Real Ale, beards and proletarians
Boak and Bailey those indefatigable beer writers recently sparked my interest and memory with some correspondence they had found in the (pre-Murdoch) Sunday Times regarding real ale, beards and class in the 1970s.
The late beer writer Ian Nairn had written something promoting real ale and CAMRA and one response claimed that beer was a working class drink and not for blokes with beards who sipped halves and blocked the way to the bar.
Those types are still around btw (that’s for another time) but the correspondent went on to suggest that working in the London docks when keg beer had been introduced nearly all in his local switched from cask beer.
Well, yes, and for the same reason that in my youthful drinking days in London a half pint of cask beer with a bottle of light ale (light and bitter) was a popular drink. The role of the light ale here was to make the cask beer drinkable.
The quality and condition of cask ale- despite Cask Marque- is not always great nowadays and in the 1970s it was, how shall we say, variable. Those who just like a beer (and why not?) want to get something they know will be drinkable rather than challenging. Whether Watney’s Red was drinkable is another matter. Given the fact that it hasn’t existed for many years perhaps history has provided a verdict.
CAMRA sought to challenge all this and to take on the big breweries who felt providing drinkable cask beer in their pubs was all a bit of a bother and keg was more profitable.
Did CAMRA members have beards? Well I certainly did, and I still do have. I think, as far, as the 1970s go, the inference is mainly that real drinkers were hippies with possibly rather left-wing views.
Well perhaps some were but the whole point of CAMRA was that beer was a drink that did not recognise distinctions of class (gender was unfortunately another matter and that is still work in progress) and just as now you can find men in suits at a beer festival (these days I’d probably be one) along with beards, so you could then as well.
The faux proletarians are still with us though. Just last week a letter writer to the Morning Star claimed CAMRA was to blame for pub closures because its campaigning had annoyed big breweries and went on to argue that pubs had become middle class places full of men with beards and buns.
My letter refuting this appeared a few days later….