Wednesday, June 06, 2018

"Like mixing your beer with rainwater and sugar."

On 25 May 1944 —a fortnight before the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy, France— the Fredericksburg (Virginia) Free-Lance Star published a story by the overseas American war correspondent Hal Boyle. It was one of many for Boyle —who would later win the Pulitzer Prize for his wartime reporting— but this particular dispatch described the World War II condition of booze in London, England.

At his blog "Beer et. Seq.," Gary Gillman has summarized the account, in wry style. His story —"Blondes, Taxis, and the West End"— includes Boyle's description of what Boyle and the American GIs thought of British milds and bitters of the time.

Not much.

Seeking to explain mild ale and bitter beer to Americans, Boyle said mild is like mixing your beer with rainwater and sugar. And bitter is like mixing it with rainwater and quinine. (Today he might say the IPA that is the rage around the world is like mixing Bud with vodka and grapefruit juice).

Given that American lager in this period was still fairly bitter, it shows that English beer – pale or bitter ale – easily outstripped it. Since no unusual bitterness was detected in mild ale, one can assume its bitterness was about equal to mid-century American lager.

Mild & bitter in 1944 London (as an American tasted them)

The weakness of British beer was remarked on, something I’ve discussed before as noticed by an Australian journalist. He stated the government must have pondered long and hard to get the stimulant/austerity balance exactly right. The American soldier’s reaction was typically popular and idiomatic: it’s like our beer if you drink it and get hit in the head with the bottle.


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