Party time!... that pre-ball get-together, - one special guest to be introduced all round - Steinecker Lager beer. Your guests are discriminating in their choice of Lagers, and none can resist Steinecker's charm, its true continental strength and flavour - its tang of cool breezes in high snowy places - its friendliness. Serve Steinecker chilled, your guests will agree - it makes a perfect party.The past, as L P Hartley said, is a foreign country; they do things differently there. And one of the things they do is drink Steinecker Lager. This bothers me. It bothers me because - as an architectural historian and, more specifically, an historian of New Zealand's architectural culture - I am trying to get some sort of feel for what New Zealand was like in the period I am studying, which is from 1960 to the end of the last century. Now, you might interject, Steinecker Lager has nothing to do with architecture and I really should be concentrating on buildings and the like. But, I would reply, things like Steinecker Lager are part of the culture, and I find it difficult to ignore.
You see, the trouble with History is that it is very difficult to take one part of it and isolate it from the rest. Looking at old buildings is all well and good, but those buildings were built by people who lived at a particular time and were subject to particular influences. The Steinecker Lager advertisement which I quoted above was published on page 23 of the New Zealand Listener of 22 April 1960. The copy is accompanied by a drawing of men in Black Tie and women in evening dresses, all enjoying Steinecker Lager poured into those conical glasses which were so, so modern at the time. These people are discriminating, you can see. And they are part of the culture. The obvious selling point of Steinecker Lager - made by New Zealand Breweries Limited of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin - is that it is continental. It has the tang of cool breezes in high snowy places, after all. It is, in marketing terms at least, a long way from the Six O'Clock Swill.
One could get all Continental about this advertisement and deconstruct it as a Text. One might note how these characters are dressed as if they ought to be drinking cocktails, yet they are drinking beer; how they are arranged in couples - men and women drinking together, but obviously in stable relationships; how the man of the house (presumably) pours the beer carefully into the conical glass, while the wife of the house waits with a tray; how the stock figure of the Matriarch sits in the background, conversing with younger folk standing around her. One could go on. But the point is (and this is more my problem than yours, and I really should not be troubling you with it) that all this is part of the culture of which the buildings and the opinions about the buildings of which I am studying are also part. Clearly, as if I didn't know it already, continental sophistication is a desirable thing of the period. One could, if one were not writing about architecture, write an entire thesis about drink advertising in New Zealand and how it expresses desires to be more international and of a better class. This desire can be seen in the architecture of the period, as can an opposite desire (both in booze and buildings) to be more national and authentic. That we have buildings of the period that look the way they do is the result of influences that are not solely architectural. That we had beer of the period is not solely bibulous. The suggestion by Kingsley Amis that there should be one universal beer advertisement - "Drink Beer: It Gets You Pissed" - rather misses the point.
Anyway, that is my problem and not yours. But another problem with History is that one can never know what Steinecker Lager is like. I expect it was perfectly horrid, at least by modern standards; but then, it was judged by the standards of the day, not by ours. But one cannot really know, because the only senses we can use in History are sight and hearing. Taste, smell and touch are beyond us, for the most part. I very much doubt that there is a bottle of Steinecker Lager in existence; I am sure that, if there were, it would taste nothing like it did in 1960. So we might have to take the advertiser's word that it tasted of cool breezes in high snowy places.
Anyway, we should leave them to their party. I am reading the Listener of April 1960 on the off-chance that Monte Holcroft might have something to say about architecture, not for the advertisements his publication ran. And I am sure you have better things to do than worry about problems of History. Just remember, serve Steinecker and serve it chilled.