Beer Matters

Mens insana sine corpore sano

Well, I was going to write about the Great British Beer Festival but I have to confess that I failed to get there. I was fully intending to go on the Wednesday but, having rung an early evening quarter, I just popped into the pub with the rest of the band for a quick pint to quench my thirst and gradually the prospect of an overcrowded tube train, a possible queue and a vast hall packed with noisy sweaty drinkers began to lose its appeal.

So I decided instead to regale you with my reminiscences of beer festivals past. But, truth to tell, when the time came to put finger to keyboard, I realised that my recollections of these events are distinctly hazy (yes, good oxymoron, isn’t it?), which realisation led me inexorably to the eventual topic for today’s column: the after-effects of beer consumption.

Short-term memory loss is indeed a hazard and alcohol undoubtedly aids the abuses of the passing years. I now tell people never to make ringing arrangements with me in the pub - or at least not to regard them as confirmed - unless I have my diary about my person and am seen to scribble something intelligible therein.

Having written before about the diuretic properties of beer, I shall not dwell any further on that subject lest you jump to the conclusion that I have a wee bit of an obsession with the matter. Another painfully obvious - and possibly related - consequence of imbibing is the “thick head” the morning after. I say related because scientific opinion decrees that a hangover is basically caused by dehydration (although certain substances in some drinks may contribute to the severity of it). Certainly I find it helpful after drinking wine to swallow several glasses of water before retiring to bed, indeed thirst often compels me to, but after a good few pints of beer the idea of pouring yet more liquid down one’s throat to prevent dehydration does seem faintly absurd, although the logic may become more apparent at 5 or 6 a.m.

The more immediate symptoms of overdoing it, apart from becoming garrulous and argumentative and losing some degree of co-ordination, may include “the room spinning”. This affects individuals in different ways. Some see their surroundings rotating gently about a vertical axis. I used to lie in bed and however hard I tried to focus on the lampshade it kept slipping back behind me. Curiously, this seems to be phenomenon of youth. I have not experienced it for many years now and other middle aged drinkers have said the same.

Likewise vomiting. Although capacity undoubtedly diminishes with age, the body does seem better equipped to avoid the more unpleasant side effects of drinking. Or maybe it just becomes adept at limiting the intake to what it knows it can handle without undue upheaval.

I was certainly young - just 18 - when I experienced the most singular occurrence of my drinking career. A student, living in St Albans, I was invited on a Sunday evening pub crawl by the Abbey ringers. We had already enjoyed a couple of pints of Greene King Abbot (my first taste of it) at lunchtime and the evening’s itinerary promised more of the same at several pubs in rural Hertfordshire. These included, if I remember rightly, the Fox at Aspenden, and the final stop was the Plough at Great Munden.

In those days, the Plough had an old cinema or theatre organ built into the lounge bar (Can anyone tell me if it’s still there?) and the local Reginald Dixon was in full swing. I was sitting in front of the swell box with my fifth or sixth pint of Abbot when, what with the beer and the throbbing music, I began to feel a bit woozy. Then the most odd thing happened – I saw my body get up and walk out of the room.

Fortunately I caught up with it in the gents a few moments later. But to this day I have always maintained a great respect for Abbot (even though I don’t drink it very often, finding it rather too malty for my increasingly bitter palate).

Interestingly, the potential for physical discomfort and disorientation from overindulgence in their products can be a matter of pride for brewers - think of Skull Splitter, Tanglefoot and the numerous beers with “revenge” in the title - in a way that would be unthinkable for winemakers (Chateaux Diviseur De Crâne? Côtes des Pieds Embrouillés?). Then again, it may be just an English, self-deprecating thing. I don’t suppose the Germans have a beer called Schädelteiler either.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

Content © 2003-13