TCS Daily

Revolution a-Brewing

By Andrew Ian Dodge - August 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Earl's Court in London has seen many a famous rock and pop gig. Last week, the venue hosted the Great British Beer Festival, an event I visit every year to sample beers from all over the UK and beyond. But the GBBF is more than just a big beer-tasting party; it's a mass rebellion against the regulatory monsters the UK and EU have become.

While no one is throwing bottles, battling police or blowing things up, this great festival nevertheless rails against the current establishment. The GBBF represents everything the caring and sharing nanny-statists hate. It is a mostly male, mostly white, mostly straight and mostly rock type event. Men of all ages congregate with copious amounts of ale, lager, perry and cider. They drink exotic beers with names like Old Tom, Bishop's Finger and Old Nick, they consume meat pies of all sorts, pasties of various types, pork scratchings (the fat & skin of pork roasted), proper pub food and the classic Stilton-filled bulky rolls. Many of these bon vivants are smoking as well. If that is not bad enough the women who are there tend to be of the biker/rock-chick variety with lots of cleavage and leg showing, enjoying all the offerings of the festival as heartily as the men.

If this were not enough, while imbibing and eating, the beer enthusiasts can play pub games (there is a campaign to bring them back to more pubs), buy t-shirts that say things like "Oliver Reed Drinking Club" or "I ate all the pies" and watch rockers like the former members of Whitesnake and ELO perform.

Contrast this with the saga that is occurring in Edinburgh right now during the famous Comedy Festival. Mel Smith, who is set to play Churchill in a play, was contemplating rebelling against a ban on smoking in public places. He felt that Churchill without a cigar was ludicrous and not a reflection of the historical personality. He has reconsidered after the local council threatened to close the play down and revoke the venue's license permanently. Now the smoking ban has not kicked in England yet but this is a taste of what will happen if people rebel against the law.

The beer festival is also a statement of protest against imminent EU and British government efforts to crack down on alcohol consumption. Of course on the actual beer front those behind the UK's new alcohol units legislation might not have been so keen on the beer festival. One would be hard pressed to determine how many "units" one of was consuming at the beer festival due to the varying degree of beer strength and number types on sale at the venue. It goes without saying that none of the food on sale would be recommended by any nutritionist and much of it exceeded recommended daily salt and fat intake in one serving.

Within this drunken manly hedonism, there is a great sense of camaraderie and belonging. Generally when someone spills your pint, the same person will force you to accept another one. These are not fighting types. People chat to each other. Just being there is sufficient to create a bond. For the regulars, there is the recognition of familiar faces from previous years. To add to the fun, there are theme-days and many people make the effort to play along with them. Over the years, I have seen men dressed as wolves, Santa Claus in his pyjamas with cap, and women dressed as Rhine-maidens and various other odd get-ups.

The GGBF strikes me as the beer drinker's equivalent to the Party Conferences. Beer lovers get together every year for one big rally to express their love for their favorite tipple. And just like local Party Conferences, there are regional beer festivals in the lead-up to the big national event.

Oddly enough for such a large gathering, there are few politicians on hand. In fact, none could be seen wandering around or posing for photos with tipsy participants. There are no puff pieces in the press encouraging everyone to go down and experience the lifestyle of those who enjoy beer.

Beer drinkers don't hold marches or have demos in central London to get attention. They merely get together, enjoy themselves and let the rest of the world alone. Wouldn't it be nice if the regulators and teetotalers returned the favor?

Andrew Ian Dodge is a TCS Daily contributor.


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