Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - June 2001
Despite the popular myth, beer has no uniquely fattening properties
One of the more memorable recent TV ads (I think it may have been for a fashionable make of plimsolls) showed a man being pursued by a giant "beer gut". It's certainly commonplace to link drinking beer with developing a distinctive barrel-shaped physique.
But recent research has shown that the heavy drinker's rotund shape has as much to do with his sedentary lifestyle and consumption of crisps, kebabs and curries as with his beer intake. What stone-cold sober person has ever gone for a chicken vindaloo with all the extras at eleven in the evening? And beer in fact has surprisingly few calories - a standard pint has fewer, for example, than a couple of chocolate digestives or a packet of crisps.
Body shape is also dictated as much by genes as by diet. Dawn French could go on every crash diet and exercise plan known to woman and still not remotely resemble Kate Moss. We all know people who are knocking it back in the pub almost every night and still look like whippets, while others have the classic "beer gut" shape yet hardly touch a drop.
Obviously, if you have a tendency to pile on the pounds (and, let's face it, most of us do), then drinking a lot of beer isn't going to help matters. But there's really no evidence that, compared to other alcoholic drinks or calorie-laden foods, beer has any uniquely fattening properties, and neither is it going to give you a particular body shape that nothing else would.
The latest "traditional inns" really are nothing of the kind
The big pub operators' latest bright idea - the upmarket rustic dining pub - has recently begun to make an appearance in this area. These establishments loudly trumpet how they embody the ambiance and hospitality of the traditional inn, but in fact nothing remotely like them existed even twenty years ago. It's difficult to define a real pub, but you know one when you seen one, and these places, which make it clear that the casual drinker is not welcome, certainly don't qualify.
Real pubs have regulars who drop in for a couple of pints and a chat, they have sociable bench seating, not just individual chairs and tables, they attract people for a wide range of activites such as pub sports, quizzes and live music, and while they may serve food - and often very good food at that - they never let it dominate to the exclusion of all else. Most important of all, they evolve gradually over time rather than springing fully-formed from a marketing man's fevered imagination following a long lunch in the wine bar.
Fortunately around here we're still well-supplied with real pubs, although in some of the more prosperous parts of rural Cheshire they're fast becoming as rare as hen's teeth. But all too often we fail to value things until they're gone, and more should be done both to celebrate real pubs and promote their continued survival and success. Drinking in them more often is probably the best place to start.