Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

What Beer Drinking Can Teach You!

September 2, 2010 · 4 Comments

In England, I have discovered beer to be an appropriate beverage for any time, place, or person. It can be a drink of the everyman and a drink of the aristocrat, a refreshing drink for the conservative manual worker or the Avant-garde intellectual. In my first week in London, I have had beer in so many different contexts that I am now convinced of this fact.

At the Notting Hill Carnival, London’s yearly Afro-Caribbean festival, Red Stripe (a popular Jamaican beer) was the name of the game. Jamaica, similar to former British colonies across the Caribbean, contributed a lot to British culture, including its own style of Britain’s favorite beverage. It seems that where the British once had power, breweries became an essential craft. In this way, the exportation of beer and the making of international beer culture appears to have colonialism to thank.

Colonialism wasn’t that only “ism” that beer has exposed me to this week. The British Museum, one of the world’s most important cultural institutions, has been a place of study for intellectuals since its creation at the end of the 18th century. When these intellectuals were not studying however, I have read that many of them would go across the street from the museum to the Museum Tavern for a pint. After a few intellectually stimulating hours in the museum, we made our way across the street to the tavern. The décor was similar to all other pubs we had visited but this one seemed a bit more authentically 19th century. This feeling was only enhanced by a pint of very delicious ale called “Old Peculiar.” What really struck me about the drinking in this particular pub was knowing that somewhere in that very room Lenin and Trotsky had sat and contemplated ways to liberate the peasants of Russia, or that Marx had sat with a pint after the long days spent writing Das Kapital across the street. Just as beer played a part in British imperialism, so too was beer present in the forefront of intellectualism in Britain.

Classism is also a British cultural topic demonstrated by beer. As iterated by Kate Fox in her book, Watching the English, your choice of beer/beverage can say a lot about a person’s social class. The bartenders and the English people in the pub expect certain people to buy certain drinks and my choice of beer could break unwritten social rules and earn me a liberal amount of strange looks. I have seen this first hand when ordering a half pint of cider (to protect my standing in British society, I must add that this was done for a lady).

Imperialism, Intellectualism, and Classism. All three of these British “isms” are cultural concepts that are literally seeped in beer.

Categories: 2010 MatthewG · Pubs · Uncategorized

4 responses so far ↓

  •   mikey // Sep 2nd 2010 at 18:34

    Interesting article Matthew. Nice to see myself featured in the picture. The casual, mid-day beer seems to be seen very differently here in England than in the States. Smelling like beer in the middle of the afternoon is a warning sign in the US, while here it seems to be a part of life. Btw, the three ‘isms’ are figuratively seeped in beer.

  •   bowmanc // Sep 2nd 2010 at 19:37

    I like this post quite a bit, and would like to potentially see “xenophobia-ism” – I’ve personally experienced quite a few negative stares upon entering a pub, and was even, though rather indirectly, asked to leave. There is also a general uncomfortableness in many pubs’ atmospheres though this may simply be Fox’s “social dis-ease.”

    I think it would also be interesting to look into the varying relationship between Irish and English, and the prevalence of stouts and irish brews in the pubs (i.e. go back to the era of bloody sunday and try to discover how many Guiness taps were in pubs, though this may be impossible).

  •   maryc // Sep 3rd 2010 at 02:21

    I like your analysis of English pubs here, Matt. And I agree, you (or others) could included more ‘isms,’ if you wanted.

    Also, from now on perhaps you could observe each pub you visit and note how each relates to your conclusion. You could compare the pubs and how closely they relate to your observation that pubs are a microcosm of English imperialism, intellectualism, and classism.

  •   jamie // Sep 3rd 2010 at 16:33

    I like your analysis of beer and its role within British society. However, do you really think its the beer that taught you all these “isms” about the Brits or the people that taught you that? Because to be honest you could find beers, wine, and pub all around the world and you won’t necessarily find all these “isms” there.

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