On August 19, 1932 The Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian treated of the barometer rising, no not in a way that inspired novelist Hugh MacLennan’s 1941 master-work, but more prosaically, in relation to beer.
Prosaically prosaically, if you will. In a different Halifax, too.
The report spoke of problems the current heat wave caused for publicans, especially that it was harder to keep the beer cool. And they had to bring in supplies of lager, not a usual drink in Britain then.
While the “man from the East” could be recognized by his order for iced lager or frosty mixed drinks, in such hot English times it was anyone’s guess what the punter in pubs wanted.
The journalist wrote it up this way (via British News Archive):
COOLING THE BEER
Publicans’ Problem During Hot Weather
Down in the Cellar
The heat wave has made the publican feel “hot under the collar.” For while it may seem that the spell of heat makes men more thirsty, actually the ordinary man becomes far more fastidious regarding his drinks. In ordinary weather he enters the bar of his favourite hostelry and calls for a ” bitter” or a ” mild ” or a “mixed,” and as long as he obtains his own particular beverage he is satisfied. But when we get heat such as we have had during the past week or two the ordinary man tasting his beverage says, “This is warm!”
It is then that the publican’s troubles come to a head, although they have had their beginnings long before, when he has spent hours in his cellars trying to keep his beer cool.
“The public do not realise the trouble we have to go to, to keep our beer cool,” one licensed victualler said. “When you have a rock cellar as we possess, the business is bad enough, but publicans that do not possess this advantage have a busy time trying to cool their beer.”
“Some of the best bitter beers require nursing if our customers are to be satisfied in these hot days,” he continued, “and even with advantages regarding cellarage I have to keep a succession of wet sacks over my casks to keep them cool.”
In one restaurant sacks, thoroughly dampened, are placed over the casks of beer, and from time to time a system of sprayers pours ice-cold water over them.
During the summer there is a big demand for lager beer, and where the publican or restaurant serves this liquid “on draught,” a most elaborate arrangement is used.
In a leading hotel and restaurant there was an ice-cold cellar. Near a cask of lager beer there was an oxygen cylinder. From the cylinder a tube went to the bottom of the cask, forcing the beer upward. Then it passed through some of piping and two refrigerating boxes until it was drawn through ice-packed taps on the counter, where frothily it gave the thirsty soul its lager on ice.
Unlike beer, spirits need less nursing and in the tropics beer is called for less frequently than the “John Collins” and the “Sundowner “whisky and soda”. In the big hotels and restaurants these hot days they recognise the man from the East by his orders. He may order a “lager off the ice” or a whisky or gin with “lots of soda with plenty of ice.” To satisfy the stay-at-home Briton, however, such weather keeps the publican guessing. With such a variety of orders no wonder he feels harassed.
This report tells us much – that British beer, even traditional cask-conditioned ale, was always wanted cellar-cool and sometimes cold, including in iced lager form.
While the ideal was often not met in practice, best form dictated that publicans should try. The most conscientious, at least those with the requisite facilities, succeeded often enough, as the article shows.
The North American idea, still current among laymen, of “warm English beer”, is justified by the frequent lapses on the ground from the ideal, but the reality is more complex as we see.
The “jackets” used for cooling casks at modern British beer festivals have a lengthy heritage, as we also see. Sophisticated insulated materials have replaced the wetted jute of former times, but to similar purpose.
In my post “Lager – Made in the Shade” I discussed how, contrary to practice in metropole, lager was a stand-by in far-off British possessions, usually in warmer parts of the world.
In summer 2022 the heat is on closer to home. Publicans struggle to keep the beer cold.
But August 1932 was also hot. And famously in the 1970s a passel of torrid summers vaulted lager into a position of British beer eminence it has never lost.