An Even-Tempered Look at the English Pub, 1870s

New York’s The Sun in 1877 covered the English pub, one of many articles in the American press between the post-Civil War period and the 1950s dealing with the topic.

The pub exercised a certain fascination on the American public, and this continued for a long time. It manifested itself in different ways, including the building of American restaurants and bars that sought to emulate the tap-house/pub/tavern/inn (largely undifferentiated in American eyes) or the Americans’ conception of it.

Some lines from The Sun’s article:

LONDON, Nov. 1.—In Great Britain, everybody, approximately speaking, drinks wine, ale, or beer—women and children not excepted. A very large majority of the English people look upon ale and beer as being quite as necessary a part of of their living as tea and coffee—and as being quite as legitimate, too. …. In England, a man who does not drink is something of an oddity. Abstinence is looked upon as a whim; few can detect in it a real principle. … Nearly all families keep a jug of beer or ale in the house, and all partake of it daily. When the jug is empty, the wife or daughter thinks nothing of running into the public house for a new supply.

…. The English public house is comparatively respectable. The occupation itself is considered reputable, and the most attractive house-fronts in almost any business street, are those of the public houses. Within, they contrast very favorably with other places of business … When people all drink beer, the places where beer is sold cannot well be other than reasonably decent. I would not be understood as saying that the average English public house is a thoroughly reputable place, but it is less objectionable than our American saloon.

In most public houses girls wait upon the bar, and, so far as I can see, they are generally quite as intelligent and well behaved as those who wait upon customers in other branches of business. At any busy part of the day you would not often look into a public house without seeing a fair sprinkling of women present.

…. drunkenness is not of the most violent kind, but it is very general.

The assessment was rendered about the same time as the dyspeptic article by a fellow-American I discussed here. The Sun article is certainly more even-tempered and reasonable in tone, and seems to want to understand the true facts without a distorting agenda.

The normality of the pub as a business enterprise is stressed. The staff acts in a manner similar to that in other shops, the owners are for the most part reputable, and (evidently) the pubs cater to a real, widespread demand in the population. In other words, the daily imbibing of alcohol is a cultural trait, not something created by a cynical syndicate of brewers or out-of-control licensing system.

Yes there is drunkenness, but the writer doesn’t define most of its manifestations and it is hard to know if on a net basis society is worse or better off; the writer is non-committal in any event.

The factor of women being regularly present in London pubs is interesting. There is no reference to “hidden” compartments such as the snug, or any kind of particular case in this regard such as arriving to fetch beer for home, but a general statement that if you looked in the bar day in day out women would be seen.

Other evidence suggests similar, including this interesting paper that compares pubs in Liverpool and Manchester berween 1840 and 1914 by Alistair Mutch (see especially p. 27).

Practice may have varied too depending on the type of pub, the city, the licensing regime.

Fragmentary as these press reports are, taken together they are a kind of Mass Observation social study before its time. One advantage of journalistic coverage is, unless coming from a strong ideological base such as a temperance newspaper, the depiction of social reality tends to be relatively objective, even as no one observer is perfectly objective or has all the facts.

An old expression says, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and perhaps that’s true of the public house issue for Victorian Britain. It was never as wicked as the temperance advocates argued, never as innocent and benign as its ardent defenders wished.

Note re sources: The quotation above is drawn from the press report linked in the press, archived in the Fulton History newspapers. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Quotation used for educational and historical purposes, and for fair comment. All feedback welcomed.






The Brewers Association’s Craft Brewer Definition

Beer commenters are examining changes seemingly afoot to alter the current (U.S.) Brewers Association’s definition of craft brewer. The lowdown is in this report by Phoebe French from The Drinks Business. A quote:

… the group is considering dropping the ‘traditional’ requirement from its current definition.

…. The current guidelines stipulate that the brewer must be ‘small’ (annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less), ‘independent’ (less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer), and traditional (has a majority of its total volume in beers with flavours derived from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.)

As such, the BA does not consider flavoured malt beverages or alcoholic seltzers (a growing category in the US) to fit the brief.

… the reasoning behind the move was linked to the rise of cannabis and cannabis derivative-infused products. A number of the group’s members have expressed interest in creating products infused with THC and CBD, Wallace found after surveying 1,000 registered brewers.

Some history regarding earlier definitions of craft brewer by the Brewers Association (BA) can be found here, at the Craft Brewing Business site.

At bottom are issues such as, should large craft brewers potentially be excluded from membership in America’s organization for craft brewers if their non-beer production (e.g., cider, malt-based or other flavoured drinks that aren’t beer) rises to > 50% of their total production? It appears Boston Beer Company, a pioneering craft brewer, may soon be in this position. Sales of its cider and fizzy flavoured beverages have grown in relation to the beer sales.

The interest of many brewers to use cannabis’ active ingredients in a beverage line raises a further question whether the BA’s existing definition of craft beer covers that. A non-alcoholic cannabis beer would seem outside the current definition as there is no fermentation (unless possibly the drink is fermented first and the alcohol taken out after?).

The BA is a trade group for the nation’s craft brewers. In our view it is best placed to decide the definition for its membership, which it clearly does keeping a close ear on what members want or at least, that most can live with.

My view is the “traditional/innovative” part of the definition has outlived its usefulness and should be dropped in its entirety. Given the evolution of craft beer and the production landscape since the early days of craft brewing, it makes sense not to dictate the types of beers that can be made.

This is a process already underway for some years, as seen by the earlier update that allowed malt adjuncts to be used in the bulk of a brewery’s production.

Let those who call themselves brewers decide what to brew, which allows them to remain flexible in a constantly changing market.

Craft beer in its original, “microbrew” sense meant a strong-flavoured, often all-malt, often well hopped beer. Today these are also made by mass-market brewers, a direct result of the success of the decades-long craft brewing movement. If mega-brewers make similar products, and they do, both directly and having purchased what are now ex-craft breweries, the criterion of product regulation really has become superfluous.

So is there still a rationale for a “craft beer” association? There is, and it should be based on size and not being controlled by a non-craft brewer. The current 6,000,000 bbl limited is reasonable in light of the small percentage it represents for total beer barrel shipments annually.

The maximum 25% ownership limit by a non-craft brewer makes sense as that avenue can provide needed investment and sometimes an avenue to better distribution.

In many industries, size is an important determinant of member interests. Smaller brewers have different interests to large ones, e.g., preserving/enhancing tax advantages, obtaining technological guidance and updates, sourcing raw materials more effectively, and marketing advice.

Their industry group can help lobby for this more effectively than a group that represents mega-producers with commensurately different interests and challenges. Even in the pre-craft era there was a national small brewers association, Brewers’ Association of America (later absorbed in BA), vs. the main national group that still exists today as the Beer Institute.

It’s the very success of the steady, 40-year march of craft brewing that has lead to these issues; that’s a good thing.

N.B. All the above said, I will aver to a sentimental feeling about Boston Beer Company. Having seen them grow since inception and do so much to create the modern craft brewing landscape, it is unreasonable IMO if they will be excluded from membership in the BA.

Even if the craft beer rules will remain as currently written, Boston Beer Company should (i.e., if need be) be offered a special exemption to maintain its membership. Net-net, the interests of small brewers are far more closely aligned to a Boston Beer Company than an international mega-brewer. It will be in everyone’s interest, in other words, who is concerned with the taste of great beer and its authentic traditions.