We’re not huge fans of Buzzfeed but we do like this video in which sommelier Whitney Adams tastes six cheap American beers, not least because of the fresh vocabulary: where beer geeks might say bland, she says delicate, for example.
This Thursday night, 20 February, at 22:00, BBC4 (the channel for swots) is showing The Man Who Fought the Planners, an hour-long documentary about architecture critic Ian Nairn.
As well as writing about buildings and places, Nairn was also a beer and pub enthusiast, as we explained in the Winter 2013 edition of the Campaign for the Real Ale’s BEER magazine:
[Nairn's] contribution to CAMRA’s success came in 1974 when, rather out of the blue, he published a lengthy essay in The Sunday Times entitled ‘The Best Beers of Our Lives’. A passionate argument in favour of local breweries and regionally specific products, as opposed to ‘national brew’, it opened with this statement: “It may be the fifty-ninth second of the fifty-ninth minute after eleven o’clock, but I think there is now a chance of saving what remains of draught beer in Britain. CAMRA… had 1,000 members a year ago: it now has 18,000,
He also, for this reason and others, has a recurring walk-on part in our book, Brew Britannia.
We’re not sure how much The Man Who Fought the Planners will touch on his love of pubs, but if it doesn’t end with Philip Glass’s Façades playing over a photo of Nairn holding a pint while the narrator explains that he drank himself to death, we’ll be very surprised.
We do know that Gillian Darley has been involved in the programme, and should take this opportunity to belatedly recommend the anthology of writing about Nairn, Words in Place, which she edited with David McKie last year. It gives a flavour of each of his books (some of which are very hard to get hold of) as well as an overview of his life. The chapter on his mid-1960s US road tour is, we think, begging to be made into a film by the Coen Brothers.
Cheer Boys Cheer, produced by Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios in 1939, is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the battle between technology and tradition in brewing.
Ironside Brewery is a technological wonder, staffed by efficient white-coated technicians, resembling something from The Shape of Things to Come — rocket-like fermenting vessels reach to the sky, and everything is gleaming metal. (It is cleverly constructed using a mix of matte paintings, models, and, we think, shots of somewhere like Acton Lane power station.)
Nonetheless, in the words of a rebellious new members of its board:
The beer isn’t worth drinking… You’ve rationalised the taste out if it… What’s the use of machinery that can produce ten million bottles a minute when you can’t offer one of them to your friend?
Old Mr Ironside (Edmund Gwenn) and his ruthlessly scheming son John (Peter Coke) don’t care about that: they want to expand for the sake of expansion. But where will they sell all the extra beer they produce? Their search for lebensraum leads them to the rural Greenleaf Brewery and it’s ’100 first class houses’. (That reference to Nazism isn’t glib: Old Man Ironside is actually shown leafing casually through Mein Kampf later in the film.)
Greenleaf vs. Ironside… The symbolism in this film is not subtle. Ironside is metal, electricity, lorries and sharp suits; Greenleaf is wood, steam, horses and rumpled tweed. Taste is everything at Greenleaf and the head brewer, Matt Boyle (Jimmy O’Dea), first appears proudly brandishing a glass of the latest batch of his XXX for his colleagues to try. When he sees buffoonish brewery worker Albert (Graham Moffat) kicking a cask of XXX across the room, he reacts furiously: ‘You’ll bruise it!’ He would no doubt today be described as ‘passionate’ about brewing.
Later in the film, high on his own supply, he produces his grandfather’s tattered brewing book and boasts:
He could brew a beer for any purpose. A beer to make you happy, a beer to make you sigh, a beer to make you laugh, and a beer to make you cry.
A stereotypical drunk comic Irishman, Boyle is nonetheless the film’s most engaging character, and O’Dea certainly knew how to make a beer look tasty on screen, smacking his lips, widening his eyes and sighing contentedly with each draught of dark, foamy mild.
A predictable plot gives the film its rather flabby shape: young John Ironside inveigles his way into Greenleaf’s and seduces the owner’s daughter (Nova Pilbeam), but their simple, honest ways and truly delicious beers win him over. Proving himself to be a good egg at heart, he joins them to fight back against his increasingly gangsterish father and his gangs of violent goons: ‘Gone idealist, eh?’ sneers the old man.
It is expert brewing which saves the day when Boyle produces a batch of his grandfather’s masterpiece — a beer containing ‘all the sorrows of Ireland’, the ‘tears of Deidre’. It is literally so astonishingly brilliant that it causes grown men to cry when they drink it.
The humour throughout is of the ‘Ooo, yaroo! It’s on me blinkin’ foot!’ variety, and the double act of Graham Moffat and Moore Marriot, familiar from the films of Will Hay, has not aged well. Frankly, if this film had been about, say, the dairy industry, we would probably not have enjoyed it half as much.
The value of Cheer Boys Cheer is as an early expression of a point of view that would later inform the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood and the Campaign for Real Ale, and which arguably underlies the ‘small is beautiful’, ‘buy local’ trend of the last forty years: dispassionate technicians in a factory cannot possibly make really satisfying beer.
‘Next time you’re for looking for laughter/ Track down the latest gear/ It won’t be far from the magic/ Of that Younger’s Special beer!’
Our best guess for a date is c.1968.
The following twelve beer- and pub-related questions should be reasonably easy if you’ve been reading our blog for the last year or so.
f you haven’t been and find them difficult, it serves you right.
(Use Google if you like, but there’s no prize, and you’ll only be cheating yourself…)