Beer history

Beer: piss and chemicals?

'Weekend Drinkers', from the wonderful Bolton Council Mass Observation photo archive. (No, that isn't us in the Dock Inn...)
‘Weekend Drinkers’, from the wonderful Bolton Council Mass Observation photo archive. (Any resemblance to the authors of this blog is purely coincidental.)

Humans, it seems, have a natural tendency to assume that the best of times was just before they arrived on the scene — that things aren’t what they used to be. That’s certainly often true of beer, both specifically (Pilsner Urquell, Hoegaarden, Rooster’s Yankee) and more generally.

We are now wondering how far back the general belief that ‘beer isn’t what is used to be’ can be traced. Here’s the start of the trail:

  • 1978: ‘The tragedy is that a generation of drinkers are being reared on mass-produced fizzy pap… Many have never tasted good, traditional beer…’ Roger Protz in Pulling a Fast One.
  • 1973: ‘It’s all piss and wind, like a barber’s cat.’ Man in a Midlands pub quoted by Christopher Hutt in The Death of the English Pub.
  • 1936: ‘…same wi’t bloody beer, it’s nowt but piss and chemicals…’ Man in a Bolton pub quoted by Mass Observation in The Pub and the People (1943).

Are there earlier examples of this kind of rhetoric? We bet there are. In fact, we reckon that, within about eight weeks of beer being invented, some miserable sod was moaning about how the second batch wasn’t as good as the first.

Another thought, though: apart from those who mourn the near disappearance of mild, and the watering of John Smith’s, are there many around today who think beer quality in Britain is, in general, declining?

Our copy of the Mass Observation pub study arrived yesterday and we’ve already found plenty of food for thought. A full review will follow soon but, in the meantime, here’s what Ron Pattinson had to say about it in several posts; and here’s George Orwell’s contemporary review.