Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Beer vs. Wine Fridays

Charles Bamforth

Charles Bamforth is a globe-trotting brewing scientist, and I could hardly ask him for a post the day he lands from southeast Asia. Those clamoring for some wisdom should look no further than the Preface of Grape vs. Grain, in my opinion, one of the more entertaining pieces of beverage writing I’ve encountered. I’ll post some bits of it here.

flew to Heathrow from India, via Frankfurt. The four hour holdover in the German airport had not remotely bothered me. I hate tight connections, and, besides, I was able to indulge in some sausages and weissbier while peaceably reading my newspaper, a faint buzz of conversation surrounding me.

Later the same day, I found myself for the first time in several years in central London. Strolling toward Hyde Park Corner in the dusk of early evening, it occurred to me that the traffic heading toward the West End was much heavier than I recalled from when I was a more regular visitor and living just a short train ride away. As I walked, there was suddenly the most stupendous whooping, and I turned to see two girls, probably late teens, hanging (in every sense of the word) out of the windows of a stretch limo and gyrating maniacally.

I thought little of it – surely an aberration – and continued my stroll, eventually pitching up at The Crown on Brewer Street, close to Piccadilly Circus. It was a hostelry I knew of old, and, in truth, little within had changed, with the exception of the display on the bar. There was row upon row of taps for dispensing kegged beer, but just a solitary handle for pumping traditional English ale from the cask. I had a pint of the latter, a worthy drop of Charles Wells Bombardier.

Half an hour later, I took a table at an Italian restaurant on Wardour Street and washed some crisp salad and succulent lamb’s liver down with successive glasses of the house white and house red, both charming Italian vintages. There wasn’t much on offer by way of beer.

Venturing back toward the Underground station, I decided to take in one more pub, this the St. James Tavern on GreatWindmill Street (being of that age, I needed the loo more than I needed another pint). The bouncer on the door looked at me curiously but said little. I soon realized why. I, an amply-bellied and balding fifty-something, must have looked like a solitary cashew amidst a heap of raisins. The place was heaving. Extremely young people were screaming to be heard above a blast of decibels that must surely have been making their ears bleed. There wasn’t a glass in sight; rather, everyone was hugging to their bosoms (no space for arm’s length here) bottles of premium lagers or RTDs (“ready to drinks”), also known as Malternatives or FABs (“flavored alcoholic beverages”). I craned my neck to look at the bar, but saw no immediate evidence of beer pumps. Feeling claustrophobic, I made for the restroom. Through the door of the cubicle, I saw that the toilet had collapsed in pieces. Almost in panic, I wrestled my way back to the bouncer. “I think I jut doubled the average age in here.” He smirked and looked away.

Back on the street, as I gasped my deepest for breath, another stretch limo crawled past amidst the jam of cars, incongruous rickshaws, and people spilling off the pavement. From the limo windows, young girls caterwauled.

As I sat, dumbfounded, on the tube train taking me back towards my hotel, it occurred to me how I had that day witnessed living proof of a thesis that forms the heart of this book. Early twenty-first century London is the embodiment of why alcohol, most especially beer, has achieved such a negative image in the minds of many.

About The Author

Charles Bamforth

Charles Bamforth is the author of Grape vs. Grain: A Historical, Technological, and Social Comparison of Wine and Beer (2008). He is Professor of Brewing and Malting and head of th...

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