Sunday, 3 April 2011

Why drink from a tankard?

This comes from another of the many books I never quite got around to looking through properly after purchase. A slim volume of Mallermé. Just joking. A slim volume, written by an anonymous author in the 1930's. Unusual, because beer wasn't considered a suitable theme for books.

The introduction -  where the author complains of the proliferation of wine books and paucity of beer books, despite beer being a far more popular drink - gained my immediate sympathy. It's a complaint that you could just as easily make today.

The section I'm treating you to is about drinking vessels. And more particularly, why drink from a tankard. There are a couple of surprising answers.

"I have spent a great deal of time seeking for an authoritative ruling as to the kind of vessel from which beer should be drunk. Should it be drunk from a glass or from a tankard? What kind of glass or tankard should it be drunk from? Should it first be poured into a jug or should it be transferred direct from cask or bottle to the drinking vessel?

These are questions I have asked in country inns and in London clubs. I have asked stockbrokers and road sweepers, air pilots and bus conductors, policemen and politicians. But although they most of them hold definite views upon the subject they can give no reason for holding those views and their views show in extraordinarily wide variation.

'Why,' I asked a ploughman in Norfolk, do you drink your beer from a tankard?' 'Because it tastes better that way,' he replied instantly. But he was unable to say why beer should taste better when drunk from a metal container than when drunk from a glass.

'Why,' I asked the head of a drapery business in London, 'do you drink your beer from a tankard?'

He thought For a moment. 'I suppose it's just a habit,' he said. 'Everybody does.'

When I pressed him further he hazarded the suggestion that the tankard was traditional. 'Why,' I asked a pilot as I stood at the bar of a west country aerodrome, 'do you drink your beer from a tankard?'

'Because it keeps it cool,' he replied. I asked him if he had any scientific evidence of that fact and he replied that the co-efficient of conductivity of pewter was higher than that of glass.

'You must keep the beer cool,' he said, 'if it is to be at its best and to do that you must provide for a quick flow of heat from the beer.'

I wondered if the provision of a container made of metal with high conductivity might not rather conduct the heat from the surrounding air into the beer; but I did not put the point.

The most surprising argument I heard in favour of the metal tankard was that, if there was a fight, you could hit a person on the head with a tankard without doing him so much harm as if you hit him over the head with a glass. 'I suppose,' drily remarked someone else who was listening to the conversation, 'that is why glasses are used in nearly all public houses nowadays.'

Many experienced drinkers seem to regard the drinking of beer from a glass as a sort of sacrilege and it is strange that they can offer no rational explanation for their views. I have never heard glasses advocated; but I have many times heard tankards advocated with considerable violence. Yet one could say that a glass enables the colour of the beer and its clearness to be appreciated although a tankard does not."
"A Book about Beer" by A. Drinker, 1934, pages 73 - 75.

I like the last explanation best: it doesn't do as much damage in a fight. Ah, the British, with their fish and chips, cups of tea and fighting. They haven't changed much over the years.

And that pilot knocking back a pint in the airport bar. Not something you see often nowadays, what with the ridiculously over-protective safety rules. Doesn't it make you wish you were living in the 1930's? Though there were a couple of less attractive features of the decade: the rise of fascism and the start of the world' most destructive war ever. Still, no decade's perfect, is it?


Rod said...

laughed out loud - thanks. Nice start to my day!

Matt said...

"They are particular about their drinking vessels at the Moon Under Water, and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass. Apart from glass and pewter mugs, they have some of those pleasant strawberry-pink china ones which are now seldom seen in London. China mugs went out about 30 years ago, because most people like their drink to be transparent, but in my opinion beer tastes better out of china."

George Orwell, The Moon Under Water 1946

Alistair Reece said...

So glassware is mere marketing bollocks then?

Gary Gillman said...

Pewter does keep beer colder though in my experience.


Rod said...

pewter doesn't keep beer as cool as long as a heavy ceramic mug/stein/krug though, and the ceramic vessel (if glazed) will have no more effect on the taste of the beer than glass would.
Do/did some people actually prefer the taste of beer drunk out of pewter?
Can't say I do......

Lew Bryson said...

Does it keep the beer colder, Gary? Or is it that the mug seems colder?
I prefer the stoneware mug, but I'm very much in the minority these days; American craft beer 'aficionados' are absolutely loopy about the whole "glassware issue."
In my opinion, beer is best in a vessel that doesn't leak.

Ed said...

I must admit I like drinking out of pewter but I'm sure the beer must warm up quicker, it's just it feels colder on your lips.

Gary Gillman said...

I take the point about ceramic but I don't like those containers, I think beer should be drunk from thin-walled vessels. I agree with you, Lew, that the coldness of the beer seems to transfer to the pewter, it's uncanny in fact how this happens, but that helps to preserve the chill for quite some time.

The metallic taste does get into the beer but it's not unpleasant and it seems to suit porter best.


Lizzy Bee said...

Interesting read! I look forward to checking in on your blog regularly.

I have to correct the pilot, however... The pilot was right in remarking that pewter has a higher thermal conductivity, but that means pewter will actually allow the beer to heat up faster than glass. If a vessel feels cold or hot to the touch, it is usually a good sign heat transfer is occurring at a pretty rapid pace.

If you were to drink beer out of a ceramic container of equal thickness, it will keep your beer colder for much longer.

All that aside, it's an interesting commentary on human habit, and how inexplicable our actions can be!

Jeff Renner said...

@Lew "In my opinion, beer is best in a vessel that doesn't leak."

Except out the top! ;-)

Ron Pattinson said...

Rod, I've seen 19th-century sources where older drinkers complain about modern glassware and say that Porter only tastes right out of pewter. Just what you get used to, I guess.

Thomas Barnes said...

Could drinking beer out of glass be one of those upper class habits which trickled down to the masses, like indoor plumbing, higher education and a taste for bitter beer?

I've heard that drinking beer out of a glass was originally an upper class thing, since they, a) drank more pale ales, which looked better in a glass (read: could be shown off in a glass), b) could afford glassware back when there were extremely steep taxes on the stuff.