Hi…  If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back and join the chat about how to hook a reader  or stay here while Alan and I continue to look at the weird world of  beer and the language associated with it.

JANE: Okay, Alan, last time you promised to tell me about CAMRA.


ALAN: Ah yes! By the late 1960s, most of the craft breweries in the UK had been absorbed into big conglomerates and a dull uniformity had settled over what was now essentially a mass produced and rather bland drink. Four beer enthusiasts, incensed at what they regarded as the loss of a great brewing tradition, formed CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) in 1971. They seemed to strike a chord and people joined the campaign in droves. As a consumer based pressure group it proved to be remarkably effective and it gave a new lease of life to the few remaining small breweries. Even the big conglomerates started making craft beers again and many new breweries sprang into existence.

JANE: I bet you have some colorful example of beers that were saved from extinction.

ALAN: One very famous beer that was saved from extinction by CAMRA is Theakstones Old Peculier. Note the peculiar spelling. It is quite a strong beer and rumour suggests that the name derives from the fact that if you drink a pint of it you feel very old and very peculier!  And you lose the ability to spell.

A close friend of mine spent his honeymoon in a carefully chosen small pub that served Old Peculier on tap.  By the end of the honeymoon he and his wife, with a little help from the locals, had drunk the pub dry.

“We’ve none left,” said the landlord. “You’ll have to drink bitter instead.”

And so they did.

JANE: Hm…  I can think if more interesting ways to spend a honeymoon, but at least this one wasn’t boring or routine!  What other weird beers are there?

ALAN: When I lived in Nottingham, the local beer was brewed by Shipstones. Of course you will have immediately spotted that “Shipstones” is an anagram of “honest piss.”

JANE: Actually, I wouldn’t have caught the anagram.  I’d probably have figured that a shipstone was what you used to holystone a ship’s deck and that the name dated back to the days of tall ships.

ALAN: As it happens, the beer was named after one James Shipstone, the founder of the brewery. However the anagram is very appropriate as the British often call beer “piss”. An evening’s heavy drinking is referred to as being “on the piss” and when you are quite drunk you are, of course, “pissed” .

I gather Americans find this usage confusing?

JANE: Well, not this American.  I mean, it sort of follows.  Drink too much beer and then, well…

Now, the more common meaning for “pissed” over here is “angry” or “disgusted.”  Even that meaning would sort of make sense when applied to someone who has had too much to drink, since drunks are notably obstreperous.

ALAN: Since you don’t use the word “pissed” in the same sense that we do, what words do you use to describe someone who is drunk?

JANE: The one that first springs to mind is “trashed.”  Then there are some impolite ones like “sh-tfaced” which I won’t spell lest a spam filter gets annoyed.

“Drunk as a skunk” evolved into “skunked.”   This, of course, maligns skunks, who, as far as I know, are not known to get inebriated.  Birds do though, and bears, both of which species have been known to deliberately seek out fermenting fruit for the buzz.

Ah…  That’s another one.  Buzzed!

In the Firekeeper novels, Firekeeper won’t drink alcohol because she’s already familiar with the vulnerability caused by such indulgences.

“Wasted.”  “Gone.”  “Tanked.”   I’m sure there are others that make the activity seem more attractive, but right now the only ones I can think of strike me as being, from an anthropological point of view, indicating very little pleasure coming from the activity.


ALAN: In the north of England, being drunk is sometimes referred to as being “slewed as a newt”. I’m really not sure why newts, alone among reptiles, are considered to be the archetypal drunk. However the expression sometimes morphs into the spoonerism “nude as a slewt” which I am really rather fond of.

JANE: Colorful indeed.  Actually, with your wisdom about what we might call the “lore of pissedness,” maybe you can answer a question a friend raised the other night.  Why is the phrase “take a piss” when, logically, it should be “leave a piss”?

ALAN: You’ve got me there! Certainly you always leave it behind and seldom if ever take it away with you except under most unusual circumstances. But since when did logic have anything to do with bodily functions?

Since we seem to be heading towards toilet humour again, perhaps I should point out that Shipstones was a temperamental beer that needed very careful cellaring. It often hovered on the cusp of undrinkable and it didn’t take much to push it over the edge. Drinkers beware!

I once saw a graffito that said:

Has the bottom fallen out of your world? Drink a pint of Shipstones and the world will fall out of your bottom!

But in its defense, I must say that a properly looked after pint of Shipstones truly was a magnificent beer.

JANE: You’re using the past tense.  From that I assume that CAMRA did not save Shipstones?

ALAN: Alas they did not. The brewery was taken over by one of the big conglomerates and the last true pint of Shipstones was brewed in 1991. The beer continued in name only for a few more years but the heart and the taste had gone out of it. It no longer exists.

JANE: That’s actually rather sad.   It always puzzles me when big business takes over something delightful and regional, then makes it generic and boring.

ALAN: Unfortunately it seems to be the way the world works.  We should chat about that sometime.  But while we are on the subject of beer, and drink in general, I’d be interested to find out if prohibition is still an issue in America?

JANE: Not exactly, but the laws that do regulate drinking alcohol can be as colorful and strange as the slang for being drunk.   Sometimes they even create the problem they’re trying to alleviate.  I wonder if it’s the same there.

ALAN: Indeed it is. Some of the rules and regulations that surround the consumption of alcohol here are both weird and wonderful.

JANE: I’d like to chat more on this, but it’s time to go write fiction.  How about next time?


9 Responses to “TT: On CAMRA”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    Well, one reason newts are the only reptile to be so maligned is that they aren’t. Reptiles, that is – they’re amphibians 🙂

    Aside from that, I would ascribe both ‘slewed as a newt’ and ‘drunk as a skunk’ to rhyming slang. Which might be an interesting topic for you to explore once you sober up. There usually seems to be a logic to it, but it’s often not evident on first inspection. At least, not to outsiders.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Ah – mea culpa! I never was much good at biology.

      I like your suggestion about rhyming slang. And slang terms in general, of course. It’s definitely worth thinking about…


  2. heteromeles Says:

    Gee, and you didn’t even get three sheets to the wind. Oh well.

    The most unusual beers I ever sampled came from college home brewers, as one might expect. It was certainly fun to go to a school where 25% of the student body were home brewers. Some of their product was quite good. Some…not.

    The weirdest beer I’ve ever sampled was lichen beer, and I can’t recommend it. It’s what you get when you mix home brewing, lichenology, and the world wide web.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      The claim is that you can make wine and beer out of anything at all. And to an extent that is probably true, but there are exceptions. I used to subscribe to a magazine called “Amateur Winemaker” in the days when I was doing a lot of home brewing and in one issue there was a letter from someone who said that he had made a batch of wine from the juices left over from the Sunday roast chicken. And he wished to report to the readers of the magazine that Chicken Wine was, shall we say, a less than successful experiment…


  3. janelindskold Says:

    I’m still laughing over “vin du coq…” Thank you so very much…

    Thanks, Louis, for the suggestion… Slang would be fun to discuss.

    And, Alan, I forgot to ask exactly what “bitter” is. I’ve heard that “porter” was made from burnt grain, sold to porters on the dock cheap, and became an unexpected hit. I’m wondering why anyone would think “bitter” was appealing. I keep thinking of the taste of aspirin.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Bitter is the standard beer that you drink by the pint in an English pub. There is much controversy over whether it is best drunk from a straight glass or from a glass with a handle. The true answer to this debate can only be derived from experimentation, not from logic. However it requires lots of experiments to reach a firm conclusion…

      The name probably derives from the time when hops were first introduced into the brewing process. The hops add a really rather appealing bitter flavour to the fermented grains. Personally I find the older style unhopped “ale” rather bland (you almost never see it these days — hops are ubiquitous).

      Bitter tastes nothing like aspirin. It tastes like … um … bitter.


    • heteromeles Says:

      In my opinion, hops are much better than mugwort, which they also used to flavor beer with. Beer flavorings have been around for, well, a while.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    “Bitter” is standard… Okay… I can see that. Hops gets added in and people start coming to the pub and saying “I’d like a pint. No, not that awful mugwort stuff, give me the bitter.”

    Words… I love them. They’re windows into every aspect of human thought and endeavor.

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