we do only one thing – learn from our mistakes – this industry will be just fine.
Max did the hard yards to get to the top. He worked at a drive-through bottle shop in Fitzroy.
“The first proper job I got after moving to Melbourne, lugging cases of VB longnecks from the delivery truck into the cool room, selling slabs of cans to blokes in utes and sixpacks of stubbies to students in black jeans and flannels.”
Intoxicating will age well. It will come to be known as the book that restarted a conversation about Aboriginal culture and its place in the Australian wine community. It has to happen.
Uncanny that this book coincides with the kerfuffle over MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo and the native food database he’s putting together with the help of government funding.
The strong human element and references to Max’s family give this book a lot of soul.
It’s about the triumph and tragedy of drinks. But above all it’s about the boy from Bristol’s greatest adventure – travelling to Australia and living the dream: getting paid to write about drinks.
Coming from the other side of the world is the key behind the message in this book.
Arriving with a blank sheet, an inquiring mind and a social conscience can be the most powerful cocktail of all. Archie Roach sang “There was nothing that I owned. Used my fingers as a comb.”
It’s a short song but, like Max’s book, it’s a hell of a story.
• A version of this article first appeared in our Friday newsletter The Week That Was. WBM has published an extract from Intoxicating: Ten Drinks that Shaped Australia, by Max Allen, published by Thames and Hudson Australia.