Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part I.

In the (London) Sunday Dispatch of November 6, 1938 journalist Alan Tomkins reported on a visit to the Brewers’ Exhibition.*

The Exhibition was a longstanding annual event, covered with fervour by the press at each appearance. The tasters did not swallow, but ejected the sample in the way wine tasters do stereotypically.

Procedure has changed on the beer side in recent decades; we taste, but small amounts. Even if you get a pint down over an afternoon this is no disadvantage to a proper assessment.

Wine is on average much stronger than beer, which gives the expectoration a justification it doesn’t need in beer circles, but I suspect beer was striving for status, then.

I described one such interwar tasting in my post The Bitter Test.



(Sadly I will miss an upcoming judging in Toronto due to being in France, but at least I’ll be in beer country, the Pas-de-Calais. I’ll send in the odd rapport).

I had no luck in tracing biography on Alan Tomkins. He was a skilled city journalist evidently, with a light-hearted style that is the antithesis of journalism today.

His lines read like dialogue from a screwball comedy except the subject is a stodgy industry event vs. boy meets girl.

Part of the article appears below (via British Newspaper Archive).


Beer Testing Is Thirsty Ritual

Gay, and friendly, that’s me. But I wilted a bit when told to take a course of beer testing at the Brewers’ Exhibition.

Anyway, I duly trotted to Islington, my tutor taking me to a great hall, barricaded from the common herd, and lined with hundreds of barrels.

A chap with a red nightcap produced two small glasses and drew off beer into same, into the glasses I mean, not the nightcap.

At this juncture I did not know a malt from hop.

My tutor held his glass to the light and said, “Examine it for brilliance, also polish”.

I did.

“Examine the head, for creaminess.”

I did.

“Savour the aroma.” (Waving the glass dainty fashion under his nose.)

I did.

“Take a little in the mouth, roll it round.”

I did.

“Now eject it on the floor.”

Well, let people say what they may, Tomkins has a certain amount of culture. He has not gone round spitting since he was a very small boy, and even then he was conscious that it was not quite the thing.

But people have undertaken sterner tasks in the line of duty.

There was a thick layer of white sawdust on the floor. Even so, the act was performed in hesitant, clumsy fashion.

“Did you get the smooth, bitter taste of the hops?”

“Yes. A very good beer.”

Soon the counter was lined with glasses, from each of which a small quantity had been taken. And thick and fast they came at last and more and more and more.

By now I was spitting with a casual skill, in fact a grace, which just goes for to show how quickly man may conquer inhibitions.

Between samples I partook of trifles of biscuit, cheese, bread and an occasional olive, to bring back the palate to its original freshness….

See Part II for the remainder.

Note re image: image above, and as elsewhere may appear in this series, are sourced from British News Archive linked above, except where otherwise indicated. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*A Pathé reel covered the exact event. Its arch tone complements well Tomkins’ blase style.

**The genre is well-defined at TV Tropes.

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