Sucking up a social class


In his column in the 5 December issue of New Statesman, Will Self, on the subject of wine, quotes his French translator who says “when I have a glass of wine, I’m imbibing the region where it comes from.” Self ponders this and suggests that “when an English person drinks wine, she’s sucking up a social class”.

Is that also what’s going on when people drink craft beer? Is it becoming an accessory for those who aspire to, or wish to emphasise, middle class credentials?

We like to think that beer is in the process of being stripped of any specific class associations — that it’s becoming socially mobile, as comfortable at an Islington dinner party as in a working men’s club. But maybe we’re kidding ourselves.

Either way, there’s plenty of work to be done before beer is quite welcome to a seat at the shabby chic dining table in front of the Aga. The Cheese Shop in Truro — one of the most middle class shops you can imagine — has wine, port, sherry, sparkling cider, soft drinks… but not one drop of beer. Not even a politely packaged Fuller’s Vintage Ale getting dusty in a corner. Shame.

This agonising over snobbery and social class isn’t going to end anytime soon, we’re afraid. It is much on our minds.

Personality Crisis

A London pub, as illustrated by Kaffe Fassett for the New London Spy (1966)

It takes a certain kind of person to do a good job of running a pub.

A few years ago, a friend of ours gave up teaching after only a couple of years. She was doing well — she’d been promoted several times, and was popular with the children she taught — but, as she was sufficiently self-aware to realise, she just didn’t have the type of personality that could cope with it in the long term.

She was good with people but it just wore out her batteries, whereas some of her colleagues got a buzz from it. They were the ones who really enjoyed teaching: they liked being with 30 people for almost every hour of the working day.

She is an introvert, while the best of her colleagues were extroverts, just like the best pub landlords.

The best landlords create a good atmosphere, rather than killing it. They never seem tired or give the impression that they would rather all those irritating customers would just go home. They’ll make conversation with anyone who wants it and always honour the promise of a “friendly welcome for all” chalked on the board outside.

Yes, landlords can have a lot of worries, but, sometimes, aren’t they just in the wrong line of business?

We’ve used that illustration before, but we like it so much, we’re going to trot it out at least once a year.

Golden Pints 2011

This is our contribution to The Golden Pints 2011, run by Beer Reviews and Mark Dredge.

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer: Penzance Brewing Company Potion 9 (4%)
From our nearest brewery and, in fact, probably the last brewery in the country. (Everything down here claims to be the last, most southerly or most westerly one in the country.) Best consumed where it is brewed, at the Star Inn in Crowlas.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Fuller’s Past Masters XX Strong Ale (7.4%)
We liked the idea and liked the beer; and, as we’ve worked through a case, it’s slowly become one of our absolute favourites.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: none
We haven’t had a foreign draft beer which has really blown us away. They often seem a little stale by the time they reach the UK and (boo hoo) we haven’t been to Germany, the Czech Republic or Belgium this year.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Westmalle Tripel
A new beer from an up-and-coming little brewery you might have heard of…

Best UK Brewery: Thornbridge
When we go into a strange pub and see a Thornbridge pumpclip, we get excited. Variety, consistent quality (at least in our experience) and style.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Sheffield Tap
A great idea, great premises and great beer, and still going strong after a couple of years. We look forward to a Tap in every city. (Bristol next, please!)

Beer Festival of the Year: CAMRA Kernow, Falmouth
The only one we’ve been to this year. We had a great time.

Supermarket of the Year: Marks and Spencer
Their own range is varied and interesting and the quality keeps improving. Top marks for labelling, too.

Online Retailer of the Year: Beermerchants
We’ve found them reliable, friendly and they have the beer we want (Belgian, mostly) at the right price.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: CAMRA’s quarterly BEER Magazine
Where What’s Brewing is still the preserve of the man-in-blazer photograph and moldy old Keg Buster strip, BEER feels like a 21st century publication with an inclusive attitude and articles from many of our favourite beer writers.

Best Beer Blog or Website: it’s complicated
Any blog we’ve linked to in a post this year is one we like and/or find interesting. If pushed, though… The Beer Nut does make us laugh, and write beer reviews like nobody else.

Beware snobbery but not afraid of change

There’s a fine line between enthusing about better beer and being a snob.

It’s something that’s been on Tandleman’s mind lately. Pivni Filosof, Velky Al and numerous others over the years have posted variations on the point that, for many of us, beer’s appeal is, in large part, that it’s not pretentious, expensive or exclusive.

Even some posts for Session #58, including our own, reflected the same anxiety.

And it’s certainly something that’s worth being vigilant about. “Am I being a dick about this?” is probably a good question to ask yourself from time to time.

Having said that, we mustn’t let this thoughtfulness lead us to the false conclusion that, to be true to the roots of beer, we need to embrace shite pubs and crappy products. After all, eating greasy, grey meat pies might be ‘traditionally working class’, but they just don’t taste nice, and surely it’s a good thing that lots of ordinary people are now enjoying more interesting, tastier food and that the good stuff isn’t just reserved for the nobs? (In fact, is this the opposite of snobbery…?)

The “craft beer revolution” is real — you only have to look at London to know it — but, even if your town isn’t directly touched by it (Bridgwater is probably never going to have a stripped pine and chrome, forty tap craft beer bar, for example) the very fact that the idea that the idea of good beer is being talked about (in newspapers, on TV) will eventually reach every corner of the market, even if only in a modest way.

Six degrees of beer appreciation

1. Snobbery. Making a big deal about buying beer because it is expensive or exclusive. No friends.

2. Fussy. Offending people and/or causing social awkwardness in the pursuit of good beer.

3. Discerning. Drinking the best beer available for the occasion. (A fine line between this and the above.)

4. Interested. Being aware of the idea that there is good and bad beer and trying to choose the former. Can lead to accidental snobbery.

5. Disinterested Uninterested. Not interested in beer at all. Missing out.

6. Oblivious. What do you mean “good beer”? All beer is good! Wa-hey! Happiness.

7. Inverse snobbery. Drinking bad beer because to do otherwise would be pretentious. Misery.


Note: if you’ve posted on this subject — lots of people have — let us know and we’ll add a link.

Zac at Pavement and Beer for Peace

Sean Liquorish wants bland mainstream lagers to be tastier.

Pivni Filosof has touched on this subject here, here and here.

The Pub Curmudgeon reckons the ‘craft beer revolution’ is an exclusive bubble disconnected from most people’s experience of beer.

We will never taste what you taste

There are some champions of cask ale (quite a few) who truly seem baffled by how people can be at all impressed by kegged or bottled beer. They are no doubt sincere in finding cask ale a superior tasting product in almost every instance.

To that group of people, hearing us and others say that, occasionally, we prefer the kegged or bottled version of a beer, and that we frequently enjoy kegged beers, must seem irritating in the extreme.

In fact, they must feel pretty much how we do when we hear people say they “just can’t taste skunking“.

There’s a fundamental lack of mutual understanding which, unfortunately, could probably only be solved by a temporary swapping of tastebuds.

Note: there are also a large number of cask ale fanatics who are just awkward sods with a fondness for rigid rules and correcting people. That’s not who we’re talking about.