A curious article in the Daily Telegraph suggests that Beer, instead of being drunk in pints in a pub, should be drunk with food, like wine. Whilst the subject of the article, a ‘beer sommelier’ sounds rather pretentious, the idea was immediately attacked, with a good deal of humour, in the newspapers opinion column.
However, despite what the paper said, instead of being a very new concept, the idea of drinking high quality beer in small glasses with food is actually an old one. I own a small, late eighteenth century glass, it is slightly larger than contemporary wine glasses and is clearly a beer glass. The reason I know it is a beer glass is the engraving. On one side is a sprig of barley, on the other a bunch of hops, the principle ingredients of beer.
Hops & Barley
I have, of course, tried drinking a good quality beer out of the glass, and it tastes very nice indeed, especially as one is almost forced by the size of the glass to sip the brew. This is one historical reconstruction I am happy to try (unlike the reconstruction I described in an earlier blog). These would, perhaps, have been used by a landowner who was proud of the beer produced on his estate, to try and give a Jane Austen link, I can easily imagine Mr Knightley being proud of the good beer produced on the Donwell estate, showing it off to his neighbour Mr Weston (who we know enjoyed ‘good wine’) or discussing its manufacture with Robert Martin, the young farmer interested in agricultural improvements.
Good quality beer has a long history;
Turkeys, Heresy, Hops and Beer
Came into England all in one year
Goes the old rhyme, remembering the introduction of hops as a flavouring for beer in the early sixteenth century. Then towards the end of the century a remarkable discovery was made. Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral was a keen fisherman. One day he decided to go fishing and packed a picnic, for drink he took a couple of bottles and filled them with beer. At the time beer was kept in barrels, whilst bottles were only used for bringing drink from the cellar to the table. To make sure the drink didn’t get spilt he pushed a cork firmly in the neck and tied it down. Walking the short distance along the banks of the Thames from St Paul’s into the countryside he paced the bottles under a hedge to keep them cool. He had very good sport that day and forgot about his beer.
A week or so later he returned to his fishing spot, and found the bottles. Curious to see what the beer tasted like after having been left of so long, he opened one bottle and tried it, it was amazing, it was light and sparkling. He had discovered bottled beer! As a good renaissance man he experimented and soon had discovered how to make this delightful, refreshing drink. A generation later a Herefordshire gentleman tried the same experiment with wine, the newly formed Royal Society published his discovery, it was translated into French, who then claimed sparkling wine was their discovery.
It was another clergyman who made a key invention in the enjoyment of good wine and beer, the corkscrew. Based on the screw used to clean out a musket, the corkscrew was perhaps the finest example of turning a sword into a ploughshare.