Monday, 24 January 2011

Pale Ale in 19th-century Rotterdam

I've been collecting Pale Ale references. Not just from brewing manuals, medical journals and chemistry magazines. I've been assembling more litereray sources, too.

The following is a travel piece from William Makepeace Thackeray. (was Makepeace really his middle name? Sounds made up to me.)

"Spoorweg.—Vast green flats, speckled by spotted cows, and bound by a gray frontier of windmills ; shining canals stretching through the green; odours like those exhaled from the Thames in the dog-days, and a fine pervading smell of cheese ; little trim houses, with tall roofs, - and great windows of many panes; gazebos, or summer-houses, hanging over pea-green canals ; kind-looking, dumpling-faced farmers' women, with laced caps and golden frontlets and earrings ; about the houses and towns which we pass a great air of comfort and neatness ; a queer feeling of wonder that you can't understand what your fellow-passengers are saying, the tone of whose voices, and a certain comfortable dowdiness of dress, are so like our own ;—whilst we are remarking on these sights, sounds, smells, the little railway journey from Rotterdam to the Hague comes to an end. I speak to the railway porters and hackney coachmen in English, and they reply in their own language, and it seems somehow as if we understood each other perfectly. The carriage drives to the handsome, comfortable, cheerful hotel. We sit down a score at the table: and there is one foreigner and his wife,—I mean every other man and woman at dinner are English. As we are close to the sea, and in the midst of endless canals, we have no fish. We are reminded of dear England by the noble prices which we pay for wines. I confess I lost my temper yesterday at Rotterdam, where I had to pay a florin for a bottle of ale (the water not being drinkable, and country or Bavarian beer not being genteel enough for the hotel);—I confess, I say, that my fine temper was ruffled, when the bottle of pale ale turned out to be a pint bottle; and I meekly told the waiter that I had bought beer at Jerusalem at a less price. But then Rotterdam is eighteen hours from London, and the steamer with the passengers and beer comes up to the hotel windows; whilst to Jerusalem they have to carry the ale on camels' backs from Beyrout or Jaffa, and through hordes of marauding Arabs, who evidently don't care for pale ale, though I am told it is not forbidden in the Koran. Mine would have been very good, but I choked with rage whilst drinking it. A florin for a bottle, and that bottle having the words " imperial pint," in bold relief, on the surface ! It was too much. I intended not to say anything about it; but I must speak. A florin a bottle, and that bottle a pint! Oh, for shame ! for shame ! I can't cork down my indignation ; I froth up with fury ; I am pale with wrath, and bitter with scorn.

As we drove through the old city at night, how it swarmed and hummed with life ! What a special clatter, crowd, and outcry there was in the Jewish quarter, where myriads of young ones were trotting about the fishy street! Why don't they have lamps ? We passed by canals seeming so full that a pailful of water more would overflow the place. The laquais-de-place calls out the names of the buildings: the town-hall, the cathedral, the arsenal, the synagogue, the statue of Erasmus. Get along ! We know the statue of Erasmus well enough. We pass over drawbridges by canals where thousands of barges are at roost. At roost—at rest! Shall we have rest in those bedrooms, those ancient lofty bedrooms, in that inn where we have to pay a florin for a pint of pa—psha ! at the "New Bath Hotel " on the Boompjes? If this dreary edifice is the "New Bath," what must the Old Bath be like ? As I feared to go to bed, I sat in the coffee-room as long as I might; but three young men were imparting their private adventures to each other with such freedom and liveliness that I felt I ought not to listen to their artless prattle. As I put the light out, and felt the bed-clothes and darkness overwhelm me, it was with an awful sense of terror—that sort of sensation which I should think going down in a diving-bell would give. Suppose the apparatus goes wrong, and they don't understand your signal to mount? Suppose your matches miss fire when you wake; when you want them, when you will have to rise in half-an-hour, and do battle with the horrid enemy who crawls on you in the darkness? I protest I never was more surprised than when I woke and beheld the light of dawn. Indian birds and strange trees were visible on the ancient gilt hangings of the lofty chamber, and through the windows the Boompjes and the ships along the quay. We have all read of deserters being brought out, and made to kneel, with their eyes bandaged, and hearing the word to "Fire" given! I declare I underwent all the terrors of execution that night, and wonder how I ever escaped unwounded.

But if ever I go to the "Bath Hotel," Rotterdam, again, I am a Dutchman. A guilder for a bottle of pale ale, and that bottle a pint! Ah ! for shame—for shame !"
"The works of William Makepeace Thackeray, Volume 20, Roundabout Papers" by William Makepeace Thackeray, London, 1869, pages 210 - 212.

Ripped off when buying beer in a foreign land. Anyone who's drunk in a Parisian bar knows the feeling. A guilder for a bottle of Pale Ale? As we saw in a Dutch advert a couple of days ago, you could buy a dozen bottles of Allsopp's Pale Ale for just under 5 guilders.

You can understand why Thackeray was pissed off. I wonder if he'd really paid less Jerusalem?

Then there's what the hotel's choice of beer says about the customs of the day: "country or Bavarian beer not being genteel enough for the hotel". So local beer or Lager wasn't good enough for a hotel with pretensions. Only Pale Ale would do.

1 comment:

Thomas Barnes said...

Add tourist trap beer prices and selection to the list of things that never change.

FWIW, "Makepeace" is just a medieval nickname which got fossilized into a surname. Compared to some of the nicknames that medieval folks answered to, it's downright tame.