It may have escaped your attention, but there was a rather large wedding going on today. Unless you have just returned from a trip to the moon or spent the last few weeks in a remote cave, this is unlikely, however.
A royal wedding is always going to result in a huge fuss. The media, of course, go crazy, analysing every last detail. The general public seem less enthusiastic this time though: in the run up to the big day the overwhelming feeling seemed to range somewhere between apathy and down-right hostility.
I am not entirely convinced this feeling is genuine: last night the telly was full of images of people lining the streets outside Westminster Abbey; some had been camped out for days to get a good spot so clearly some people are enthusiastic. Also, the supermarket this morning was all but deserted. It could be that all the people who usually throng the supermarket on a bank holiday Friday had all decided en-mass to boycott the place, but it seems more likely that they were at home glued to their tellies.
The fact that I was in the supermarket shows that my interest in the event is limited. I am not, however, a militant anti-royalist. I am generally a bit ambivalent on the subject: on the one hand I can’t help feeling that the whole royal thing is costly, out-moded and faintly ridiculous. On the other hand, I like the history and tradition and I recognise that it sets Britain apart and is good for tourism.
My view of the royals did take a bit of a dip last week, however, when I read that, according to the Daily Mail, “Prince William and Kate Middleton have banned beer from their Wedding reception” because “It is thought that guests knocking back pints of ale was considered rather unseemly for such a regal affair.”
Unseemly? What a bleedin’ cheek! Of course, they can choose to have whatever they want at their wedding, but what a nasty, snooty, snobby attitude to Britain’s national drink. I was not happy. Admittedly not as livid as beer writer Pete Brown, who Tweeted some rather choice views and immediately wrote a fine blog on the subject in which he urged “brewers to rebadge their royal beers with republican designs” and “pubs not to show the royal wedding, and to advertise themselves as royal wedding-free zones.”
I couldn’t have agree more, but as the days have passed my views have mellowed a bit; after all, it seems unlikely that this will do any damage to beer sales. The Mail article seems to suggest that it is the result of a po-faced view of alcohol by the royal couple, neither of whom “is a big beer drinker”, especially “Miss Middleton” who prefers to “sip one small glass of wine”. Having seen the odd documentary about royal event planning, however, I think it is just as likely that that the decisions was made on the couple’s behalf by their royal lackeys, who generally seem to be much more snooty and stuck up than the royals themselves.
One of the commentators on Pete Brown’s blog did make a very good point though: rather than getting annoyed about it, shouldn’t we think of doing something to change beer’s image? Beer is seen in popular perception as a loutish drink enjoyed by blokes – usually older blokes of questionable sartorial elegance – in the pub.
Of course that is true and, speaking as one of those blokes, long may it continue. But beer is also a craft product of great variety and complexity and it goes excellently with food – often better than wine. More needs to be made of this aspect of the brewers art if is to be seriously acknowledged as a fitting beverage to be drunk before the Queen at a royal wedding.
Maybe brewers need to think about a separate marketing image to highlight their premium beers, separating them in popular perception from the “Old Speckled Scrotum” type of ales that you get in the pub. Suitable beers are already there; they just need to be re-named and re-packaged to be more suitable for the posh occasion and, of course, sold at a ‘reassuringly expensive’ premium price.
These beers should be served differently: not in pint mugs or sleevers, but in attractive glasses similar to Belgian beers. They should also be advertised differently to shake off the beard and sandal image or, even worse, the desperate and slightly pervy ‘let’s get some totty into shot’ approach. And they should appear in foodie programmes where they can wax lyrical about the complexities of taste and which goes best with what posh nosh.
None of this means that the current beers or their images need to be messed with: that could easily put off the current core market of blokey beer drinkers. Rather the two images should survive side by side in the same way that you have fine wines and champagnes for wine snobs and posh events, and perfectly drinkable but more affordable wines and Cavas in the supermarket for normal drinking.
None of this is going to happen over-night, but unless the industry starts to make some changes we will just have to accept that beer will always remain the drink of the common man. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but don’t complain when, like the scruffy, uncouth uncle, it doesn’t get invited to the posh wedding.