Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Twenty beer quotes that deserve to be better known

There are plenty enough well-known quotes about beer. Some of the best-known, unfortunately, are made up. However, it’s still possible to come across great, genuine yet little-known snippets. Here are 20 of my favourite beer quotes in need of wider broadcasting:

“If [beer] is … the people’s beverage – and nobody, I take it, will deny that it is just that – its history must of necessity go hand in hand, so to speak, with the history of that people, with the history of its entire civilisation.”
John P Arnold, Origin and History of Beer and Brewing, 1911

If I ever worry that the history of beer is a little trivial, I re-read this passage from the American-German beer writer John Arnold and feel that, yes, I’m recording part of the story of my people, my civilisation. OK, people?

“See that ye keep a noble house for beef and beer, that thereof may be praise given to God and to your honour.”
Advice given to Leonard, titular sixth Lord Dacre, in 1570

Leonard Dacre was one of the leaders of the Northern Rebellion, a revolt designed to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne of England. But he managed to lose the battle of Gelt Bridge in Cumberland in 1570 despite outnumbering the Elizabethan forces two to one with his private force of 3,000 armed men, raised from the local tenantry. He subsequently fled to Flanders via Scotland, dying three years later. Part of the motive behind his taking part in the rebellion seems to have been his failure to claim the title of Baron Dacre of Gilsland after the death of his nephew, the fifth Lord Dacre. In the manoeuvrings before the rebellion took off, Leonard was sent a letter by one of his dependants, Richard Atkinson, telling him how to maintain the loyalty of the Dacre tenants in Cumberland, which included the excellent advice above about beef and beer.

12 cents! That's outrageous
Winston Smith buys an old prole a round of mild

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How to go a-wassailing

Wassail, wassail, all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree,
With the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee,
Drink to thee, drink to thee,
With the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.

The Wassailing Song

I am old enough to remember life before central heating, dears, when in December and January the Belling bed warmer, like a pink flying saucer, was our weapon against freezing sheets, and Jack Frost drew ice-portraits on the inside of the bedroom windows. But at least the trains and buses, when they ran, were heated: there’s a terrific (and too little known) Charles Dickens short story called The Holly Tree where he describes a traveller by horsedrawn coach setting out from the Peacock inn in late December London, early in the 19th century, when the weather was so bad there were blocks of ice in the Thames. Once the passenger was inside the coach, the ostlers piled straw around him up to his waist, as insulation, before sending him off north, a human haybox.

When Dickens’s traveller had arrived at the Peacock he “found everybody drinking hot purl, in self-preservation” – our predecessors being of the sensible opinion that no matter how blazing the fire you might be standing before, on a cold night there was still a requirement to warm the insides as well as the outsides. Purl was ale heated until almost boiling (never actually boil any hopped drink, the bitterness is likely to be  ramped up to an extremely unpleasant level) with a shot of gin, generally in the ration of 10 parts ale to one part spirits, and flavourings of the maker’s choice: usually something bitter, such as Roman wormwood (less powerful than “standard” wormwood), with perhaps orange peel, ginger and, by the middle of the 19th century at least, sugar.

Purl was just one of a family of flavoured, frequently hot ale drinks that kept Britons warm before central heating. Another was Wassail, taking its name from the medieval English drinkers’ salutation wæs hæil, “be healthy” or “be fortunate”. Wassail became particularly associated with the celebrations on Christmas Eve, Twelfth Night and New Year’s Eve, and better-off homes would have special wassail bowls from which the prepared drink was served. Jesus College, Oxford owns a huge silver-gilt Wassail bowl with a capacity of ten gallons, presented by Sir Watkyn Williams Wynn, the Welsh Jacobite politician, in 1732. This is the Jesus recipe for Wassail, in 1835 at least:

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Mr Du Boung the Brewer


Beer and great literature: they’re found together more often than you might think. One of the enormous benefits of the growing power of the internet is that it makes certain sorts of research almost trivially easy. Earlier this year the chaps at Beer Connoisseur magazine asked me to write a piece about breweries in novels. Before the intertubes this would have meant weeks of sitting in a good library surrounded by several small and growing hills of old books by great authors, each with pieces of paper sticking out that marked relevant passages. Today, Project Gutenberg has all the classics digitised, and the excellent Anacleto search engine makes finding key words in old literature simples.

Too simples, in fact: I ended up with more information than I could use. Big lumps had to be left out about some more Championship-level novelists so that we could feature the brewers and breweries that turn up in books by Premier League writers, such as Havisham’s Brewery in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, the Three Mariners, a home-brew pub mentioned in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, “a house in which the twelve-bushel strength was still religiously adhered to by the landlord in his ale”, and the sly reference to the Kronenbourg brewery in Henry James’s The American (the hero’s friend is mortally wounded in a duel by someone called Stanislas Kapp, “the son and heir of a rich brewer of Strasbourg”: the biggest brewery in Strasbourg, later known as the Kronenbourg brewery, was actually owned for centuries by a family called Hatt. Ho ho, Hank)
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