Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Why do people drink?

The most recent edition of Beer magazine, issued quarterly by CAMRA with What’s Brewing, really brought home to me how different people consume beer in different ways, and sometimes for different reasons. For me, drinking real ale is a social activity, which I almost always do in company, perhaps chatting with friends, or playing in a pub acoustic session or folk club. Beer is a part of the evening’s pleasure, and while I do have my favourites, I can drink an unexceptional beer in such social contexts if I’m enjoying the evening as a whole. That doesn't mean I'll drink beers I don’t like, and as it’s knocking on for £3 a pint, I don’t see why I should have to. I rarely drink bottled beers – even real ale in a bottle isn’t, I find, as good as draught - and I rarely drink beer at home, unless I have a beer-drinking visitor.

The first article that got me thinking was about the UK’s first qualified beer sommeliers. A sommelier’s job in a restaurant is to advise diners on wines and on wine and food pairing, so beer sommeliers do the same with beer. Now, I have absolutely no interest beer and food pairing, and my experience of it has hitherto been confined to a ploughman’s lunch and a pint of bitter - a wonderful combination. I don’t tend to drink much beer, or wine for that matter, when I’m eating. I found it interesting to read the enthusiasm of these new sommeliers for beer and food matching, even though it’s not one I share. My worry is that it takes beer further away from its origins as the drink of working people, and makes it an adjunct to classy dinner parties. That doesn’t seem right to me.

The next was a letter in Beer by a home brewer who wanted to produce beers as good as those he could buy in a pub, and in unusual styles. He and other home brewers meet to taste each other’s beers in two Cambridge pubs that are willing to let them, as long as they buy some beer too. I had always thought that any alcohol drunk in licensed premises had to be bought there; if I’m right, this activity is illegal. But that’s not really my point. Going to a pub to drink home brew as an end in itself seems quite odd to me: the beer will be bottled – as I said, I prefer draught – and it is the sole reason for being there. It isn’t a part of the evening – it is the evening. The writer says he “can enjoy [his] own tasty, kegged beers costing as little as 50p a pint”. I’m not sure about anyone extolling keg beers in a CAMRA magazine – home-made or otherwise – but this whole approach is neither how nor why I drink.

The third and, from my perspective, most extreme example is from the What’s Brewing letters page in which the writer tells us that he joined CAMRA, not CAMPO (the Campaign to keep pubs open), stating that if he chooses to drink real ale in a bottle and sit “behind closed doors” while comparing tasting notes on-line, he’s perfectly entitled to. The phrase “behind closed doors” must be a reference to something I missed in a previous edition. He is of course absolutely right, and it seems to me that the critic of his style of drinking was being rather arrogant, but I can’t see any attraction in doing that myself; it is the diametric opposite of my beer drinking habits.

I’m not passing judgement; people can drink how they like, and it would be a dreary world if we all thought and acted the same, but from the outside, beer drinkers probably come across as a homogeneous group. This post is no more than some musings upon how wrong such a perception would be.

I wonder what beer the sommeliers would suggest to pair with pie and chips?
P.S. I've just noticed that this is my 700th post.


  1. I'm not sure it's illegal to drink alcohol in a pub that you haven't bought there even if pubs take a dim view of people doing so for obvious reasons.

  2. A licensee told me that about 20 years ago, but that's no guarantee it was true, or if it was, that it's still true with subsequent changes to the licensing laws.

  3. If I go to a pub I'll always drink real ale.If there is none I'll walk out.Sometimes enjoy a bottle of the correct wine if eating at home.It's a rule of thumb but I enjoy red wine with rabbit and a dry white with mussels.Gewurztraminer one of the few I'll sup by itself.Rarely drink wine if eating out:the price for rubbish is ridiculous.
    Notice how at a funeral the mood lifts after the second drink.Seem to have attended a few lately.Could do with a wedding or a christening.
    Ever been to any kind of committee meeting where alcohol is served? First couple of drinks means reasonable argument.Then there seems to be a quick deterioration over the next few drinks and there is usually a row and somebody always forgets to keep the minutes.

  4. It sounds very familiar - I've been to many committee meetings that have seriously degenerated after a lunchtime session in the pub.


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