Sunday, 23 December 2012


Here's a random text I found with a great descriptrion of 19th-century pissheads. Two gallons in a sitting is pretty impressive. Especially as it was probably at least 6% ABV.

"This [something in Greek, I suspect "barley wine"], as my father called it — though I believe Xenophon called it so before him, when he found it amongst the savage tribes, in his retreat—as drunk in the country I am speaking of, was by no means a pernicious liquor, being brewed from the very best materials, and always with great care. At meetings of a certain description— some hunt-dinners, for instance — nothing but ale was put upon the table; and, strange to say, there was a chosen few of the old sort of Britons, commonly called Ancient Britons, who could drink thirty-two half-pints, or two gallons, at a sitting, and ride home afterwards. Never shall I forget a dose I had at one of these meetings (Iscoed Hunt), at which the king of Wales, as Sir Watkin Williams Wynn is called by the Welshmen, was present. Unfortunately for myself, I did not do as my next neighbour did, empty my stomach into the coat-pocket of my neighbour, but carried my load home; and the consequence was, I could not bear even the sight, much less the taste, of ale for the next six weeks.

Although cwrrw-dda, or Welsh ale, is very mild, it is very strong, and a Welshman is generally as proud of it as he is fond of it. I one day witnessed an amusing scene, in the county of Gloucester, where a glass of good mild ale is sought for in vain, owing to the nature of the water. An antiquated native squire, however, at whose house I was a guest, was not of my opinion; and, having by accident a Welsh parson at his table, ordered his butler to tap a fresh cask of ale for his reverence. The parson tasted it after his cheese, but praised it not; which called forth the question, " How do you like my ale, sir ?"—" Ale!" replied the ancient Briton, smiling; "we should call it very good small beer in Wales." There was not much of courteousness in this reply, but a great deal of truth."
"Fraser's Magazine, Volume 12", 1835, page 533.

The 19th century was a far more genttel time. As this attests: "empty my stomach into the coat-pocket of my neighbour". Charming.

Odd, isn't it how things change over time? Back in the early 19th century, apparently, Wales was famous for strong Ales. In the 20th century, it was famous for exactly the opposite. Though it is intersting to note that they were the same type of beer, Mild Ale.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

Just yesterday at an LCBO in Toronto, a nice young couple asked a clerk if "barley wine" was available. He said no and they wandered off dejected. I went up to them and pointed out the store offered Nogne's strong ale (described as a barley wine on the shelf-talker), Orkeny Skull Splitter which is the same thing essentially, and Shipyard's Barley Wine. There was a craft circa-10% ABV spiced Ontario barrel-aged ale that met the bill too and more if you really looked, but I left it at that. (Staff aren't always au fait with the latest offerings in obscure corners of the store).

I wondered how and why they thought to ask for this, indeed in this post-Jacksonian era, the very term seems to be almost as obscure as it was before St. Mike flooded it with light in 1978. But anyway they were very happy and added numerous bottles of these three to their basket. I hope they liked them.

If we had a time machine and could flit back to the 1830's to inform your classical scholar of this development in Upper Canada almost 200 years later he'd probably have looked at us like lunatics. Or maybe not.