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October 31, 2012



I treasure the description in (I think) Richard Holmes of Wellington being seen by his fellow officers as almost inhumanly abstemious, because he never had more than a bottle of claret with his dinner, and rarely more than two or three glasses of port after it.

chris y

I cannot see the Speaker, Hal, can you?
What! Cannot see the Speaker? I see two!


Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water, Mandrake? VodkaBaijiu, that's what they drink. On no account will a Commie drink a glass of water. And not without good reason.


I don't think I've posted this piece before, which gives some insight into the question 'were people in the past all pissed off their faces on small beer?'


hells bells, so Burton ale was all Owd Roger strength way back when.


Martyn and Ron are your men on this one. The great watering of the workers' beer seems to date from World War I; before that 'session strength' was 5-6%, as far as we can tell, and there would often be something up the far end of the bar in the 8-10% range.


How many pints of session beer would workers regularly consume pre-Great War? I'd have thought that the regularisation of working practices (clocking in &c.) and wider use of mechanisation would have worked against drinking huge amounts all the time.


Saint Monday, he dead. On the small beer thing, didn't industrialization turn it into 'mild', with specific dispensations for workers to consume on breaks in heavy industry/metal bashing centres like the Black Country?


hmmm this seems kind of an emerging market thing. In India, pretty much the only beer that sells at all are the strong and super strong lagers where the ABV is around 6-8%. That's the only way it can be seen as an acceptable substitute, in the summer months, for what all real drinkers should really be drinking which is whiskey.


"Mild ale" certainly originated as the antonym of "old ale" - the 'younger' and weaker version of the same thing. Did small beer end up as mild ale? No idea - I'll have to ask.

chris y

There are still survivors of the traditional sheet steel industry around who can remember being obliged to drink four pints in a working day as a condition of employment. Which would have been more fun if you weren't working directly with boiling metal.

Joseph Banks impresses me though. Do you think all those weird Australian plants he described were dreamed up in a fit of DTs?

john b

Av: to a point. 5% lagers like Kingfisher sell in decent quantities in Bombay. It's true that yokels will only drink the spesh.

My dad worked in a Midlands metal-bashing plant for British Steel at the start of the 1970s, and 2-3 pints of mild at lunch was seen as reasonable (just one was dangerously unhydrating, but more than three was a bit George Best).


I'd heard of the metalworking drinks culture, but was it an outlier in the 1970s? I'd got the impression that during the 19th century things got significantly less boozy, if only because much of the nutritional role of workmen's beer was taken over by the sweet tea made possible by cheap sugar imports.* I'll have to ask James when I next see him.

[*]Before this time, did workers take 'beer breaks' instead?

chris y

Jakob, I think it was an outlier by 70s, because it was associated with an awareness of the danger of dehydration, which was a bit industry specific (combination of traditional industry and specific issue).

At a much earlier date, Thompson describes in MOEWC how in the early 19th century, if you wanted to raise an issue on the shop floor you called an ad hoc meeting at which the first order of business was to send the apprentice out for beer (The person calling the meeting stood the round).

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