Thursday, 18 March 2004

Warm beer

It is sad to see that Anthony Sampson, that perceptive chronicler of English ways, in his new book Who Runs This Place?, links warm beer and the English. This false connection stems from John Major's silly misquoting of Orwell, and, sadly, is now seen widely in print. Orwell did not write that the English have a taste for warm beer, and indeed we never did; our beer is, properly, cool on the tongue from the cellar, and thus full of flavour. Lesser breeds don't care much what their beer tastes like, so long as it's ice-cold.

What Orwell actually wrote in The Lion and the Unicorn was that when you come back to England from any foreign country "...you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air....The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener...". Then he mentions "the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the early morning", which is the bit everyone remembers.

The piece, subtitled England Your England, evokes what Englishness was in 1941. Some of the characteristics he describes - the clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, people with bad teeth and gentle manners, gloomy Sundays - have disappeared, but his conclusion, that there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilisation, remains, we may hope, as true today as it was then.

But warm beer is not part of Englishness, and only a prize fat-head like Major would imagine it was.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! You read this canard everywhere, even in newspapers for people who can read. Lamentable!
G Freeman
Cambridge

eric said...

The myth of "warm English beer" is universally believed here in the U.S. -- land of "frosted beer mugs" and other abominations (though also, in defense, land of many wonderful small-scale local brewers). But I'm surprised to learn that it has any currency at all in England, where presumably everyone ought to know better.

Tony said...

Yes, sadly. There are few serious beer drinkers left over here. There are still real ales to be had, sometimes at the right temperature, but the big demand is for continental lager-type weasel's pee.