Beware the snakebite

Tara Rafiq photo-illustration

When I was 20, I found myself working behind the bar at the filthiest, sweatiest subterranean pub in Brisbane, Australia. Despite the fact that we had 16 draft taps, we only carried two types of beer—both of which were lagers—and Strongbow cider.

The pub catered almost exclusively to overseas backpackers staying at the massive hostel upstairs.

The Americans seemed to be trying hard to live up to their stereotypes: loud, aggressive, and couldn’t handle their alcohol worth a damn. The Canadians, admittedly, weren’t much better—slightly less loud, slightly better drinkers, but equally aggressive. At least they always said thank you. The Koreans were exceedingly polite and always picked up after themselves, despite drinking absolutely shocking amounts of beer. They tended to avoid the dance floor and always seemed to be playing drinking games that got increasingly loud the later it got. The Irish were genuinely insane, yet disarmingly charming.

Then there were the English. Probably a solid third of our clientele was English, and Hell hath no fury like an Englishman (or woman) on holiday. Drama. Fights. Vomit everywhere. For a country whose national pastime is functional alcoholism, I expected better, quite frankly.

The English weapon of choice was always Snakebite. I had never heard of this nefarious concoction before, but I came to learn that it was banned from nearly every pub in England, hence its popularity in the colonies.

Made of equal parts lager and dry cider with a splash of grenadine (at least, that’s how we made them), the sum of the Snakebite is much more than its parts. There are rumours that the combination of these three ingredients creates magic in a pint—dark, evil magic—resulting in particularly rowdy behaviour due to some mysterious chemical reaction. In truth, it tasted like pop, so people drank it really, really fast. Like, WAY too fast. And in the sweltering, subtropical Australian heat, that meant trouble.

To give you an idea of just how popular Snakebite was in our divey little pub, the fella who delivered our grenadine (by the pallet) said we were the largest single consumer of it in the Southern Hemisphere. And we used exactly two dashes per pint.

The popularity of Snakebite resulted in a number of peculiarities. Firstly, pink vomit. Everywhere. We did our best to clean it up, or at least contain it to the restrooms, but it was a losing battle. Secondly, a lot of broken glass. Why we didn’t switch to plastic, I’ll never know. And of course there were the gratuitous public displays of affection, and the brief but predictable punch-ups.

Recently, however, I’ve been surprised to see the Devil’s beverage popping up on our fair shores. This is a troubling development, to say the least.

Bad Dog Brewing Co. and Spinnakers are two local breweries that have released packaged versions of Snakebite.

Spinnakers, Bad Dog Brewing, and I’m sure a few other B.C. craft breweries and cideries have released commercial versions of Snakebite. In the Before Times, the now-defunct Tod Creek Cidery even hosted a Snakebite festival, which I can only assume descended into a pink-hued orgy of violence and fornication.

Snakebite is not to be taken lightly. While its components might seem innocuous, all it takes is a hot, late summer’s day for your thirst to get the better of you, and then before you know it, you’ll be waking up at a body-piercing studio in the Fortitude Valley [ed: Brisbane’s “entertainment district”] at nine in the morning with your lip pierced. Sadly, I speak from experience.

You’ve been warned.

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