I’m not fanatical about black and white films but one of my favourites is “Ice Cold in Alex” starring John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Syms. It follows a rag-tag group of people during world war two who make their way across the German occupied desert in North Africa in an ambulance, searching for the safe haven of Alexandria. It is a gruelling trip, so to help with their motivation, they promise themselves an ice-cold beer when they get there (hence the title). If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.
I had my own “Ice Cold” moment when we were on honeymoon in Sri Lanka. We had booked an all-inclusive package so all food was included as were local drinks. The local beer was called Lion beer and it came either on draught or, as is the custom in India and Sri Lanka, in 625ml bottles. To begin with it was just about passable, but because of the heat, the beer became very warm very quickly.
After a few days, my taste buds had decided that there was no way another Lion Beer was passing my lips. When the barman came over, I asked what other beers they had. He looked confused. “Is there something wrong with the Lion Beer sir?” he enquired. I could have said yes, but I didn’t want to go through several iterations of the poor bar staff trying to fix something that had gone wrong long before the beer ever got to them.
A manager appeared and asked me what the problem was. I said to him that I simply wanted to know what other beers they had. After a long agitated conversation in Singhalese – one of the barman came over, looked conspiratorially left and right before whispering to me that as well as Lion Beer, they also had Carlsberg. Carlsberg – perfect! Just like in Ice Cold in Alex. I told him to get me one. He protested, saying that Carlsberg was going to cost me money – the Lion Beer was included. After a brief discussion where he realised that I was resolute, he despatched the other barman to go and find me a Carlsberg.
I began to really look forward to the ice-cold beer. I pictured myself as John Mills, hot, parched and desperate for a nice, refreshing glass of quality beer. The barman took a long time finding the bottle of Carlsberg, but I didn’t care , somehow the anticipation was almost as enjoyable as I knew the taste of this ice cold Carlsberg would be.
Eventually, the barman appeared, brushing the dust off a dark green bottle of Carlsberg. They set it down in front of me together with an ice-cold glass. Condensation formed on both the bottle and the glass. It suddenly occurred to me that they probably weren’t asked for Carlsberg that often, so I checked the date making sure that I wasn’t about to be poisoned by out of date beer. No need to worry – it was well within date.
I poured the contents of the bottle slowly into the glass. The contents looked like nectar and a nice frothy, white head formed. I brushed my finger down the side of the glass, feeling the cool condensation. I took a deep breath and then sank a large slug of ice-cold beer and promptly sprayed it all over the grass. It tasted worse than the Lion Beer!
I read the label; “Brewed under license by the Lion Beer Company Colombo”.