The good people of Worktown (Bolton) came up with more sensible reasons when they were asked.
REASONS WHY PEOPLE DRINK BEER
There are two sorts of explanations as to why people drink beer. One is really the explanation of why men drink, why they go to pubs. It is the answer to what is called the "drink problem". This we won't attempt to give until near the end of the book. But the reasons that people themselves give for drinking beer are a different matter. A competition in the local press (organized by us) brought a number of replies relevant to this.
Reasons of health and/or beneficial physical effect, the factors recently stressed in brewers' advertising, were given by the majority; and the greatest number of actual references in the letters were to these reasons. 52 per cent mentioned them. Their references (some gave two or three reasons) are classified as follows:
Health Reason Given Percentage Giving This Reason General health-giving properties 24% Beneficial effect in connection with work, or refreshing after work 17% Good effect on appetite 14% Laxative effect 10% Sleep inducing 10% Nourishing 6% Tonic 8% Valuable properties of malt and hops 6% Vitamins 6% Diuretic 2%
35 per cent of people gave social reasons — drinking for companionship. Other kinds of statements were made. One communication, in capital letters on a small piece of paper 4.5 inches square, said: "My reason for drinking beer is to appear tough. I heartily detest the stuff but what would my pals think if I refused. They would call me a cissy." This may be meant as a joke, or even an invitation; but it may far more likely be a genuine cry of distress.
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), page 42.
The last paragraph highlights one of the dangers of any anthropological investigation: not realising when your subjects are taking the piss. Personally, I think it's much more likely piss-taking than a cry for help. But it's impossible to know for sure.
It seems, though, there were some who genuinely hated the taste of beer:
One correspondent wrote us that he only went into the pub with his friends for the sake of their company—"otherwise I am sure I should never set foot in a public house . . . actually loathing the taste of every glass of beer that I drink". This is true of others; beer is often spoken of as "an acquired taste".
A letter from a woman who certainly has acquired it, is the following:
My reason is, Because I always liked to see my Grandmother having a drink of beer at night. She did seem to enjoy it, and she could pick up a dry crust of bread and cheese, and it seemed like a feast. She said if you have a drink of beer you will live to one hundred, she died at ninety-two. I shall never refuse a drink of beer. There is no bad ale, so Grandma said.
A man aged 66 wrote:
Why I drink Beer, because it is food, drink, and medecine to me, my Bowels work regular as clockwork and I think that is the Key to health, also lightening effects me a lot, I get such a thirst from Lightening, & full of Pins and Needles, if I drink water from the tap it's worse. Beer makes me better the more I drink better I feel, neither does it make me drunk, when a Boy a horn of Beer before Breakfast was the foundation for the day."The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), page 43.
Funny that "acquired taste" stuff. I've heard it said often. I'm sure it's true, though my personal experience was quite different. I got acquired the taste for beer after one mouthful. When I was 15. I can remember trying my Dad's Davenport when about 11 or 12. It had a funny bitter taste and I decided I liked in better mixed with lemonade.
The last correspondent wasn't affected by thunderstorms. The Lightening he refers to must be something used in the cotton industry. His experiences of beer-drinking tally with mine. The more I drink the beeter I feel, too. A horn of beer before breakfast - I wonder why that custom has died out?