I was innocently enjoying a crab claw and spring-roll at the Sushi Factory on Auckland Anniversary Day when my eye was caught by a cheerful advertisement on the table. It read: "KID'S BEER!! 0% ALCOHOL!! - LOOKS LIKE A REAL BEER!! It's beery beery yummy!! $4.90".
Needless to say I was so flabbergasted I nearly spat out my green tea. I'd never seen or heard of such a thing before - and I've witnessed bizarre imagery of children smoking. Yet it seems that I need to get out more because faux beer for children has been around for a number of years.
"Sangaria ... began producing a beer called Kodomo no nomimono ('children's drink') which has become a huge success in Japan," said Japan Guidebook back in 2008. Some people have a thoroughly benign attitude towards it; they believe that demystifying alcohol in this way can make drinking less of a big deal for young adults when they're finally old enough to try the real stuff.
I'd say the jury is still out on whether this product is "demystifying" or promoting alcohol. Perhaps there's a fine line between the two; maybe it's even achieving both simultaneously.
"A children's soft drink designed to look exactly like beer has been condemned as 'dangerous' and 'inappropriate' by anti-alcohol campaigners, who fear that it will encourage under-age drinking," said a Telegraph article entitled Children can't stand life unless they drink, says Kids' Beer slogan.
Yet amidst all the shock about faux beer are some examples of young children drinking actual alcohol. A question on a US-based parenting forum read:
"Friends of ours have a two-year-old boy who loves to drink wine and beer out of his parents' glasses. He's sometimes allowed to hold the glass and take large sips. Is this dangerous?".
The answer from a paediatrician in Boston was the same as any adult with half a brain anywhere would have given: a resounding "yes."
So, then, exactly how bad is this fake beer for children that has a "frothy, lager-like head when poured" and cartoon characters on the label? Well, I think it's awful; it is tacky and is essentially grooming children for when they're ready for the real stuff. Yet if you compare it to letting children taste bona fide beer or wine, the alcohol-free version must be the lesser of two evils.
And isn't the whole notion of fake beer for children a little sexist, anyway? Beer, after all, is a man's drink at heart. Where's the no-alcohol chardonnay or champagne to prepare the lady-drinkers-in-waiting for their future roles keeping the booze barons in private jets?
Oh, never mind. I've just found it: Non-Alcoholic Bubbly - the "alcohol-free party drink for all children to make them feel like grown-ups when they party!". What a relief.
What's your take on faux beer for children? Is it an evil marketing tool designed to prime your child for a life of imbibing or is it far more innocent than that?