In 2001, it was reprinted under the infinitely superior title “Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain.”   It attempts to chart “the history of Britain through the bottom of a pint glass” though it does of course discuss other forms of alcoholic beverages.  Given the topic of today’s post is English beer, it seemed appropriate to pull the tome out of my library and find a couple of quality stories – one ancient, one modern.

The ancient one occurred in 975AD where King Edgar * attempted to regulate alehouses.  Mr Haydon takes up the story:

“Where King Edgar went wrong was to decree that drinking vessels in alehouses be of a standard size – to whit, the pottle (four pints) – and that each pottle should be subdivided into eight parts by means of pegs set inside the tankard and that no one was to drink down further than one peg at a sitting.

Far from viewing this as a restriction favouring sobriety, Englishmen everywhere took it as a challenge ** and commenced – as we still do today – to take each other down a peg or two, so that by the start of the twelfth century drinking to pegs was a serious problem.  Gauging the peg was not simple and manners decreed that if you overshot the peg you had to drink down to the next, lest you short measure the person after you.  A man might easily intend to down a half pint and end up drinking four. 

Thus did Edgar’s decree backfire, and as we shall see, the man who tries to regulate drink is either a fool or a fanatic. *** He also learned a lesson that has had to be relearned countless times during the subsequent thousand years.  To legislate between an Englishman and his ale is to court disaster and certain to produce a result opposite to the one intended.”

The modern piece is a slightly more sombre piece about the shift from traditional ales to keg beers and lagers.  Once again, over to “Beer and Britannia”:

“The brewers were able to push lager and keg aggressively without too much difficulty for a number of reasons.  First, ever since the First World War people had been less concerned about the quality of their beer than its price. **** For most of the population outside large cities, choice was always restricted, both as regards origin of supply and variety of drinks available.  In London and large cities a huge variety had always been available…

It was a reversal of the traditional position where quality was an important consideration and a matter of regional pride.  War and depression had been partly responsible for producing this reverse, but it also reflected the decline of beer as a central part of people’s lives and diet. 

With the emergence of the national brands and the decline in the number of beers available, there was an increase in the variety of drinks.  Lagers, ciders, wines, vermouths, aperitifs and spirits were more widely available.  This process, of course, continues today, most notably in the bottled lager market.  ‘Lifestyle’ lagers were heavily marketed in the 1980s where drinking from the bottle so others could see what brand you were drinking was supposed to indicate that you were ‘making a statement about yourself.” *****

While England has more than its fair share of average, below average and downright horrible beers, their craft breweries produce a deluge of traditional and modern styles.  There are a number of serious English beer fans in New Zealand and even the mere mention of real ale, a handpull or cask conditioning can have them jumping around like Pavlov’s Frogs. ****** Some of those famous English beers are now available at Malthouse.

There are two offerings from the Badger ******* range by Hall and Woodhouse, an independent family brewery.  Badger Original is a nicely balanced country ale based on a traditional style served to farm workers and, later, soldiers.   Badger First Gold is a slightly more modern ale which uses a single hop variety, the eponymous First Gold.  Conversely, Hook Norton Double Stout takes the malt-driven path to create a silky, toasty, roasty beer.

Fuller, Smith and Turner has been brewing since 1845 and, since the departure of Young’s, is now London’s only remaining traditional family brewery.  Their flagship beer is Fuller’s London Pride – a rounded, mellow premium ale which is now being promoted by Top Gear’s own Captain Slow, James May.  Malthouse also has Fuller’s ESB, a tasty, spicy Extra Special Bitter which has won a slew of awards.

New Zealand brewers have never been shy to draw inspiration from the Mother Country.  Two of the latest to do so are Emerson’s with their current Brewer’s Reserve called Tally Ho.  The result is a Golden Ale they describe as “Summer Perfick!”  Finally, farm brewery Townshend has produced their New Zealand Pale Ale.  As the name suggests, this is a New Zealand version of the classic Pommie Pale Ale style which in this case involves an English brewer using all Kiwi ingredients!

* Father of Edward the Martyr who was assassinated while drinking a cup of ale.
** See also: Six O’Clock Swill, New Zealand (1917-1967).
*** Random Trivia: Did you know that letters to Sir Geoffrey Palmer can be sent to the Law Commission, PO Box 2590, Wellington 6140, New Zealand?
**** See also: Most Kiwi Drinkers, New Zealand (1917-)
***** This Eighties trend unfortunately continues to the present day along with wars in Iraq, mullets and techno.
****** Dr Ivan Pavlov’s earlier and far less famous experiment than the one with dogs and bells.
******* If you can even read the word “Badger” without singing “Badger, Badger, Mushroom” then you clearly have never seen the famous “Badgers” clip on YouTube (link below).


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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