John Burnett / “Beer: ‘A Moral Species of Beverage'” / Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drink in Modern Britain / 1999

James Mason imbibing in Odd Man Out (1947), dir. Carol Reed.

Chapter focuses on the consumption of beer– quantity, quality, place in diet and domestic budget, place, occasion, reason for change in usage patterns. Earlier phases of industrial revolution, porters and stouts popular, with supposed nourishing qualities, and high energy demand of outdoor work and long factory hours. By 2nd half 19th century, trend toward lighter, paler ales. Reflected change in work toward non-manual labor, and abolition of excise duties on glass, 1845, w/gradual substitution of glass in public houses in place of pewter and earthenware pots. Fresher “running beer” brewing up with Baudelot’s refrigerator, 1859, and Pasteur’s research on fermentation and development of pure yeast. 1866, scientific brewing up w/Bacterium Club founder Cornelius O’Sullivan appointed to Bass brewing. 19th century beer often adulterated with cocculus idicus (“India Berry,” a poisonous picrotoxin), copperas, quassia, capsicum, hartshorn shavings, “multum,” “mixed drugs,” beer stretched with water; sulfuric acid used to “harden” new beer and save expense of long storage; salts of tartar for “cauliflower head” of porter, indicator of strength; sugar, salt, and iron sulfate for frothy head; licorice, treacle, linseed, ginger, “colour,” “heading,” narcotics; salt to encourage thirst and disguise dilution. Legally allowed ingredients: hops, malt. Public alarm caused Adulteration of Foods Act 1860. Adulteration of Food, Drink and Drugs Act 1872. Truck Act 1887, illegal to pay laborers part of wage in drink. Nonetheless, practice continued. At Quarry, North Oxford, men grew veggies and flowers, exchanged for drink. At Mason’s Arms, most plebeian inn, those without money were allowed to sip from communal quart pot. 1900, for manual laborers like miners, beer signified manliness, virility; pub house signified conviviality, good fellowship, class and occupational identity. “Cobbler’s Monday” heavy drinking tradition common among engineers in 1860. 1880-1914, beer consumption down. Biggest falls: 1880-1887, and 1900 onward, even though real spending power up. Why? Changing role of beer in working class life. By late 19th century, tea was the domestic drink. Beer was non-family recreation, indulgence for men. But, surplus income could now go to: new imported and manufactured goods like clothing, furniture, metalware, toys, manufactured food, factory-made clothes, music halls, sports, travel, holidays. Working class was becoming lower middle class. Heavy drinking and drunkenness not “respectable”; seen as lower-class/outcast/slum-dweller, not part of social progress. Clergymen to Charles Booth: workers need “a different sort of stimulus. With clerks, the greatest preventive of drink has been the bicycle.” 1905 Sir Austen Chamberlain budget speech: “I think the mass of our people are beginning to find other ways of expending some portion of the time and money which used previously to be spent in the public house.” I.e. “rational recreation” [Note: see This Happy Breed, radio scene]. Under disinterested management at end of 19th century, comfortable seating discouraged “perpendicular drinking” at the bar. By 1914, moral argument for liquor control turned into a national efficiency argument. 1919-1939 beer consumption historically low levels, with slight rise after war. By 1938, 90% pubgoers were over 25, and only 16% women. Asked why they drank, 53% said for health or beneficial physical effects: “nourishing,” “tonic,” energy, laxative, sleep-inducing, “lead in my pencil,” “it is food, drink, and medicine to me.” Other main reason, 35% said social/companionship. With continued decline of drinking because of other attractions, industry response was advertisement up, public house improvement. Change in architectural taste, 1937, people no longer wanted a “home away from home” but environment like cinema, that represented ambitions and dreams, “the portals to the world of fantasy” [Note: see Odd Man Out, beer bubbles/lenses/reflections]. With WW2, national efficiency was no longer threatened by drunkenness and industrial unrest. The beer consumption up trend beginning in 1930s continued. Beer meant morale in a time of rationing.


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