Beer Matters

Sailing Under False Colours

The other evening I went into my local Wetherspoons and, as usual, perused the pump clips to see what guest ales were on offer. It appeared that the only choice beyond the regular JDW selection was Banks and Taylor’s SOD (Shefford Old Dark). A couple of years may have passed since I last tried it, but what came out of the pump – a nut brown, malty bitter in the Abbot mould – didn’t seem quite right to me or the older of my two companions. Surely it should be more akin to a stout or porter? However, we shrugged our shoulders and put the discrepancy down to our advancing years.

The following day, the same pump bore a clip advertising Freeminer Speculation, and what came out was a nut brown, malty bitter which tasted not altogether unfamiliar. The SOD clip had moved to another pump and when we sampled that on the next round, sure enough, it was black and heavy with the unmistakable roasted malt flavour of a good stout or porter.

Well, it’s always reassuring when one’s memory is vindicated, but I can’t help wondering how often this kind of mistake occurs, particularly in a place like Wetherspoons with a high turnover of different ales. After all, the casks look pretty much the same in the cellar and it must be all too easy to put the pump clip on the wrong pump.

The implications of this for the “beer spotter” who records everything he drinks (since you ask, no, I don’t) could be enormous – the equivalent of the train or bus spotter filling his notebook with sightings of vehicles carrying false number plates. Can he be sure that the “new” beer he has just ticked off is what it purports to be? Might it actually be the old favourite of which it vaguely reminds him? Or indeed a hitherto untried beer but not the one he thinks it is? Might he on the odd occasion have supped a new ale unawares? [Supposing the punters who run a sweepstake on Old PH’s monthly drinking statistics were to discover that his records were thus inaccurate? Could they sue him (and he in turn sue Wetherspoons)?]

For most of us this is a matter of little consequence. Indeed, one could argue that since no two beers are exactly the same – due to numerous factors from slight variations in the recipe, quality of ingredients, health of the yeast, time in the cask, skill of the cellarman, exposure to airborne micro-organism, right down to how long an individual pint (or part thereof) has been standing in the pipe – the information on the pump clip is of limited value. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is always in the glass.


By strange co-incidence, I had just written the above when the Easter RW arrived (belatedly). So, having an apposite title already in place, I had better rise to the editorial challenge.

As our esteemed Editor says, the use of pseudonyms by columnists is a long-standing tradition in the RW (and also, I believe, in its predecessors). Now, whilst tradition should not be an excuse for the unquestioned continuance of dubious practices, it is not, in my opinion, to be discarded lightly, particularly when there are no practical benefits to be had from the change.

When I began writing this column I adopted my nom de plume because it seemed the right thing to do, a “dog Latin” moniker adding a touch of mock gravitas in typical RW style. After nearly three years, my identity is known to many readers (not least because my mug shot has appeared in the column more than once). Certainly those who are acquainted with me personally should have twigged by now. As for the rest of you, would you be any the wiser if you knew?

I have no idea who my fellow columnists Tail End, Zoilus and Oddstruck are and my ignorance causes me no sleepless nights (if it did, I could doubtless ascertain their identities fairly readily). Nevertheless, when the topic of pseudonyms last arose on the letters page a year or so ago, I felt moved to expose myself to the lady concerned and will happily divulge my identity in a private email to anyone else who feels excluded or desperately curious.

Meanwhile, with the Editor’s permission, I will continue to sign myself:

Maximus Bibendus

PS Following my last article, I have not received a single recommendation. Either your locals are so dreadful you feel unable to commend them or they are so good that you want to keep them to yourselves – or perhaps you just don’t read the column?

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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