Regency,  Research

Beer, glorious beer!

Alfie Dolittle, who sings this in MY FAIR LADY, definitely would have agreed with Cobbett’s analysis of why beer is better than tea.

Put it to the test with a lean hog: give him the fifteen bushels of malt, and he will repay you in ten score of bacon or thereabouts. But give him the 730 tea messes, or rather begin to give them to him, and give him nothing else, and he is dead with hunger, and bequeaths you his skeleton, at the end of about seven days.

Proof positive. At least, that beer can fatten you like a hog. Did we really need Mr. Cobbett to tell us that?

I used to be exclusively a wine drinker, but I fell in love with English ale during the three years my husband and I were on international assignment in England. The first time we walked across the road to the Fox and Hounds, our neighborhood pub in Funtington, West Sussex, my husband ordered a pint of Ruddles Best Bitter. Intrigued by the deep color, I took a sip. He had to order himself another. Some time after that, we joined the Campaign for Real Ale and used their Good Beer Guide and Good Pub Food Guide to help us plan our weekend excursions.

Now I no longer have any excuse for the mistake of having a Regency hero dash angrily into a pub and order lager. (I cringe a little when I read such scenes, but won’t go as far as book-flinging.) During the Regency, they would have drunk “real ale”. Here’s CAMRA’s definition:

Real ale is beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.

Real ale is also known as ‘cask-conditioned beer’, ‘real cask ale’, ‘real beer’ and ‘naturally conditioned beer’.

Here are a few of the terms to describe varieties and styles of real ale:

  • bitters: well-hopped, copper-coloured, stronger versions are called “best” or “special”
  • pale ales: premium bitters that are not pale, just lighter than brown ales
  • India Pale Ale: pale ales adapted for transport to India, stronger, more heavily hopped
  • brown ale: reddish-brown to dark brown, somewhat sweet
  • mild: usually dark brown, lightly hopped
  • stout: extra-dark, almost black, strong flavored
  • porter: also dark, but lighter-bodied than stout.

Here’s one of my favorites: Morland’s Old Speckled Hen (the website explains how this ale was named). Fortunately for me, it is not impossible to find on this side of the pond.

Have you tried real ales? If so, what are your favorites? If not, it’s worth trying if only to better one’s understanding of Regency beverages. Anything for research, I say. 🙂

Elena, beer connoisseur and tea slut, hoping Cara will not cut my acquaintance 🙂

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee

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Cara King
16 years ago

Cara adores your acquaintance, Elena, as well as your expertise.

I admit to being a wimp. I never much liked beer. In my college days, I got so I could drink an ordinary beer (though it was never my beverage of choice), but even non-real English bitter was too much for me. 🙂 When in the US, I preferred wine; when in the UK, I much preferred cider. (Dry cider. For some reason I find it much easier to drink than sweet cider.)

But then I developed a stupid wine allergy, or some such thing. And I’ve never found anywhere in the US that sells cider. So I basically don’t drink anymore. Which means any hope I ever had of improving my tastebuds until they could appreciate real ale is pretty much gone by now.

Psychologically, politically, and artistically, though, I support real ale. 🙂

Tea Drinker Extraordinaire

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

I also LOVE cider! There is a “pub” near here that serves both apple and pear, and they’re addictive. But I’m also a huge Guiness fan (other than that, not much into beer…)

A wine allergy??? How horrible, Cara!

Margaret Evans Porter
16 years ago

I’m an Old Speckled Hen fan as well, I turned my husband on to it and now it’s his top choice.

But mostly I’m a cider drinker, and perry when I can get it. I prefer non-commercial stuff, brewed deep in the wilds of Devon. But mostly I must make do with Scrumpy Jack and Blackthorn.

Cara King
16 years ago

I love cider so much that in my first (unpublished) Regency I had a reference to the daughter of a wealthy local cider brewer… Unfortunately, when I later read up on cider brewing, I found that was quite incorrect! Apparently back then they only brewed cider in smaller quantities for immediate use — they didn’t know yet how to keep it from spoiling. Darn!

And as for the wine — I get migraines from wine. So unfair. (And wine vinegar too. And Cheetos!!!! And Doritos!!!!!!! You’d think I’d be totally skinny, wouldn’t you????) 🙂


16 years ago

There is a British restaurant/pub near us that serves a variety of beers and ales (and ciders), but I doubt any of them are Real Ale.

When we lived in England, I did sample various of the real ales on offer. I enjoyed them, but I’ve never really been that much of a beer drinker. I guess I prefer cider as well. 🙂 I was constantly amazed, though, at some of my colleagues who drank a pint with lunch every day (and a British pint is larger than its US equivalent). If I did that, my productivity in the afternoon would drop to, let’s see now, roughly zero.

I also thought it was kind of amusing to have a Campaign for Real Ale. But, hey, why not–real ale is on the list of inalienable human rights, isn’t it?


Elena Greene
16 years ago

The Campaign for Real Ale is a lobby group concerned about the effects of big business conglomerates taking over regional breweries and traditional pubs. Picture Coca-cola taking over the village pub and you get the idea…

A few of their goals (from their website):
Support the public house as a focus of community life
Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of our national heritage and culture

All good causes, which is why my husband and I are still members.

Also, their Good Beer Guide and Good Pub Food guide have great recommendations of pubs to visit while touring around the UK. The sorts of places reached by driving down a twisty road between high hedgerows, and just when you think you are getting nowhere, you find a cozy pub where you can sit by the fire and enjoy great food and ale. Sigh…

Elena, wishing she could go back right now

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Sorry if I sounded preachy there!

My husband and I are still mourning the recent closure of Gale’s, a brewery near where we lived. Their Horndean Special Bitter was another of our favorites.

Elena 🙁

16 years ago


You can preach to me any day. In fact, I am setting off right now to storm the bastions of Coors Brewery. Down with them! Up with microbrews! And with nanobrews, while we’re at it!


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