It was a phenomenon I first became aware of while watching the marvellous, multilayered Hill Street Blues in the early 1980s. Officers Bobby Hill and Andy Renko, the “salt and pepper” squad car duo, would repair their spirits after a tough shift dealing with assorted area villainy by repairing to a bar, where they would drink beer straight from the long-necked bottle.
That style of drinking, of course, was a reflection by the show’s writers and producers of authentic working-class US culture. Around the same time, however, doubtless through the medium of American yuppies, who liked to pick up on certain elements of working-class behaviour (eg copying the Mexican workers they saw sticking a slice of lime into the neck of Sol and Corona) in an attempt to look “authentic”, drinking beer straight from the bottle spread from working class bars across the US to middle-class bars in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Soon after, yuppie wannabes across the Atlantic in Britain seemed to have copied the habit from the young American financiers they so admired, adding it to their lusts for striped shirts, red braces, Filofaxes and BMWs.
From there, the idea that consuming your beer straight from the bottle was “cool” swiftly became mainstream in urban centres around the British Isles. I remember being at the bar of a disco in the basement of a Dublin hotel in June 1992 (I was there for Bloomsday), ordering a bottle of Heineken, when the following conversation took place:
Barman: “Would ye like a glass with that?”
Me: “Yes, please”
Barman: “Th’ young fellas drink it by the neck, ye know.”
Now, if you’re having a Heineken, whether you’re consuming it out of a glass or not (or even straight out of a can) probably doesn’t matter so much (although there are still good reasons not to neck it: see next paragraph.) But if it’s a craft product you’re drinking, please, please, use a glass. Tipping it straight down your throat out of the bottle is deeply disrespectful to the beer. The brewers have done their best to bring you a drink that will burst with aroma and flavour when poured out, that will be visually enticing, with marvellous colour and firm, foaming head, that will delight with every slow sip and swallow. What you get when you neck that beer is an initial sharp burst of carbonic fizz that blasts your tongue and nose, a burn at the back of your throat as you swallow the fizzing liquid, and that’s it. No aroma, very little flavour. No chance at all to appreciate the colour, the head, or any of the subtleties of what you’re drinking.
More, be it Heineken or Westvleteren 12, when you neck a beer and it hits your stomach, all the CO2 in the liquid comes out of solution, just as it would if you poured it quickly into a glass. Immediately, or soon after, you’ll feel bloated and burp-full: hardly a desirable state, at the disco, the party or the barbecue.
The rise of the beer-necking habit unfortunately means that some bars have decided it’s not even worth presenting the punter with a glass for their drink. In the UK, this is still, fortunately, rare. I can think of only one outlet near where I live, a wine bar in Richmond, south-west London where I have to add “and a glass, please” when I order a beer. Even in Hong Kong, where yuppies appear still to be thriving, most bars will give you a glass to go with a bottle: only the American-run ones seem not to. Unfortunately one of my favourite Hong Kong bars, and the best bar within walking distance of my flat, is run by an American, and while he’s a great guy, it’s hacking me off that I need to ask for a glass to drink my PranQster out of every single time.
(Addendum: a comment by the Beer Nut below has just reminded me of another incident that prompted this rant: a trip two weeks ago for my wife’s birthday to the place that claims to be the highest bar in the world, Ozone, 118 floors up at the top of the 1,588-ft (484-metre) ICC Tower in West Kowloon. Tremendous views of Hong Kong island – well worth visiting, particularly at sunset, when you can see the ranks of skyscrapers across Victoria Harbour light up. However, the beer selection at Ozone, part of the Ritz Carlton Hotel at the ICC Tower, is almost as poor as you might expect – Carlsberg, Heineken, a nod to the locale with bottles of Hong Kong Beer, which is, frankly, really NVG. The only hint that the F&B manager might have any knowledge of beer came with the presence of Chimay red and white on the drinks list. I ordered a bottle of the red, and it, too, arrived sans glass. When my wife ordered a large Sauvignon Blanc, did they bring the bottle and no wineglass? Hardly. So why insult both me and the monks of Baileux by not sending up my Chimay with a beerglass, especially when the Chimay glass is a particularly attractive one?)
Last weekend, two of the small American beer importers that have recently started up in Hong Kong held a joint barbecue at a small beachside bar in the furthest eastern extremity of Hong Kong island, in part to show off some of their newest lines, including beers from the Japanese brewer Yonasato. I had a shrewd idea of what the situation was going to be, and took my own glass along – thus, while everybody else was necking great bubbly mouthfulls, I, at least, was enjoying Tokyo Black the way the brewer intended it to be enjoyed.