Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part II.

With inimitable (?) Thirties’ drollery journalist Alan Tomkins described testing beers at the 1938 Brewers’ Exhibition, for a column in the (London) Weekly Dispatch.

Part of the article is set out in my Part I, here is the remainder:

….After about another dozen samples, I thought the day was over and drained the glass with the first beer, about one third of a pint. Please note the quantity of my only drink.

But the tutor said “We now come to the strong ales, also known as old ales. They are darker and have a higher alcoholic content”.

These were sweeter and stronger. On went the ritual. More beer, more sawdust. Then we moved to another hall, lined with thousands of bottles of beer.

Instead of waiting nervously, as at first, I ordered bottles from odd places, and found much amusement in my own jests.

Everybody I saw seemed to be an extraordinary good fellow.

A dreadful suspicion crossed my mind.

“Is it possible”, I asked, “even if one does not drink much, that a lot of this testing can sort of…?”

“Oh yes”, agreed my mentor. “If you are not used to it, the fumes, and the taste, of all these mixed beers…”

Well, I thought bitterly, I have not had a single decent drink, and here I am.

“Would you like to test the mineral waters?”

I shuddered at the thought. We parted after mutual exchanges of good will.

I walked very fast round the public part of the show, and, seeing the post office, did a curious thing.

I sent myself a facetious post card. The fact is presented without comment.

An enormous vat, barrel or tub intrigued me. It was like a section of the tube railway. There were lots of funny railways that sent thousands of bottles, beer cases and syphons whizzing about. Heaven knows why.

The clatter did not improve my head so I went out, with a raging thirst, and bought half a bitter. Automatically I took a sip and turned my head –

The innocent on my left will never know what a narrow escape his trousers had.

What do you think his postcard said?

Something like this, perhaps:

Dearest Alan:

What a jolly time I am having, despite the silver-tongued assurances of Mine Host – worthy of a Harry Ellison!

I’m about to leave now, and must mind the gap when entering the Tube. It’s hard enough as it is to reach our stratospheric flat without slipping!

I will pick up some beer on the way, I can malt and hop it with the best of them now. The country curiosities at the Exhibition are all very well, but Whitbread Pale Ale is just the thing.

The Beltring hops, you know, like the placards say at the newsagent.

One can’t be at sixes and sevens for beer in London, dear boy!

Yours always,


*The hyperlink is to a 2009 blog post by Eleanor Cracknell in the blog for The College of St. George, Windsor Castle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.