Category Archives: Beer history

Where Did Christmas Ales Come From?

For a long time, Britain had beers associated with Christmas that weren’t explicitly billed as Christmas beers.

If Frank Baillie’s 1973 Beer Drinker’s Companion is anything to go by, there were certainly winter ales released in November or December in time for Christmas, but they didn’t feature Father Christmas on the pump clips or labels; they weren’t called things like Rudolf’s Throbbing Conk; and they weren’t dosed with cinnamon and nutmeg.  As far as we can see, Shepherd Neame’s bottled Christmas Ale was the only one with Christmas is in its name at that time.*

Based on looking through old copies of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide (thanks again, Ed!) it looks as if the idea of marketing ‘winter warmers’ as Christmas beers really took off in the increasingly competitive real ale scene of the 1980s. The 1987 GBG (published in 1986) lists around ten beers that we would classify as definitely Christmas seasonals, such as Mauldon Christmas Reserve, Wood’s Christmas Cracker and the Bridgewater Arms’s Old Santa.

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GALLERY: Manet Paints Beer

Artist Édouard Manet (1832-1883), a pioneer of impressionism, liked to paint Parisian street scenes, bars and cafés, and had a particular knack for capturing the look of light glinting from a cool glass of golden beer.

The frequency with which he depicted women drinking beer — positively chugging it — is also striking.

The gallery begins with a painting much over-used in books and articles about beer but which we couldn’t ignore. We’ve also pulled out a couple of interesting details for closer attention.

We referred to these pictures a lot while working on Gambrinus Waltz — it might have been the wrong city, but lager came to London via Paris, and the atmosphere of London’s lager beer saloons was similarly racy.

All of these images were taken from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.

QUOTE: Women in Pubs, 1968

To the Editor of A Monthly Bulletin

The inn life of England is one of the few things that makes me feel optimistic about the future. It seems to me that here there has been real progress since the war. As a woman, sometimes driving long distances alone, I now no longer need to take picnic lunches with all the paraphernalia of thermos flasks and sandwiches. I can have the fun of stopping at an attractive inn — truly they are as nice as your descriptions of them — and enjoy a drink and a sandwich, with no sense of embarrassment as a single woman in a bar. The increase in civilisation in this respect is to me quite remarkable. I remember the time when one entered a dingy tavern, smelling of stale beer only to feel an acute atmosphere of suspicion, not to say hostility. This to me is ‘progress’ in the best sense, and, therefore, very welcome indeed.


From the Brewers’ Society pub propaganda magazine, December 1968. (With thanks to Martyn Cornell for very kindly donating his spare copies.)

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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Chemical Beer and CAMRA

From fairly early on in its existence, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has shown a concern with the purity of beer, almost as much as with the method of dispense, and arguably more than with the quality of its flavour.

This has been on our mind lately, since Yvan Seth asked this question:

We’ve previously touched upon the hippy whole-food influence on CAMRA’s language and approach, not only here on the blog, but also in chapter four of Brew Britannia.

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