An ode to the humble slab
A funny thing happened to me today. I didn’t even realise it at the time. I almost didn’t realise the significance of this event until I sat down to pen this piece. I bought a slab of beer. That’s a carton or a case depending on your state of residence. As I said – significant.
The beer that I bought was not a new or necessarily sought after beer. It wasn’t limited in release or small batch in quantity. It was neither imported nor ‘foreign labelled but brewed elsewhere’ and it wasn’t in a novelty packaging format or in a special ‘box set with specially monogrammed souvenir glass’. It was, really, just beer.
It was a case of Mountain Goat Steam Ale. It’s a beer I enjoy and one which I particularly enjoy sharing with my friends who drink only mainstream beers as a rule. In part because it tells a good story as to why we can all happily drink widely, locally and well, but also because it is unlikely to ‘scare the horses’ as some heavily-hopped or funkily-yeasted beers might do. But, as I stated in the beginning, this beer was significant.
For those who have not visited a Dan Murphy’s liquor barn in a while, I shall paint the picture. Since opening, ‘Uncle Dan’ has had a relatively unchanged approach to the practice of selling beer in a retail setting. A refrigerated wall of display cases and reach-in shelves across the rear or side wall which holds chilled six-packs and single bottles with a series of library-style box shelves holding all the non-chilled six-packs to one side. The area in front of the main walk-in fridges which store the case beer is reserved for ‘The Pallets’ – stacks of unchilled cases which are on special.
The ‘usual suspects’ are the permanent tenants in this ‘high-rise’ neighbourhood – slabs upon slabs upon slabs of shrink-wrapped VB cans at “2 for $75” or XXXX Gold, Toohey’s New and Carlton Draught along with a regular range of imports (and ‘imports’) like Heineken, Stella Artois, Corona and Beck’s. This section has, in all the time I’ve been shopping at Dan’s, been the sole domain of these world renowned brands.
I am a creature of habit and have always trodden the ‘path less travelled’ straight to the section wherein lies the true golden nectar. Of the ten or twelve ‘aisles’ created by these shelf units, only two or three facings are devoted to small, independent Australian beer. The rest are imports, ciders,
reduced alcohol and low-carb beers. Cooper’s also has its own dedicated shelf area.
This section has recently undergone a major refurbishment whereby it has been divided into ‘styles’ with accompanying signage giving hints as to the taste, flavour and colour expectations of the beers within. ‘Lager’ (incorporating Pilsner), ‘Pale Ale, ‘Wheat’, ‘Amber’, ‘Golden’ and ‘IPA’ have replaced ‘Premium’, ‘Imported’ and ‘Craft’. This is a pleasing result for me as a consumer and a Beer Bloke as it pleasantly blurs the lines between ‘craft’ and ‘other’, making it easier to get punters to try different beers occasionally. Now, it’s all ‘just beer’ divided into its various sub-categories.
One element of the plan has not changed, however, and that is the difficulty in purchasing a full case, in the box, at any time. Most of the ‘better’ beers are not stocked in large quantities and the few cases available have been broken down into six-packs on the shelf or into the fridge section. As a
result, whenever buying a slab I have automatically done a quick head-check to ensure there are at least four six-packs of my selection before loading the trolley and heading to the register – hoping that the staff don’t try to stuff all four sixers into a box designed to carry six tall wine bottles.
At the register I was pleased to find a friendly and helpful staff member who quickly grabbed an empty beer carton and began loading my beers into it. He stopped and said; “Just for next time, you know we have this over on The Pallets?” Oh, sweet, I thought to myself. “Hang on – I’ll swap these over and be right back.” I back-tracked and returned the six-packs before heading ‘east’ to seek out the case stacks. The enormity of this search had not yet dawned upon me. I looked at the back, down the middle and across the edges of ‘The Pallets’ and couldn’t see them anywhere. It was only when I had come almost full-circle and found myself at the very front of the section – the showcase window, if you will – that I saw them. Alongside some cases of James Squire 150 Lashes and Chancer Golden Ale and Little Creatures Pale, there was the stack of Mountain Goat Steam Ale.
A new breed of beers had made it to the Main(stream) Stage!
Now, while I admit to a small degree of tongue-in-cheekiness in penning this piece, I can’t stress enough just how significant an event this was. For those young enough (post 2000) to have never known a time when Little Creatures did not exist, this marks a turning point. A cross roads. A milestone.
For the longest time I have dreamed that beer other than mainstream lager would be given space among the hallowed stacks that are ‘The Pallets’. And today, that day came. And I am happy.
Oh, and plus, it was on special.