Category Archives: beer and food

What’s the History of Bar Snacks?

In our email newsletter (subscribe!) we asked if anyone had any questions they’d like us to look into with a view to a series of ‘notes and queries’ type posts of which this is the first.

Q: I wanted to ask about bar snacks and how they’ve developed over time — what have bars served along with beers over the decades? –Kyle, Bolivia

That’s a big question, Kyle, and the answer might fill a book, so we’ll limit ourselves to considering the kinds of nibbles that might have been eaten without cutlery, while standing at the bar. For obvious reasons, we’ve also focused mostly on the UK.

Hogarth's Pieman, adapted by George Cruikshank from a detail in the 1750 painting 'The March to Finchley'.

Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor records various examples of people who made their living selling snacks on the street and in public houses, so we know that, in the 1850s, pub-goers were eating pickled whelks (‘not to fill themselves, but for a relish’), boiled green peas, fried fish, pies and sheep trotters. In short, anything that could be sold in the street and didn’t require cutlery was probably being eaten in pubs.

Continue reading What’s the History of Bar Snacks?

When Did ‘Pairing’ Beer With Food Begin?

In a new piece for All About Beer magazine, Tom Acitelli, author of a well-regarded history of the US craft beer movement, makes a carefully worded and very specific claim on behalf of the late Michael Jackson:

On Nov. 16, 1983… readers of The Washington Post awoke to an essay, meandering over four pages, on which beers to pair with which parts of the Thanksgiving feast the following week… [This was] the first time such extensive beer-food advice had appeared in an American newspaper… It was the father of every beer-food-pairing piece to come in the next generation…

He’s not saying that Jackson was the first to consider pairing specific beers with particular types of food, or that this had never happened before 1983 — only that this was the first time many Americans would have come across the idea explored at such length.

And he is right to be cautious.

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Carter’s Lunch, Manchester, c.1904

“Our local carters working the [Manchester] warehouses seldom took food with them. Public houses, avid for trade, put on some kind of a free snack with their 1½d ‘carters’ pints’. Certain pubs went further and supplied potato pie, cheese and pickles, a pint of beer and a piece of thick twist tobacco — all for 4½d. A carter had to prove his bona fides, though, by bearing a whip in hand or around his neck.”

Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century, Penguin, 1971, repr. 1974.

Food and Beer Matching, 1934

“About what should and should not be eaten with beer I would hesitate to lay down the law so forcibly and finally as do the writers upon wine. The writers on wine say that the correct procedure is the choose the wines first and then to arrange the dinner to accord with them. But here again it seems to me that the these wine connoisseurs move in a rarefied atmosphere which, if it is not unknown to the ordinary Drinker, is at least unfamiliar to him… Beer drinkers are not pernickety and Pecksniffian. They are ready to accept an ampler variety of tastes and customs.”

‘A. Drinker’, A Book About Beer, 1934

The Pub as Quasi-Happy Eater

Good George Pacific PearlOur local Wetherspoon’s isn’t a very good one. It rarely has anything other than Doom Bar, Ruddles or Greene King IPA on offer, usually a degree or two too warm, served in an ambience that brings to mind a faux-pub on a cross channel ferry. We pop in from time to time, though, just in case something exciting might be available and, yesterday, we were tempted to stop for a couple of pints from the international beer festival range.

Pacific Pearl, brewed by Good George of New Zealand (Kelly Ryan (PDF link)) was very good indeed though, yes, a bit warm. A sort of a black IPA or citrusy porter, like an oily Terry’s Chocolate Orange melted in a very posh coffee, it was certainly worth £2.15. Fly by Night, brewed by the chap from La Trappe in the Netherlands, on the other hand, was all sweaty socks and cardboard — bad rather than off, we think. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

As we drank, we talked about why, apart from the beer, we didn’t like the pub. Our conclusion: it feels like a fast food restaurant with some pub-like features — very convenient and obviously good value, but naff. Then, coincidentally, last night, we came across this passage in the 1985 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, on the subject of Host Group, Grand Met/Watney’s newly announced pub chain:

‘The Host packaged pub enterprise is as much of a threat to those who love individuality and consumer choice, as the packaged beer phenomenon was in the last two decades,’ says Peter Lerner of CAMRA’s Pub Preservation Group. ‘We cannot let our pubs decline to become chains of look-alike quasi-Happy Eater, Kentucky Fried Chicken bars or motorway service stations.’

A quasi-Happy Eater is a very good description of our local JDW.