Beer Matters

Gout, Turkeys and Beer Songs

Well, this seems to have become an annual column, albeit largely due to inertia on my part. The Editor did ask me back in the Summer to investigate Bow Bells from the resurrected Truman’s Brewery but, although I managed to track down a pint of it (in that well-known “betwixt peal and curry” establishment, the Pride of Spitalfields), I never got round to my planned brewery visit. I will try to rectify that in due course.

I recently suffered a bout of gout for the first time. It was in the classic place, the big toe joint, and very painful it was too. Two pieces of advice given to me were:
Drink the juice of a lemon every day;
Give up drinking beer.
Needless to say, I’ve opted to try the first one.

Christmas is almost upon us and the usual gimmicky seasonal ales are appearing on the bar. Give them a wide berth I say. Far from being rich, tasty, heart-warming beers for a cold winter’s evening, they’re invariably weak, thin and pathetic. And I’m not the only one who thinks so; beer sommelier Sophie Atherton, writing in the Morning Advertiser last year, expressed the opinion that “with very few exceptions, they are all turkeys”.

However, there’s one seasonal beer worthy to be greatly revered. Adnams’ draught Tally Ho has been around for some years but I’d never had the opportunity to try it on account of its being only available during Christmas week in selected Adnams’ tied houses. So last December Mrs Bibendus and I set off on a pilgrimage to Southwold. The Sole Bay Inn opposite the brewery didn’t have any, so we settled for a pint of Old before trying our luck elsewhere. I was beginning to wish I’d made some enquiries beforehand but at our next stop, the Red Lion, there it was. And what a glorious treat! Dark, full-bodied and strong (7.5%) but not overly sweet. It was well worth the 250 mile round trip for a couple of pints (and no, I didn’t drive home afterwards – we’d booked into the Swan Hotel for the night). I rather think we’ll be going again this year.

For some inexplicable reason I awoke this morning thinking about the celebration of beer in song. There are plenty of traditional folk songs on the theme of beer and/or pubs: “Bring us in good ale”, “John Barleycorn”, “When Johnson’s ale was new”, “A jug of this”, “When the old Dun Cow caught fire” and “Three drunken maidens” to name but a few. The Suffolk singer Don Shepherd sang “Adnams’ Ale” on the 1978 album of the same name. He didn’t mention Tally Ho, at least not by name although it may well be the “draught barley wine; two glasses o’ thet and yu’ll lose track o’ time”.

Then there are wassail songs. Carol singing can be thirsty work and it seems the waits of yore were accustomed to carry a wooden bowl in which to collect gifts of ale. They expected good stuff too:
“Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best,
And we hope that your soul in Heaven may rest,
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down will go butler, bowl and all.”

But the other day I came across a most unusual work in the genre: “Brewery Tap”, originally written for bagpipes and re-scored for handbells (plus drum) by Luke Nabeta of the Forté Handbell Quartet. If you haven’t heard of this group, do have a look on YouTube or Facebook. Their performances, whether ringing with a full 5 octave set “off the table” or four-in-hand, are amazing and not just to listen to - the “choreography” is something else (see the Halleluiah Chorus).

A final thought, with 2018 looming large (nothing to do with beer). In my early days of ringing I often used to attend the practice at Ringwood. The Captain was Bill Cheater, who had started a new band after WW1 and had been there ever since. One of that band was F E (Ted) Collins. Ted had spent most of the intervening years in Croydon, working as a bellhanger for Gillett & Johnson and becoming Ringing Master at Croydon parish church and twice master of the ASCY, and had recently returned to Ringwood on his retirement.

I recall one evening when Ted, pointing to the board recording the first local band peal (1924), said to Bill “Can you believe it’s over 40 years since we rang that peal?” To my teenaged ears, listening to two sexagenarians reminiscing, it sounded an awfully long time. It’s therefore sobering to reflect that a further 50 years have passed since that day and I’m now one of the older generation of ringers. Tempus fugit. Happy New Year!

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

Content © 2003-19