It's not only beer

In this article, amongst many excellent points, Pete Brown suggests that the fuss over the Oxford Companion to Beer highlights a lack of perspective on the part of some beer geeks, bloggers and writers. He says that, sometimes, people’s attitudes make him want to say: “Guys, get a grip – it’s only beer.”

But is it only beer?

We’ve written on a related subject before, pointing out that, as hobbyists, we know it’s just beer, but that taking it seriously is all part of the fun.

Telling real historians and scholars like Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, however, that it’s only beer is like telling an archaeologist that the subject of his study is ‘just a load of muddy rubble’ and that he should stop being so anal about it. Yes, most specialist scholars have lost perspective, and thank God for that.

It’s through the efforts of people who take apparently insignificant things seriously, and spend time doing the kinds of back-breaking research others can’t be bothered with, that we learn more about our world and our history.

Beer is worthy of serious study and we should applaud those who undertake it, however nuts their obsession might sometimes seem to the rest of us.

P.S. We really don’t like wine very much. No pretending here.

Gone hopping in Kent

Hop picking in Kent, 1875.
Hopping in Kent, 1875, from the British Library, via Wikipedia.

From East London (1901) by Walter Besant:

They ran through Wapping and along Thames Street, which is empty on Saturday afternoon; they ran across London Bridge, they poured into London Bridge Station. One of the girls knew the name of the station they wanted; it was in Kent. They took tickets, and they went off.

They had gone hopping.

Thousands of Londoners in the season go hopping. I  wish I could dwell upon the delights of the work. Unfortunately, like the summer, it is too soon over. While it lasts the hoppers sleep in barns, they work in the open, they breathe fresh air, they get good pay, they enjoy every evening a singsong and a free-and easy. The beer flows like a rivulet; everybody is thirsty, everybody is cheerful, everybody is friendly.

When it was over Liz returned, browned and refreshed and strengthened, but fearful of the consequences, because she had deserted her work. But she was fortunate. They took her back into the factory and so she went on as before.

Update on the Oxford Companion to Beer

Since we wrote this somewhat positive but reserved review, there’s been plenty going on.

In a stroke of genius, Alan at A Good Beer Blog has set up a wiki so that readers of the Companion can identify and record errors. What’s particularly helpful, we think, is that he’s asked people to focus on just the facts, ma’am, and not to make it personal. This needn’t be narky, sarky nitpicking — it could be something really constructive and useful.

In fact, hippies that we are, we were hoping this whole discussion would turn into a kind of beer commmunity collaborative love-in.

Unfortunately, what he’s read so far has made Martyn Cornell angry (a bit too angry, maybe). Garrett Oliver, who edited the companion, seems to have taken it personally (it wasn’t, but then the book is his baby) and has responded with sarcasm and a point-by-point rebuttal. And Martyn has come back to that in the comments here. Yeesh. This could run and run.

Meanwhile, all this discussion has been met with cries of “pedantry” and “spoil-sports!” on Twitter and forums.

And we continue to find both bloopers and entries which give us hope. Ron Pattinson might not have much time for Horst Dornbusch, but Herr Dornbusch and Mr Oliver’s article on porter in the Companion cites Ron’s mini-book on the subject and (based on a quick read) gets the basics right. Most importantly, it refers to the story of Ralph Harwood inventing porter as a substitute for three threads as a myth, in no uncertain terms.

We still think the book is a good read as long as you read critically and don’t do anything daft like base an academic paper on its contents; and we certainly still think it’s a big step forward in terms of ambition for books about beer.

But our view has hardened a bit: it’s not pedantry, nitpicking or spoil-sport behaviour to expect a book which costs quite a lot of money to get the history right. Yes, maybe some of those pointing out errors could be a bit more gracious and take less obvious glee in finding them but, really, no-one should publish a book with some claim to academic rigour and be surprised when academics and historians challenge it. It’s all in the game.

Yet more vintage beer mats

Here are four British beer mats from the sixties (or early seventies?).

Two make dubious health claims for their product — Mann’s does you a power of good, while Mackeson’s looks good, tastes good and does good. The retro equivalent of “contains friendly bacteria”, maybe?

And these two are just beautiful. Helvetica ahoy on the Worthington mat? And the Watney’s design is pure Festival of Britain.

Vintage beer mat designs

Rooting through a secondhand bookshop in Penzance this week, we found a box full of old beer mats and couldn’t resist buying a little stack. Many were from now extinct breweries, advertising beers which don’t exist anymore. Their designs are simple but very evocative of another age.

Here are a handful of scans, mostly of British beer mats, but with one excellent German design thrown in as a bonus: you can’t go wrong with any picture of a planet doffing his boater, can you?

Beer mat advertising Devenish No 1 Double Weymouth Stout

Huntsman Draught XXXX -- a dark strong beeer for a glow of warmth

Vintage beer mat promoting DAB (Dortmunder Aktien Brauerei)