That’s the opening to many jokes and stories – although maybe it resonates with us less these days as, by and large, our experiences of pubs are different from, and certainly fewer and further between than they were during the heyday of the club comedians with whom these jokes are associated. Anyway, that’s a topic for another time…the phrase is also the title of a book that was part of my holiday reading during our recent trip to Cyprus (the beery elements of which are described in Island Life). It is by Pete Brown, a regular writer on beer matters for newspapers and magazines, and author of a couple more books that I haven’t yet read (but I promise I will). You can find a link to his blog in the Other Beer Blogs section in the right-hand panel of this web site.
The book is subtitled “A Sociable History of Beer”, and that is what it is – something of a helter-skelter ride through the history of beer and pubs, from the earliest known references to something resembling beer up to the present day (well almost – more on that later). The fact that it covers a lot of ground doesn’t mean that it is in any way superficial – it charts the major milestones in the history of beer, and puts them in the context of national, international and cultural events. It weaves a very interesting story of how beer and pubs came to be what they are today, and includes some fascinating, tragic and hilarious episodes along the way. Brown used to be an advertising executive working on brewery accounts, and his insights into how advertising and the media have affected our relationships with beer and pubs is, for me, one of the most interesting parts of the story.
Pete Brown’s prose style takes a bit of getting used to; the approach is often a bit “laddish”, and the large number of footnotes, some of which are totally banal, are a bit annoying, but in the end I found it to be one of those rare books that is so compelling that I found myself rationing myself to a few pages at a time, to ensure that I absorbed everything and got it into context. One of the reasons I started this web site was to give me the impetus to learn more about beer, and being in the position of a non-expert, I found this book gave me an excellent overview of the subject and a thirst (appropriately) for more knowledge – I would definitely recommend this book. As mentioned above, when you get to the end the story is not quite complete. The book was originally published in 2003, and since then there have been a number of factors that have influenced our drinking habits – not least, of course, the smoking ban in pubs. I suspect that there will be an updated edition at some point, but don’t let that put you off reading it now.
Available from Amazon: Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer