Say Cheers: The Language of Beer
The Drink that Talks
According to Wikipedia, “Beer is the world's oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea.” I’m not going to dispute those facts, or dwell on the technical details of beer such as the manufacturing process, the demographics of consumption or the pros and cons of alcohol in general. What I would like to talk about primarily is the Language of Beer -the phraseology, slang and odd voice of this most popular and ancient beverage. If the occasional fact enters into into my rambling, so much the better, but mostly, If I appear to be espousing bollocks , then please forgive me, as it is “only the beer talking”. See what I mean.
An Ale in Wales
A Swift Half my Arse
Right from the word go, beer casts a magic aura over the English language. When it comes to beer, people (By people I mean almost exclusively men, as beer is fundamentally a mysogenistic drink) stop telling the truth, often before they even start drinking the stuff. For example, a husband may tell his wife:
“Just ducking down to the pub for a swift half, my darling.”
Translation: A swift half = at least two pints!
The measurement of the quantity of beers consumed by an individual is completely out of sync with the reality. The following euphemisms, presented here in context, illustrate this point:
“I’m fine sweetheart, I only had a couple.”
In Britain, a couple is not two beers; it is always three, perhaps even three and a half.
How about this –
“ I am completely s-sober my love, I only had a few.”
For describing an approximate number of things, such as a group of people, ‘a few’ usually means three; for beer, ‘a few’ is at least four but more likely, five or six pints.
After the informal measurement of ‘a few’ there is generally no way of recalling exactly how many beers one has consumed, and consequently, honest admission of over-consumption must be made with confidence, panache and over-exaggeration as it is impossible to hide the fact that you are now drunk. The aim is to give the impression that you can drink infinite beers and still muster an apology.
“Sorry my dahhling, I have had a skinfull.”
A skinfull is quite a lot of beer but amongst beer drinkers is generally regarded as enough rather than too much. Shedloads is another unquantifiable amount of beer that one may proudly boast of drinking while still being vaguely compos mentis.
To Go on the Lash is to drink beer for several days in a row, non-stop, commencing each waking session with a Hair of the Dog (that bit you). Also known as Going on a Binge. At this point the beer drinker should consider seeking help.
Levels of Inebriation - Salty's definitive guide
Tipsy: Generally regarded by men as the maximum acceptable level of drunkeness for girls. Most men bypass tipsy and go straight to pissed.
Pissed: Pleasantly, happily drunk.
Pissed as a Fart: Pleasantly, happily, stupidly drunk.
Three Sheets to the Wind: Devil-may-care drunk, no turning back.
Hammered: Pretty bloody drunk.
Shit-faced: Extreme inebriation, talked about with pride for days to come, as in:
“Strueth, I was shit-faced last Friday night.”
Slaughtered: Same as above but with slightly less memory of the event.
Absolutely Paralytic, Legless, Dead Drunk:
These are the extremes. They are talked about by other people the following day. The absolutely paralytic, dead drunk, legless person may end up in A&E or the ‘drunk tank’ at this stage of drunkenness with no recollection whatsoever of the events that put them there. To reach this level usually involves the consumption of additional alcohol on top of Beer. Eight pints of Stella, a bottle of red wine and half a dozen whiskeys will see you legless.
Animal metaphors are sometimes used to describe how drunk a person is. I don't know why but they work:
Pissed as a Newt
Full as a Tick
Drunk as a Skunk
Levels of Inebriation
The Act of Drinking Beer
Beer and Food
Beer is a social drink, designed to be shared in the company of others, much like wine which is also a great accompaniment to food. Though beer has only recently become accepted as an accompaniment to the fine dining experience, there are foods that are beer specific. Please note that beer food in general is even more unhealthy than beer. Do Not try to live off beer food alone.
Traditional beer food:
Salted nuts, potato crisps, Pork Scratchings, Pickled Eggs, Curry, Kebab, Pizza
How to drink beer
Beer is consumed in a number of different ways, depending, for example, on how thirsty you are, how cold the beer is or how much "catching up" with your mates you need to do.
Sniffed and sipped: in a ‘savour the flavour’ manner. Beardies tend to drink like this.
Glugged thirstily: Followed by a burp and a big “ahhhh.” Usually manual workers on the first one of the day like to 'glug'.
Chug-a-lugged: that is,“downed in one.” If you are lagging behind in during a drinking session you may also hear someone say “Come on mate, Get it down ya, it’s your round.”
It is traditional to make a toast before the first mouthful of beer is consumed. Typical toasts can be:
Down the hatch
All the best
Here’s looking at you
The Nomenclature of Beer
Names of Beer
Beer goes gets called lots of things. here are some of the more colourful English or Australian names for beer.
A Pig’s Ear – Generic term for beer, derived from Cockney Rhyming Slang. As in:
“Hang on a tick Frank, I’ll just tell the trouble and strife that I’m off down to the rubbity dub with me China Plates for a couple of Pig’s ears.”
( Trans: “Wait a minute Frank, I’ll just tell my wife that I’m going to the pub with my mates for at least four pints.”)
Amber Nectar – Australian term originally referring to Fosters Lager which is the one Australian beer that you will be hard pressed to find Australians actually drinking, being as it is often classed as ‘Gnat’s Piss.’
Gnat's Piss – A generic term for weak, flavourless beer, often applied to mass-produced American Beers and 3% Carling.
Lager – A beer produced by a particular type of brewing process. As opposed to Real Ale. Warning: Lager must always be served ICY COLD - no exceptions - otherwise, it tastes like Gnat's Piss.
Real Ale – Flavoursome English beer type, served at cellar/room temperature. Often referred to by Australians as “Warm Pommie Piss.”
Piss: You know by now that Piss means beer. "To go on the Piss." or "Piss your pay cheque up against the wall."
Neck Oil – Special lubricant for loosening the vocal chords
A Cleanser – the first beer you have after drinking red wine for half the night. The ‘Cleanser’, Usually an icy cold lager, is as refreshing as a cold shower on a hot day.
Bitter – A type of ale, often gassy, like lager, but can also be flat and non-gassy like real ale.
Beer Mixes and Beer-like Drinks
Shandy – Half lemonade, half beer, a drink for the Ladies.
Snakebite – A half beer, half cider mix. Extremely potent, causes violence; banned since the 1980s in most English pubs. The ultimate snakebite is a combination of Stella Artois (5.2%Alc) and White Lightening Cider (10% Alc). Serious!
Snakebite and Black – Same as above with a dash of blackcurrent cordial – for the girls.
Lager Tops – An absolutely pointless drink: a pint of lager with a dash of lemonade on top, but why? Favourite amongst hard-nosed, hooded working class British males, but why?
Half & Half – half a pint of lager with half a pint of bitter, again why? (See below).
Abbott & Stella – Named after the famous comedy duo, there is nothing funny about this: half a pint of Abbott Ale (5% alc) and half a pint of Stella Artois (5.2%). Similar to a Snakebite but so seldom ordered that it is not yet illegal.
Special Brew – The ultimate lager. It comes in a gold can and a brown paper bag, is cheap and very strong. It is the beer of choice for homeless guys and heroin or crack cocaine users, among others.
Guinness – Is it beer? Is it food? Is it good? I say ‘probably’, to the first two questions and ‘yes’ to the last.
Books about Beer
The must have handbook for British beer drinkers
Out every year - another must have for local and tourist alike
Some Famous Beer brands
Stella Artois: Belgian Lager with a serious alcohol content. Regularly voted most popular beer worldwide. Also known in England as 'wife beater'.
Heineken: Dutch masterpiece lager. In Holland, it is served in a ridiculously small glass, three quarters of which is a foam head which is swished away with a stick by the barman. Down it and buy another, and another, another etc.
XXXX: Classic Aussie lager, not a particularly good beer, but a great name and excellent marketing make it iconic.
Bud: Friendly, watery American Lager, not to be confused with proper Budwieser from Yurp.
Abbot Ale: A 5% alc English real ale with hallucinogenic properties (this claim is based solely on the fact that I once rearranged the furniture in my Mother-in Law’s dining room late one night after a five pint Abbott Ale session and woke in the morning with no recollection whatsoever of even being married.)
English Real Ale
A vast selection of types and flavours with an enormous array of colourful names. There are too many cute names to mention but here are a few:
Old Peculiar, Head Cracker, Bishop’s Finger, Wags to Witches, Bumblethwacker, Beer O’Clock, Great Cock-up, Nelson’s Revenge... you get the idea.
Real ale is the beer of choice for men over 40, men with beards (Beardies), folkies, Morris Dancers, fox hunters and pirates.
Imagine a giant marquee, a huge medieval hall or a large modern conference centre. Set up ascaffolding that holds dozens, even hundreds of different real ale varieties in steel barrels; put a live skiffle band in the corner then sell tokens and a 'free' glass to thousands of mostly men over a period of three days or until the beer runs out. This my friends is a beer festival in England; think Oktoberfest with beards.
One for the Road
The Properties of Beer
Beer has three main properties:
1. It gets you drunk
2. It makes you pee*
3. It can be used to attract and drown snails if poured into a bowl in the garden.
*There is an entire vocabulary devoted to the act of urinating during beer drinking. For example: Going for a slash; Breaking the seal (First one of the session); Powder one’s nose (for women); Running a bath (for the wee that never wants to end).
Other facts about beer:
1. Beer has a reputation for helping ugly people to get laid.
2. Beer can cheer you up, but, as the old saying goes:
"If you think the bottom is falling out of your world then drink beer and the world will fall out of your bottom."
Practical uses of Beer (besides drowning snails):
In Britain, many people go out at night in the middle of winter often wearing only shirt sleeves. That is because they know they will be warm coming home as they will have acquired a “beer coat” after 12 pints.
For the discerning drinker “on the pull,” (that is, looking for sexual companionship) beer also has the ability to furnish the drinker with “beer goggles,” an imaginary set of rose tinted spectacles that makes every member of the opposite sex look gorgeous.
The last drop
As you can see beer is not just a drink, it is a social communion with its own peculiar language. My study of this language is far from scientific, based more on anecdotal evidence and personal experience than academic inquiry. That depth of analysis I will leave to the “bearded ones”, meanwhile, I’m off down the boozer for a swift half.
A City of Ale?
Such a place does exist. Norwich, a small city in the east of England, is a City of Ale. It is famous for having a church for every week of the year and a pub for every day. Although there are now less than 150 pubs remaining in the city, a couple of the churches have been deconsecrated and turned into bars - beer as a religion. The City of Ale Festival is a celebration of Norwich's love of Real Ale.