Beer in the UK: an affair of heart or state?

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Habituellement consommée dans les Public Houses, qui comme leur nom l’indique ont pour vocation de réunir les gens, la bière est devenue au fil des siècles un véritable symbole populaire dont se servent parfois les politiciens pour faire campagne et se rapprocher du peuple.

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The oldest vestiges of brewing show that this activity was already practiced by Celtic tribes long before the Romans arrived in 54 BC. During the Middle Ages, beer was one of the most popular drinks because of its cleanliness (compared to water) and its high nutritional value. Thus, the per capita consumption of beer nearly reached 300 liters a year by the late Middle Ages. Nowadays, the most popular kind of British beer is bitter, a dark beverage served at room temperature. Since 1963, everyone can brew their own beer without a license, provided they don’t sell it.

Beer is indeed quite deeply rooted in British society, as evidenced by the importance of Public Houses in British social life and the organization of multiple dedicated events every year, like the British Craft Beer Challenge, which the best craft breweries from the UK compete.

There are over 60,000 pubs in the UK, including 53,000 in England alone. In pubs, groups of friends usually buy one another rounds of drinks, which are generally pints (about 1/2 liter). British people usually want their beer glass full to the brim. Each one pays for the others when it’s his turn. Young children are allowed in the pub if they are accompanied by a parent, which makes it possible for pubs to maintain their traditional role as number one popular meeting place.

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Beer has also a symbolic meaning that can be used in politics for example. It represents the brew of the people in contrast to whisky who is a more sophisticated drink. Every day UKIP’s controversial leader Nigel Farage is keen on proving he belongs to the people, so he never says no to an opportunity to be snapped drinking a beer in a pub and to denounce the government’s policy regarding pubs’ taxation. And it seems to work as he has won the nation’s European votes last week with his straight talk and his populism and popularity. Proving he is a “man’s man” is for him an opportunity to justify the criticisms he levels at the stereotypical politicians disconnected from their population. He wants to show he’s a man of the people and not a rich ex-City trader, even though he was a broker before turning to politics. David Cameron, on the other hand, prefers whisky, in keeping with his political mother Margaret Thatcher.

During a recent televised debate about Europe, Nick Clegg lambasted Nigel Farage‘s ”beer-swilling bonhomie” which, he said was just a “mask, slipping to reveal a nasty view of the world“. It is not the first time UKIP’s leader has been described as an alcoholic. However, sobriety does not always presage a great leader: while Churchill finished breakfast with a whisky and soda, Adolf Hitler was a teetotaller.

Indy DOUSSINET & Tommy LEVY-PAPE

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