six books of poetry, a memoir, a number of short stories, several scripts for radio and television and ‘works of social and literary criticism.’ Those ‘works of social and literary criticism’ include two books (On Drink and Every Day Drinking) and a series of columns (How’s Your Glass) on a subject very dear to his heart – alcohol.

While it would be rare today to see an established writer or serious essayist devote much space to discussing drinks, Amis’ output varied from poetry to comic novels to science fiction to lifestyle pieces. This three-time nominee and one-time winner of the Booker Prize for Literature produced two volumes of drinking advice and thirty quizzes about alcohol. These have been collected into “Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis” with a new introduction by the late Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens, a noted contrarian with a range of interests nearly as broad as Amis himself, wrote that Amis “was what the Irish call ‘your man’ when it came to the subject of drink. More perhaps even than of Graham Greene, of whom he once wrote a short biography, it could be said that the booze was his muse. I cannot think of any of his fictional work in which it does play a role, and in several of his novels that role is dominant.”

While Amis drank plenty of beer and would offer it to his guests on occasion, his writing reflects the broader societal presumption during the 70s and 80s that wine and spirits were always more civilised than beer. In fact, that attitude continues today in too many places. In On Drink he wrote:

“To offer your guests beer instead of wine (unless you are serving a curry, a Scandinavian cold table, [1] eggs and bacon etc) is to fly in the face of trend as well as established custom. It looks – and in some cases it no doubt is – neglectful and mean.”

In a subsequent book, Amis expands the menu of foods which can properly be accompanied by beer. He lists “eggs however prepared, most salads, strong or ripe cheeses and almost any highly seasoned dish… kippers, fish and chips, bacon and tomatoes, sausage mash and a whole range of staple unsmart British dishes. Beer or stout goes with them.” Interestingly, he also believes that wine cannot work at all with any of those dishes.

Despite being open to the accusation of being a bit of wine snob himself, Amis has an excellent section on why people should often ignore the experts. He wrote it about wine but I would argue that it would be almost equally applicable to the beer world:

“The wine snob, the so-called expert and the jealous wine merchant will conspire to persuade you that the subject is too mysterious for the plain man to penetrate without continuous assistance. This is, to put it politely, disingenuous flummery. [2] It is up to you to drink what you like and can afford. You would not let a tailor tell you that a pair of trousers finishing a couple of inches below the knee actually fitted you perfectly; so, with wine, do not be told what is correct or what you are sure to like or what suits you.”

Speaking of tailors, [3] Malthouse now has in the iconic Timothy Taylor Landlord Pale Ale (4.1%) in bottles. Forget that Madonna once said it was her favourite beer in the world, [4] this is a four-time Champion Beer of Britain. It is easy to see why. Timothy Taylor Landlord is a classic English Pale Ale, first produced in the fifties to appeal to miners. I imagine that it’s soft stonefruit aroma, a balance of floral citrus hops and sweet caramel malts, rounded body and firm bitter finish would be refreshing after a hard day “down pit” or even after a tough eight-hours in the office.

In other news, my well-reasoned outburst against pumpkin beers last week prompted exactly one email to the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor. He has received at least twice as many complaints about misused apostrophes. I will however acknowledge today that pumpkin ale is not the worst beer style in the world. There are at least two which are more deserving of that epithet.

The first is Coors Light Iced T (4%), a “drink of summer” which promises all the great taste of Coors Light with some “botanicals”, tea and “natural lemon”. Thankfully, it does not appear to be available in New Zealand. Even more thankfully, my second favourite Canadian Stephen Beaumont has reviewed it so I don’t have to.

His conclusion: “On the palate, it tastes like…well, lemon-flavoured iced tea. I get lemon, I get some vaguely tea-ish tannins, especially on the finish, and while it doesn’t say that Coors Light Iced T is flavoured with lime, I find some lime notes on the finish. What I don’t get is any sense that this in any way, shape or form a beer.”

That marketing designed monstrosity is however easily topped by the old recipe for Cock Ale included in Everyday Drinking. While I have seen descriptions of Cock Ale before in other books, this one was particularly graphic. I cannot imagine ever being thirsty enough to drink anything produced from this process:

“Take ten gallons of ale and a large cock, the older the better. Parboil the cock, flay him and stamp him in a stone mortar until his bones are broken (you must craw and gut him when you flay him), then put the cock into two quarts of sack [sweet or sweetish white wine], and put in three pounds of raisins of the sun stoned, some blade of mace and a few cloves; put all these into a canvas bag, put ale and bag together into a vessel; in a week or nine days bottle it up.”

Apart from wine, very few recipes requiring you to stamp on key ingredients seem like a good idea. To be honest, from those same ingredients I’d make a spiced chicken soup, sell the wine, give away a fruit basket and drink the ten gallons of ale.

Finally, a gentle reminder that we are nearing the end of Malthouse March Madness$5 Chicken Wings Monday, $7 Tuatara Tuesday, House Wine Deal Wednesday, $10 Pizza Thursday, Free Buffet Friday, Free Beer Tasting Saturday and $20 Coopers Pale Ale Jugs on Sunday.

[1] Either a lunch of herring and kippers or a poorly made dining table from IKEA. In either case, you would likely need lashings of beer to get through it.

[2] Disingenuous Flummery would be an excellent name for a Theatre Sports Team.

[3] That segue was so awesome it made Jeremy Clarkson vomit with rage.

[4] It was on the Jonathan Ross Show so it hardly counts as real news.


Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Real Beer

New Zealand Beer and Brewer Magazine


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