Beer history Generalisations about beer culture

Seventies sexism, pearls of wisdom

The Alps.
The Alps.

When the drays roll out of Paine’s Brewery into the market square of St Neots, Cambridgeshire, with 612 gallons of Silver Jubilee Ale on board, a young lady will smack her lips in the knowledge of a job well done… She is Fiona McNish — an unlikely name for an unlikely lady in an unlikely profession… She is one of the elite in the brewing industry. She tastes beer.

This Daily Express article from 21 February 1977 hinged on the idea that it was hilarious that a woman — a 23-year-old woman at that — should know anything whatsoever about beer. But the important thing — what all 1970s readers wanted to know — was whether she was sexy. Good news!

Fiona, long brown hair, topographical as the Alps, a very feminine lady, has worked her way deep into male territory.

Good grief. When they stopped laughing at her and eyeing her up, and actually let her speak, Ms McNish came out with a nugget of wisdom which holds up pretty well today:

There is nothing mysterious about beer… It either tastes good or bad. You don’t need to be a genius to tell which. Just thoughtful and honest.

10 replies on “Seventies sexism, pearls of wisdom”

I remember when Paine’s closed, couldn’t for the life of me work out why some of the people in the union bar were so upset about it as I drank my Holsten Pils from the bottle…

I met Fiona McNish, she spoke at a meeting of the North Herts Camra branch some time around 1978, and I can confirm that she was indeed an attractive young woman – and a very good speaker. Indeed, unless I’m much mistaken, this is her today aged 58.

The Paines brewery had the smallest fermenting vessels I have ever seen outside a modern microbrewery, eight or so of them, none larger than a four-person Californian hot-tub.

I’m not sure it’s that bad for 1977 and ” topographical as the Alps ” is a line I wouldn’t have been ashamed of in my hackery days of yore.
But more importantly, could she pour a decent pint ?
In my humble opinion most women can’t.
Not because they’re women but because they don’t drink pints.
In much the same way as fellers can’t iron to save their life.
I’ll put me tin helmet on now and duck.

I do apologise for the above post.
By way of explanation I made the silly mistake of navigating the interweb after having consumed much alcohol.
In the cold light of day I realise the post makes me out to be a complete cad and a bounder.
Women are, of course, perfectly capable of pouring a good pint.
And most time they’re much nicer to look at than men whilst they’re doing it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think much has changed in the world of journalism over the past 40 years, certainly amongst the so-called “popular press”. If one of today’s tabloids was to run a similar story today, they would still be making crass comments along the lines that women aren’t supposed to like beer, what are they doing in a man’s world? etc.

I very much doubt that any tabloid newspaper today would know that Marston’s Head Brewer is female, for example, and I can just imagine the type of story they would run if they found out.

I forgot to mention above the fact that Paine’s beers were not particularly well-regarded during the seventies, and that few drinkers really mourned their passing. There was a story at the time that Paine’s head brewer was nicknamed “Mr. Pastry”, because of the high amount of adjuncts (potato starch in particular), the used in his beers.

Forty years on and I really can’t remember what Paines beers did actually taste like, but some breweries really only have themselves to blame for their demise.

I had many excellent pints of Paine’s: the Eynesbury Giant was a fine beer, and the ordinary bitter was so good it once tempted me to overindulge dangerously one night in the Cricketers in Ickleford, near Hitchin, around 1978 when the Camra branch was making a POTY presentation. Dangerously, because I was then stupid enough to drive home (on my own). Just entering Hitchin, I was flagged down by a policeman, and, realising how very foolish I had been, I pulled over, expecting to be breathalysed, arrested and whipped down the nick, with a driving ban to follow some time later. All the PC wanted to tell me, when I wound my window down, was that one of my headlights had blown, after which he waved me off down the road. I reckoned afterwards that the large amounts of (free) garlic bread I had consumed at the Cricketers to go with the chili the pub had laid on for the presentation must have masked the smell of beer on my breath. I do NOT recommend drinking, garlic eating and driving. But there’s a big change: today, under similar circumstances, I doubt the people I was with would have let me get behind the wheel. Then: sadly, perfectly normal behaviour.

Prof — glad you came to your senses (sort of). Reckon you’re on shaky ground the minute you generalise ‘women/men can’t do X’, unless it’s a purely biological/anatomical matter.

Paul — Roger Protz has a long bit on Tolly Cobbold and their use of potato flour et al in his Pulling a Fast One (1978).

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