A very un-British pastime – celebrating success
Defining ‘British-ness’ is a surprisingly problematic conundrum. In reality, this is because the British character is, in many ways, a hugely conflicted soul. On the one hand, collectively, we are a tolerant and immensely proud nation, resourceful and surprisingly creative. But on the other, we lack a little self-confidence, a trait that manifests in our inherently reserved nature, our tendency towards self-deprecation, sarcasm and our bewildering but consistent celebration of glorious failure.
Our rich history bears the inedible evidence of all of these traits. For a small island nation our influence on the World, when you take a step back to think about it, has been staggering. From language, institutional, educational and legal frameworks to the huge swathe of inventions that kick-started the Industrial Revolution, evidence of our enduring presence and contribution is everywhere you look. I love the fact that it’s not just the big and important things too. Our esoteric nature is reflected in simple but remarkably popular creations that have spread from these shores, such as the reflective cat’s eyes on roads, the first adhesive stamp, the crossword puzzle and even the dimples on a golf ball. Best not mention the Sinclair C5 though...
Equally pertinent though is our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Our landscape is littered with the decline of once proud industries. We invented the television but now not a single set is produced in this country. Over 80 motorcycle manufacturers once existed in the UK, now we are reduced to just memorabilia production. I could go on. The point being that far from capitalising on our creative heart, our lack of ruthlessness and drive and have often allowed other nations to derive the bulk of the economic benefit from our innovations.
But that is why, despite the barriers put in its way, British real ale is such a remarkable success story. Beer was not invented here; that so the historians tell me, happened in Ancient Egypt. We didn’t even refine the true skills of the brewers’ art; that was largely accomplished by the friendly Monks of Northern Europe. But what we have done is take this enviable raw material and transform it into a uniquely British but globally respected product.
The encouraging thing is that, with regards to beer, we have been handed a fortutiously unique endowment that, rapacious government taxes aside, should help protect it against the corroding forces that have befallen other industries. Our climate and our water table our perfectly suited to producing high quality, consistent and tremendously flavourful real ale. Our wide variety of indigenous hops ensure a tremendous breadth of styles both preserving the traditional brews and stimulating experimentation and new interpretations. Last but not least we have the amazing heritage, culture and comfort of the traditional British pub to sip, reflect and enjoy this remarkable product.
The cask ale industry has literally never been in a better position than it is now. Microbreweries are flourishing throughout the country and producing a fantastic variety of hugely enjoyable beers for us to imbibe. Already, since we started Perfect Pint just over one month ago, another thirty breweries have opened taking the total to in excess of 900. This in itself is helping nurture a flourishing ecosystem of suppliers, product and training infrastructure which not only sustains the ravishing thirst of expectant punters, but creates jobs and contributes much needed tax revenues in these austere times. Let us hope that the beer duty escalator, creeping ‘localism’ regulations or an over-zealous temperance brigade do not impinge any further than they have done in seeking to suppress this remarkably vibrant industry.
It is another traditional British trait to consistently complain. Ironically, because of our inherent conservatism, we are not very good at it. But let’s for once suppress this characteristic and instead celebrate success with a pint of our national drink. I am heading down the pub right now so do exactly that and encourage you all to do the same. Only when I get back am I going to watch us drop the relay baton yet again and have a good old moan about the weather. One step at a time.......