British beer mat

Last weekend my good lady and myself decided to go out for a spot of liquid refreshment. Our choice of venue was not our usual local but the newly refurbished back bar of the Salisbury Arms Hotel in the middle of town. The new decor is exceptionally pleasing to the eye as is the general ambience of the place which one might expect of an establishment that has been there in one form or another since the fifteenth century, maybe earlier.

I brought over my wife’s glass of chilled Australian Chardonnay and my pint of locally brewed bitter. You expect to get a full pint these days and not a couple of inches of froth which some entertainment groups insist is an integral part of the beer. Once settled the froth disappears leaving you a couple of pence short of a full pint. Not so today. A full pint; but the excess froth spilled over the rim of the glass and on to the freshly polished wooden table.

There’s nothing else one can do but return to the bar for a large towel, wipe the table and stand the pint in the towel to clear any excess.

Whatever happened to the British beer mat?

Sometime in the 1980’s the bureaucrats in Europe deemed them unhealthy and positively unhygienic in a very typically British sort of way. They were banned in favour of bar top drip trays and towels. It is not quite the same; the glass does not always stand still on the table and any spillages however small continue to make little pools on the surface on which to sail crisp boats and explain the new off side rule by using the beer to draw lines and players.

Beer mats did not just exist to mop up light excesses of beer from the undersides of glasses or to steady a pint in the middle of a slop confusion. They had other practical uses as well. Folded into squares they balanced lop sided tables, this preventing more spillage. They were instant note pads on which to scribble phone numbers to young ladies you had just met, and just as soon forgotten as I recall. Once completed sodden with stale beer it gave you something to do whilst your mate was at the bar buying another round by slowly tearing off the pattern.

Beer mats were often colourful with attractive designs and each brewery was properly proud of its art work. So much so that beer mats were very collectable. Students decorated ceilings with them, or even whole walls and real aficionados joined clubs to swap doubles and gain rare issues. Beer mat collectors are called tegestologists. A little like stamp collecting but with the added premium of having to consume at least a modicum of alcohol to be able to enjoy the hobby properly.

In a typical working class environment old men had their own glass or more likely insisted on keeping and drinking from the first glass they got with their first pint. The glass lasted all evening. They did not want a freshly washed and polished glass from the newly installed glass washing machine. Not so these days. You surrender your empty pint glass at the bar and are given a new one. Its the law, says the bar man, or woman. Its Health and Hygiene they say. You are not allowed to place a dirty glass – by which they mean the one that you have been drinking out of – against the tap of the beer pump in case you have some transmittable disease that you will pass on to every other person who drinks that particular beer.

On the other hand many thoughtful and traditional landlords would place plates of nuts, cheese squares speared with pineapple cubes or shell fish or other attractive nibbles on the bar, especially on Sunday lunchtimes for his regulars to enjoy as an appetiser before returning home for the Sunday roast. It was not until it was pointed out that a hundred or so little fingers that had been dipping around in the aforementioned delicacies had all at one time visited the toilets that little treats are no longer visible or even freely available on the bar.

To contact John Barber: moc.r1508745785ebrab1508745785nhoj@1508745785tcatn1508745785oc1508745785