Beer Matters

Jolly Good Ale and Old

“I cannot eat but little meat, my stomach is not good;
But sure I think that I can drink with him that wears a hood.
Though I go bare, take ye no care, I nothing am a-cold;
I stuff my skin so full within of jolly good ale and old.
Back and side go bare, go bare; both foot and hand go cold;
But, belly, God send thee good ale enough, whether it be new or old.”

I am indebted to Tom Lawrance for drawing my attention to this delightful verse from Gammer Gurton’s Needle, attributed to John Still (1543-1608), Bishop of Bath and Wells. No doubt the killjoys would have us believe that drinking in cold weather is a bad idea, since alcohol dilates the blood vessels, but I shall stick with my romantic images of the noble St Bernard padding through the snow to sustain the stricken traveller with his little cask of brandy and of homely inns with inglenooks and tankards of strong, dark ale before a roaring log fire. We’re talking feel-good factors here.

Beer, surely, is a seasonal thing and it has long been a mystery to me why some people persist in pouring pints of cold, fizzy lager (or, even more perversely, supercooled* stout) down their throats all year round. As a general rule my preference is for a light, well-hopped bitter. I’m not entirely averse to the occasional glass of good quality lager, lightly chilled, on a summer’s day and, when on holiday in warmer climes, have been known to drink all manner of local brews which wouldn’t merit a second sip back home. But on a cold winter’s evening there is just no substitute for a strong, preferable dark, and heart-warming ale.

Max pulling a pint

I had half a mind to report on this year’s new seasonal offerings but I’ve yet to find one worth writing about. Any recommendations would be gratefully received. Of those I’ve reviewed before, Rosey Nosey, with the flashing LED pump clip, and the execrable Santi-freeze are still doing the rounds but Hopback’s glorious Pickled Santa is so far nowhere to be seen (although according to their website it is available this month). Young’s Winter Warmer seems to have finally found its form following the move to Bedford two years ago. My lovely local †, now under the skilful management of the long-serving barmaid Sarah who has just taken over the licence, has had the Warmer on for a couple of weeks now and I’ve almost forgotten what the Ordinary tastes like.

“No frost nor snow, nor wind, I trow, can hurt me if I wold;
I am so wrapped and thoroughly lapp’d of jolly good ale and old.”

* Before the pedants leap to their feet, I do know what supercooled means and those “extra cold” beverages are actually a degree or two above freezing. But it might be rather amusing if they were delivered to the glass as supercooled liquids. I guess the act of swallowing would cause enough turbulence to precipitate the formation of chunks of ice in the drinker’s oesophagus. That’d learn ’em.

† The Hope, West Norwood.

A couple of postscripts to my last column about the pint:

Charles Wells now appear to have abandoned the ”full English pint” and reverted to the ubiquitous 500ml bottle - shame!

Although I have downed many thousands of pints in the past 40 years, I had never pulled one - until a few weeks ago.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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