Sunday, August 31, 2014

Point of Brew: A weekend of rugby in Las Vegas


From page A11 | January 30, 2014 |

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas. I was there with my two sons to attend the USA International Seven-a-Side Rugby Tournament.

The sevens tournament is staged by the International Rugby Board and is known officially as the HSBC (a primary sponsor) Sevens World Series. The competing teams are the national rugby teams of each of 16 competing countries. One tournament is held each year in nine countries around the globe and (with Argentina in planning) on six continents.

From points earned by their success (or lack of it) in each tournament, teams gain a world ranking. To any rugby fan it would be no surprise that New Zealand and South Africa, where the sport is a national passion, are the usual winners of the yearlong event.

In Las Vegas, the fourth stop on this year’s tour, not many fans were focused on the tournaments that have gone before, nor on those to follow, but just feasted on the spectacle before them of some 50 games, each of 14 minutes duration, played by some of the finest players each country can field.

But there was another spectacle to feast upon: the fans themselves. National passions run deep and some fans can’t resist the temptation to display their national allegiance.

The fans of the teams from Kenya and Samoa and Fiji (all rugby powerhouses) favored dramatic national dress and hundreds of flags, whereas the Europeans fans with no national dress to display reached a little deeper. There were a dozen fans of the English team dressed as Knights Crusader in chain mail and white surcoats with the red Cross of St. George proudly displayed. They moved around together and, armed to the teeth, they were mostly left alone.

Close to us, an equal number of Canadians turned up in the bright red uniforms and full regalia of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (sans horses); the guns were toys, I assume (though in Las Vegas you can never be sure). A group of French fans were in morning suits and top hats with (of course) tutus for pants. A band of ladies were dressed (we supposed) as wallabies and so Australian supporters, though we thought maybe they were foxes or cougars.

Fans of the American team (the Eagles who, incidentally, won one of the lesser trophies) favored the Stars and Stripes in every conceivable form from bikinis and headscarves to full suits of clothing and, of course, a dozen Uncle Sams.

Then there were the eight guys in brightly colored head-to-toe coverage in Morphsuits who sat right in front of us; they maybe chose this costume because they all seemed to root for different teams. But, as the Morphsuit website promises, each one seemed to become a more interesting version of themselves. I guess that’s the point of fancy dress.
When we are dressed the part, we get into the spirit of the part: on with the motley. Masquerading in costume we become who we dream of being.

And that is the power of packaging beer in bottles and cans.

Packaging technology is neither a simple nor cheap thing; it is, without doubt, the most expensive part of any six-pack or case of beer and far more expensive than the beer within. But, as any form of dressing up can do, whether it is formal evening dress or military uniforms or priestly garb or a policeman’s riot gear or the lunacy of costumes at a rugby match, it sets aside the wearer as something different or even unique; the appearance of the package provides an identity for the wearer and sends a message about who he is or perhaps who she wishes to become.

Beer packaging is no different; it sends the same messages of identity and ambition. It’s merely more commonplace and perhaps travels below our normal horizon for perception; after all, it’s just the package; it prevents the beer (or practically every other product these days) from running all over one’s hands and provides a convenient way of getting it home from the store.

We might even ask “How else can we manage?”

Well I remember, not so long ago, when my Mam bought everything from bulk stock from potatoes to butter and carried it all home in a shopping bag; milk was measured from a churn into one’s jug at the doorstep and beer came home from the pub either in one’s stomach or in a growler.

Next time you take into your hand that most prosaic of items, a can of beer, do me a favor and take a closer look. The beer can has come a long way from the heavy steel cans you may remember that required a separate can opener or church key to pierce the top. Now, cans are universally made of aluminum and they are easy to open with a flip-tab opener of quite amazing sophistication.

The latest design gives us cans that resemble a bottle with a wide-mouth re-closable screw top, that, unfortunately, tends to encourage drinking directly from the container.

The décor on the can is much more than merely decorative: It carries a good deal of information about who made the beer and where and (often) when; how much beer is in the can and (sometimes) the amount of alcohol. Usually there is some history about the brewery and the intention of the brewer who made the beer and the materials used in brewing.

Finally, of course, there are messages from the government about recycling and the necessary codes for scanning the price and what horrid thing will happen if one dares to open the can and enjoy its contents!

While dressing up for parties or wearing wild costumes at rugby tournaments is packaging that gets all the attention, it’s really the ordinary — nay, extraordinary — beer can that deserves the credit!

— Reach Michael Lewis at Comment on this column at





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