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‘Where do I begin?/to tell the story of how great a love can be…’
By Laura Harmour
I can chart where my secret love of beer began. It was when my Royal Navy dad started giving me sips of his beer when I was a tot. The taste for beer matured deep in the cellars of my mind as I made my hearthside progress through tastes of whatever brew my dad happened to be drinking, plus my gran’s milk stout, through the streams of Babycham, sherry, snowballs, Stone’s Ginger Wine, Mateus Rosé, Cinzano Blanco, Liebfraumilch, and Blue Nun that came into our house every Christmas, before I graduated at about 16 to the pub fare of shandy, lager and lime, cider, Dubonnet & lemonade, gin & tonic and Bacardi & Coke.
I’m surprised I even made it to maturity.
But my real taste for beer as a teenager came on the back of my GP’s prescription to ‘eat chips, donuts and drink a pint of Guinness a day’, when I got too skinny following a bout of sickness. Two weeks later, I’d put on so much weight it took ten years to shift it. I looked like a beach ball with a perm, but the love of Guinness never left me.
Many years later, I discovered Abbott ale when on holiday in Suffolk. Then my love of beer ignited. But apart from the Guinness and Murphy’s when in Dublin, all my beer drinking was done at home. For I was a secret beer drinker.
By which I mean, I don’t do it publically, like a lot of other things I don’t do publically. Beer is never the first thing on my mind to order when I go to a pub or have a meal out. But it is pretty much always the first thing on my mind to buy when I go to the supermarket. I began to wonder why this might be.
I ran a short straw poll of some of my women friends. I’ve never seen any of them with a pint in their hands, although I’ve seen plenty of wine glasses. Maybe their condition was the same as mine.
‘The last time I was in a public house (last summer) said G, who is in her mid-sixties, ‘all I saw were women carrying pint glasses in one hand and a bottle of white wine in the other. Saves on frequent trips to the bar apparently. Mind you, this was in Croydon.’
I merely raised an eyebrow as it was difficult to know how to respond. Fortunately, G went on to expand on her liking for beer and lager, telling me her best ever experiences of drinking beer have been in Belgium, France and Germany. ‘The secret to ambrosial drinking of beer is in the glass in which it is served. A flute of Stella Artois, a Bollika of Leffe, a tumbler of Witte, a tankard of ale. The glass sets the mood and determines the taste.’ What she was really saying was, I felt, was she was most comfortable drinking beer beyond the white cliffs of Dover where British social mores did not apply.
L said she loved real ale but had got out of the habit of drinking it in recent years. As we’ve been hanging out for ten years, and I’ve not seen her lips hit a beer glass, it must have been some time since she last publically had a pint. She likes real ale ‘because it is smooth and not at all gassy’, an important factor at our age. Then she suggested we paid a visit to her local brewery, the Hogs Back Brewery near Guildford. I could tell that the old passion was resurfacing. No social conditioning in evidence here.
B, a dedicated wine drinker, never knowingly without a bottle in the fridge, said she’d ‘tasted’ beer. But ‘give me lager any day’. This was an interesting response, as over the last 30 years I’ve seen her knocking back red, white, , champagne, sparkling wine, coffee, tea, squash, hot chocolate and soup but have never seen her touch a drop of lager. When I mentioned that beer was becoming very fashionable for women to drink, B was flabbergasted ‘ No, really?? Are they mad? What’s wrong with good old Chardonnay?’
The very genteel M, who is in her mid-seventies, wears tea dresses and pearls on all occasions, and normally restricts herself to a small glass of wine for health reasons, said she had tried beer and stout, but ‘the smell lingers, as it is very pent’. It seemed that she, too, felt more comfortable drinking once beyond the shores of Blightly, as she told me that she did occasionally drink lager, especially when abroad in a very hot climate. ‘I always thought beer was only a man’s drink and my parents always thought of it that way’.
Then my mind flashed back to the days when my friend S would only ever drink pints when we went out, and just how unfeminine I’d thought that was at the time, clutching my Dubonnet and lemonade like a social life raft. And that’s why I was a secret beer drinker. I didn’t have the nerve to drink it in public. How pathetic. I’d allowed myself to be socially conditioned against the very thing I liked drinking best. No wonder my mind always goes blank when I am standing at a bar. I’ve been brainwashed.
I realized that I needed to break open the box of my social conditioning. Next summer, I am planning a barbeque, at which only beer and lager will be served. I want to see my friends with their hands around ice cold bottles of beer. Instead of taking bottles of wine to our social occasions, I shall take beer. When B is serving refreshments at her monthly book club gatherings, and says ‘who fancies a glass of wine?’ I shall say ‘I fancy some Guinness, which goes particularly well with this cake’. And I shall flourish Delia’s Chocolate Beer Cake. Then I can get two things I love into my mouth at the same time.
And when we go to restaurants, I shall only order beer. I shall order it loud and proud.