A Royal Regale

When did a British royal figure first visit a public house? Not a brewery, for which precedents exist at least to the early 19th century, but a tavern or pub?

No doubt blue bloods on romps through town have taken a beer or two at this or that house immemorially. I mean an official visit, to show support of royalty for an important sub-unit of economic activity, and perhaps a certain social sympathy.

I discussed in this series the 1930 visit by Mary of Teck to a London pub patronized by adherents of Father Jellicoe, the urban and pub reformer. Anything before?

Actually yes, in 1906. That year Queen Alexandra, with a royal and diplomatic party, visited the beer hall at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition, Earls Court Exhibition Grounds. Perhaps the most successful of the Earls Court’s shows before WW I, this was a showcase for Austrian and Bohemian culture and industry.

The amenities included a Viennese Beer Hall, described in the official program for the event. The Dreher brewery, certainly then royalty in Austrian brewing, supplied the beer. Two kinds in fact, an (amber) March beer (much associated with Dreher’s origins and lasting influence) but also a “lager”, perhaps a Munich-style dark beer.

Did the Queen, by then over 60 but still lithesome, actually sup the beer? Clearly much of her party did, by this report in the San Francisco Call that year. The story notes that coffee was also served, so perhaps she limited herself to that other Viennese specialty.

Alexandra, while of royal lineage, was not brought up in luxury in her native Denmark. Perhaps this inclined her to patronize a people’s resort. Or maybe it was simply to accommodate various diplomatic and trade interests of her adopted country.

The fact that the beer hall – a real but temporary one – was of foreign character is interesting to ponder. To visit a London pub may have been too close to home as it were. This other way was a gesture still meaningful, but qualified by the circumstances.

Lager was a foreign upstart in British beer culture but rising in popularity in London and other parts of the British Isles. Panikos Panayi, in his Spicing up Britain: the Multicultural History of British Food gives a brief but useful overview of the surge leading up to WW I. The war interrupted the trend, although the drink did return, now brewed in London too, after WW I.

Only in the 1970s did it really get its legs, due ostensibly to a series of hot English summers, but history suggests its time had come, one way or another. In fact, as the last link suggests, it all would have happened much sooner but for the two world conflicts.

Trauma of that scale, as perhaps we are seeing today, has a way of reinforcing insularity – for a time. With the good and bad that entails.

50 years after the glitter era, real and craft ales soldier on. Still, the stylish beer types served at Earl’s Court 1906 have more influence on beer in Britain today than the staple mild and bitter ales of the time.

Finally, what beer today would resemble Dreher’s March beer served to British blue bloods (and others) in 1906? There are many candidates, no doubt still in Austria but certainly in the craft beer world.

The beer shown below, from Spain’s Estrella Galicia, has no connection to Dreher to my knowledge, but the website description of its process, and the colour, suggest classic Vienna. And the style’s influence in Spain shows how far afield the beer type travelled, indeed it reached far beyond including finally to craft precincts.



N.B. The 1906 press story speaks of “lugs” of beer.  Is lug a typographical error, for jug? Yet, think of “chug-a-lug”, American and (I think) U.K. slang. Its etymology remains misty, but I’d think “chug” is connected to “chuck”, to throw back. Hence to throw back a drink. Maybe lug was a UK regionalism for drink that reached parts of America early on.

2 thoughts on “A Royal Regale”

  1. George IV turned up in Dublin in 1821 allegedly totally pissed (which seems pretty likely for him) after imbibing lashings of whiskey; and distributed 15 wooden hogsheads (c. 6,400 pints) of beer to the locals. Not a pub visit, more an early royal CAMRA Beer Festival perhaps 😄?


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