Tuesday, 28 June 2011

the English are the greatest beer-drinking people in the world

It wasn't me who said that, but an American visitor to London in the 1860's. As you'll see in a moment.

Yes, I've been down the Golden Cockerel allotment again and picked me a few veg. Not sure if they're cabbage or carrots. See what you think:

"IT IS AN UNDENIABLE FACT that the English are the greatest beer-drinking people in the world. The assertion may be disputed in favour of the Germans but who can compare the thin resinous beer of Munich and Vienna with the heavy bodied, soporific, and sinewy London Ale, Edinburgh Ale, or Guinness Brown Stout.

To believe in his native beer is a necessary part of the Englishman's religion. English literature and English poetry are full of beer and redolent of malt and hops, from Chaucer and Shakespeare down to the present day. Tom Jones, Roderick Random, the Spectator, the Tatler, the Guardian, Fielding, Hume, Smollett, Pope, Addison, Dryden, Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson, never let slip a chance to prove the virtues and efficacy of beer, and 'Alf and 'Alf.

Barclay and Perkins, the brewers, employ a capital of £2,000,000 annually in their trade and 300 huge horses, brought from Flanders, at a cost of from £60 to £100 each. There are five partners in the house; the firm being worth £8,000,000, and the head brewer receives a salary of £2,000 a year.

The water used for brewing purposes is that of the Thames, pumped by a steam engine, on the same ground where Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stood three hundred years ago. One hundred and fifty thousand gallons of beer can be brewed from this water, daily, The malt is carried from barges at the riverside, by porters, and deposited in enormous bins, each of the height and depth of a three-storey house. Rats are fond of malt, but to keep them off a staff of sixty large cats are constantly employed on the premises and all these cats are under the supervision of a big-headed or chief cat, with a long moustache and Angola blood.

It is quite a sight to witness the anxious solicitude of this Chief Cat for the honour ofthe house of Barclay and Perkins, and for the discipline of his subordinate cats, the chief being a Thomas of the purest breed. In London it is calculated that about 6,500,000 barrels of ale, beer, and porter, are brewed annually, valued at about £20,000,000, and I think I am therefore correct in calling the English a beer-drinking people.

Everybody drinks beer in London. You can see labourers and dockmen sitting on benches outside of public houses, swilling what they call swipes, at two pence a pot. So if you drink at a Club you will see men as eminent as Mr. Bright, or Mr. Disraeli, calling for a 'pint of Bass' East India Ale' or 'a bottle of Stout' Even in workhouses beer is kept on tap and were the paupers to be deprived of their beer, they would, I believe, rise and annihilate their masters. A quart bottle of good beer or porter can be got anywhere in London for sixpence, and of all the beverages that I have ever tasted, I never found anything to equal in fragrance a drink of good London 'Brown Stout' on a warm summer day. A man may procure as much good beer as he can drink at a draught, for three pence, in London, at any public house or restaurant, and it is the common custom with the Cockneys to have it at every meal, and also between meals.

They have also a fashion in large parties among the working and middle classes, of ordering what is called a 'Queen Ann,' which is simply three pints of beer in a large, brightly burnished metal pot with a handle, and the man who calls for it having paid, takes a drink, then wipes the edges of the pot with the cuff of his coat-sleeve, to remove the foam from his lips—then passes it to his wife, sweetheart or his eldest child, who each in turn drink and wipe the edge of the measure; then it is passed to the stranger, and all around the board, each person being careful to wipe the 'pewter' in the same fashion. This custom seems rather strange and savage at the first sight to an American, but it is the custom of the country, and therefore cannot be quarrelled with.

Any foreigner passing through a London street which is inhabited by working men and their families, or in the neighbourhood of factories between twelve and one o'clock, or just after twelve, cannot fail to notice a sudden commotion and rush of adults and half naked children with jugs to the neighbouring beerhouses. All this large multitude are in quest of beer for the noon-day meal.

At noon and night the pot boys of the innumerable beer-shops may be seen carrying out die quarts and pints daily received by those families who do not choose to lay in a stock or store of their own beer, or the mothers and children of the same families, to whom the half-penny given to the pot boy is a matter of consequence, may be seen journeying to the beer-conduits themselves, and the drinking goes on from morning until night, among truckmen, coal heavers, street pavers, mechanics in the 'skittle grounds,' medical students in the hospitals, law students in the Inns of Court, and 'swells' in taverns.

From the gray of die morning until the hour of dark, you may see in the London streets those large drays, larger horses, huge draymen, and large casks of beer, ever present and never absent from the Londoner's eyes. Go down to the Strand, and you will see the same drays and Flemish horses emerging from the huge brewery gates, preparatory to carrying barrels of beer to tap-houses, and nine-gallon casks, the weekly allowance of a private London family to dwellinghouses.

A competent authority has estimated that each and every inhabitant of London wall drink, averaging young and old — 80 gallons of beer in the year. The population is 3,500,000. Therefore, Great is Beer, and Barclay and Perkins are its prophets.

An extract from 'Palace and Hovel' by Daniel Joseph Kirwan, by courtesy of the publishers, Abelard-Schuman Ltd., published at 21s. net."
"Golden Cockerel Vol.3 No.8 Summer 1964", pages 4 - 5. (The original book 'Palace and Hovel' by Daniel Joseph Kirwan, published 1870, pages 337 - 343.)

Love those old company propaganda mags. You should see the features about new pubs. Celebrations of formica and plywood.

I remember places like that. The Mermaid on our caravan site in Mablethorpe. A Tennant's pub. Looked just like the ones in the Golden Cockerel. Except it had electric metered pumps. The horizontal glass cylinder type. The Courage pubs, funnily enough, mostly featured rather natty counter-mounted sets of handpumps. Proper three-stumped wickets.

He's not right about Thames water being used for brewing, of course. They couldn't have used that filthy stuff. New River water or wells. That's what they really used.

"I never found anything to equal in fragrance a drink of good London 'Brown Stout' on a warm summer day." Well said, mate. Hot weather, strong Stout, marriage made in heaven. Good to have the support of the 19th century on that one.

A potato shaped like Charles de Gaulle's head. That'll be me next vegetable garden special.


Anonymous said...

Truly interesting and informative.Ney no humble veg,but a fine bunch of asparagus!

Gary Gillman said...

It's a benign and even warm treatment, compared that is to the Temperance-flavoured tracts sometimes authored by visitors. The reference to all classes enjoying beer suggests a positive impression (on the whole) to the writer, amongst other elements.

English visitors to America seemed rather less impressed with local drinking habits, of which numerous examples can be cited. In part this was due to the greater perniciousness associated with whiskey, other spirits and cocktails. America in this period was still mainly a whiskey-drinking country. That changed by the end of 1800's, and Temperance caught up to the fact that you can abuse one form of alcohol as well as any other.

But this visitor seems to catch the positive side of the English beer culture, one that is as strong as ever although mass lager is the summer and other seasonal quencher of most these days. Of the many reasons to want a time machine, a minor one would be to bring this visitor to modern England where he could still find, with only a little effort, "brown stout" and other fragrances of the beer world to equal those he knew in the 1870's.


Craig said...

Yikes! It looks like England has a giant, stray cat problem.

The Beer Nut said...

Betjers was having a go at the celebrators of formica as early as 1954.

Gary Gillman said...

An interpretation of the string of adjectives at the beginning (resinous, etc.):

The resin in the German beers must be the pitch flavour so many other observers noted. It puzzles me that this flavour was obtrusive, since otherwise the lager brewers went to a lot of trouble to avoid sourness and other defects. Six of one, half a dozen of the other...?

I read his statement of heavy bodied character applying to mild ale; soporific quality, to Edinburgh ale; and "sinewy" quality to brown stout. Even though brown stout was supposed to be bigger-bodied than lower ABV porter, it seems it met the general 1800's description of porter as a dry drink. Sinewy might cover too its hoppy character. Quite different from a lot of modern interpretations of porter.


Thomas Barnes said...

That illustration of "the cats receiving rations" is great! Except for the scale and number of cats, it reminds me of feeding time at our house.

The rest of the article was good, too ;)

dana said...

I was offended by the author's insults of German beer. Then I noticed the description - resinous. Must be the pitch-lined barrels. Then I thought, "is like to taste that."

Anonymous said...

Off topic! but thought this would rally amuse you if you have not seen it.