You expect to get a full pint these days and not topped with a couple of inches of froth which some newly formed Pubco’s insist is an integral part of the beer. Sometimes the excess froth spills on to the freshly polished wooden table, with not a beer mat in sight.
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. At one time in the distant past every pub provided beer mats on every table to prevent such occurrences.
Sometime in the 1980’s the bureaucrats in Europe deemed beer mats unhealthy and positively unhygienic in a very typically un-British sort of way. They were banned in favour of drip trays and towels on the bar but nothing at all on the tables set for drinking.
It is not quite the same; the glass does not always stand still on the table. Any spillages however small continue to make little pools on the surface on which to sail crisp boats; or explain the new off side rule.
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 an accidental spillage. They had other practical uses as well. Folded into squares they balanced lop sided tables, thus preventing more spillage. They were instant note pads on which to exchange phone numbers with young ladies you had just met. Once completely sodden with stale beer you could peel off the paper pattern from the cardboard base whilst your mate was at the bar buying another round.
An interesting fact I just read in the latest edition of Pints of View – the Camra South Herts newsletter – that beer mats were originally placed on top of the glass and not under it. This was because pubs were often dirty and the beer mat prevented debris giving an unwanted flavour to the pint.
The article also has an interesting story of flying beer mats; or being used as frisbees
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.
The unhygienic beer glass
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.
These days you surrender your empty pint glass at the bar and are given a new one. It’s 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 ghastly transmittable disease that you will pass on to every other person who drinks that particular beer.
On Sunday lunchtimes in years gone by many thoughtful and traditional landlords would place plates of nuts, or cheese squares speared with pineapple cubes or other attractive nibbles on the bar. These were for his regulars to enjoy as an appetiser before returning home for the Sunday roast.
It was pointed out that the fingers that were now fishing around in the aforementioned delicacies had all at one time visited the toilets. So, those little treats are no longer freely available on the bar. Health and Safety will always win in the end.
For home use this Set of 3 snack bowls made from 100% Beech Wood from Amazon may be so much better.
This page and more in a similar vein comes from a collection in my eBook. So! You want to be British . Further selection of articles: British beer mats – Billy Bunter – Desperate Dan – Gladys Leap – British Seaside Holidays – Slang terms in pre-decimal currency – The Mousetrap – Tiddlywinks