I went out for a drink last night with a friend of mine. I picked her up in my van and we drove to a little village pub. We bumped into an old acquaintance of hers, who was an interesting guy, and had a good social evening. I’ve never liked driving to pubs in the past. I’ve never felt comfortable drinking while knowing I have to drive afterwards, but I care less and less for alcohol and find that it more and more interferes with a way of health and my mission to heal this body of mine, so I didn’t mind driving last night. This leaves me with a dilemma though. There is only so long you can make the one pint last that ensures you definitely stay below the moral and legal limit of alcohol for driving and yet how do you partake in the activity of social drinking without beer?
I’m a real ale drinker and, although I can enjoy a glass of red wine, I wouldn’t entertain any other drinks in the pub. Grains have been brewed for time immemorial to produce wonderful health giving drinks and our traditional English ales are still served as live beers, full of those friendly bacteria from the fermentation culturing of malted barley grains, so good for our bodies. I am quite convinced that the regular consumption of real ale has contributed to the good health I have normally enjoyed over the years. The damage I have struggled with from accidents being another story altogether. For the last twenty one years I have had a supra-pubic catheter (a tube inserted straight into the bladder just above the pubic bone) as I have not been able to control my bladder since suffering a spinal injury. Last year I was struggling with complications due to my injury and following an operation in hospital I got a urine infection, the only one I have ever had. My doctor was very surprised that, having been catheterized all these years, I had never had a urine infection before and told me to carry on with whatever I had been doing to live infection free for so long. My health has now recovered from last years setback and I am sure that flushing my body through with health giving real ale will happily help keep any potential infection at bay for years to come, the only trouble being that I enjoy the thirst quenching beer but want only limited amounts of alcohol.
The culturing of grains, fruits and roots is an age old craft. Yeast fermentation produces alcohol but there is another fermentation process, that of ‘lacto-fermentation’. This is an anaerobic fermentation that turns sugars into lactic acid and is actually where soft drinks began. Dandelion and burdock was originally a drink made by lacto-fermenting the roots and this is just one of many traditional lacto-fermented sodas. Unfortunately, live fermented sodas, with all their wonderful health giving properties, did not lend well to the large scale centralized production of an industrial age and so our soft drinks were corrupted by the application of science and technology in the pursuit of profit. What were once live health giving drinks became dead sugary carbonated drinks that subtract from our health. Neither has beer been immune from the rigours of an industrial age. Traditional live real ale has clung on but most lagers and keg bitters, together with ciders, are pasteurised and carbonated to ensure a regular product that keeps longer and travels further. These too are devoid of their once health giving properties.
Lacto-fermentation is experiencing a revival but as yet this is only in small circles and is a long way from becoming a national trend. I believe that as we move towards a more local way of living we will see such drinks return to our pubs, but it would be a wild dream to think that this is going to happen any time soon. We could, however, have weaker real ales. Some years ago I remember a small local brewery brewing a beer with 2.8 percent alcohol. It was lovely to be able to have a thirst quenching drink at lunchtime without the alcohol clouding the afternoon’s work. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect breweries to produce beer as low as 2 percent while still retaining depth of flavour and this brings me on to how this could help revive a social way in this land.
I have been a frequenter of pubs since my sixteenth birthday and am old enough to have caught the tail end of our civilization when public houses were the social hubs of our communities. They were adult establishments, often largely male and very oriented towards beer. Those that frequented them were patrons and in your local you tended to know most of them. I have always regarded a local pub as an extension of my living room; communal houses. These days it is very different. I can go down to my local pub and find myself sitting on my own with no one to talk to. There may be plenty of people, but they tend to be sitting with the select group they entered the pub with. Pubs have lost their sense of social cohesion. This is partly due to the changing nature of man; we have all become so much the individuals within us, but I believe it is also due to society’s approach to what a pub is. Every aspect of life has slowly but surely been monetised and we can’t suddenly move away from that, but where money, that great driving force behind the building of civilization, was once the facilitator of a social way of public houses, our pubs have now become businesses managed in the pursuit of profit. Where once we were patrons now we are customers. Social cohesion does not fit into the business model and rather then money facilitating, it has become the high price of drinks that keeps many out of the pubs.
I never think we should stand in the way of change, but we must always ensure that change is taking us in the right direction. That adult male drinking culture that went hand in hand with a hard working industrial society had to evolve into a more family friendly social way, but instead of evolving we just seem to be losing our social way of pubs. One in three have closed since the 1970’s and many that are left have become virtually restaurants. With the decline of our pubs, and their persistence with strong alcohol, I am in danger of finding myself socially excluded. Of course I can evolve, but I don’t think I am alone in feeling the desire to be able to pop down to my local pub and enter into a social way with other members of the local community and in so doing have a health giving drink at a price I can afford.
Beer needs to be ‘Cheap and Weak’. If it is live beer brewed at 2 percent and reclassified as a health drink then any taxation as a drug will disappear. We could all afford to re-engage in social drinking and have a few pints and still be safe and legal to drive. Money will start to flow over the bars in our local pubs again and they won’t feel the need for ever more fanciful titles in the food menu, nor will it stop the sale of strong alcohol for those wishing to indulge. So raise a glass to a new era of social drinking. Cheers!