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Pleasures of Beer in Exotic Antarctica

Hostile…dark…bitterly cold!!!!!!!!

Isn’t this the kind of weather you would expect in August? In Antarctica, that is, where the nights last for four months and wind-chilled temperatures drop to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Antarctica does not share the same traditional seasons that you might expect in the Northeastern section of the United States. In this remote and exotic section of the world there are three seasons that are mainly dictated by light and darkness: Winfly, Mainbody and Winter.

As the Astral spring arrives in early October (Winfly), the sun is just beginning to return. Sunsets can last for hours while nacreous clouds of “mother of pearl” settle in the sky and sundogs spread prisms of rainbow color across the horizon. Population within Scott Base and McMurdo Station pass through a phenomenal growth spurt, while supplies, equipment, construction materials, food and beverages are shuttled-in.

Did anyone say beer?

It seems funny to think of the importance of beer in a remote world dominated by pilots, hired laborers and scientists, but Morale Welfare and Recreation (aka MWR) occupied a key level of importance in the eyes of the Navy who originally served this outpost. Gather human beings from all segments of the world and from varying ethnic, social, and economic levels - then place them in an environment that is isolated, yet filled with deprivation and extraordinary beauty...Sounds like party time!

Three nightclubs serve the recreational needs of crews at McMurdo Station. The Coffee House is a “beer-dry club,” serving only specialty non-alcoholic beverages, wine and liquor in a soft environment of folk music and easy-listening elevator tunes. The Southern Exposure is a happenin’ place during Mainbody, where you can catch a taste of beer or liquor, while dancing or belting-out your favorite karoke rhythms. In Winter, this rec-hall reverts to a haven for coffee and cigarettes in a more laid-back atmosphere.

Gallagher’s Pub, named after Command Master Chief Chuck Gallagher (who went the extra mile to improve Antarctic life for both civilians and military personnel), is a favorite watering hole for laborers and service personnel. A loud party-atmosphere is the order of the day, and spirits flow smooth and steady.

Limits on the purchase of alcohol per day are limited to a case of beer, or one bottle of liquor, or two bottles of wine.

So, what kind of beer might you expect in Antarctica? Ice beer?

Speight’s Old Dark of New Zealand Breweries Ltd, Aotearoa, New Zealand is a common favorite. This Euro Dark Lager is mahogany-walnut with a thick, tawny head. Light chocolate malts blend with earthy hops in a coffee-toffee base with a subtle backdrop of pistachio nuttiness.

You might also find Steinlager Premium Light, also of New Zealand Breweries. This low-alcohol, light golden lager is grainy and sweet with a hint of flowery hops.

Miller Genuine Draft from SABMiller, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA settles upon the Ice Shelf in macro style. Golden yellow with a white head of loose froth, Miller GD is unoffensive and appealing to a wide range of people, making it a reasonable choice for an isolated locale.

Competitive parties are set up in December (Mainbody) to destroy spoiled beer that has been exposed to cycles of “freeze & thaw.” Teams are not allowed to cut or crush cans during these competitions, but the art-of-the-nail-puncture disposes of skunked beer with lightning speed and accuracy.

The nature of this cold environment makes Antarctica one of the driest locations on earth, so home-brewing is not a widely practiced art. However, there was one GA (general assistant) who actually got in some "hot water" over shipping-in large quantities of whole grain malted barley for his homebrewing passion. The phenomenon of occasional fermentation of rice for saki also occurs, and the traditional rice beer product is met with mixed anticipation.

In a hazardous land of halos and color, beer remains a welcome staple in a land beneath “down-under.” Without the sparkling amber brew, what would be the spice of life?

Cheers!

 

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