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Devil's Advocate - Is Beer Culture Good For St Andrews?


When I first heard the question posed for this DA, I sprung to respond to it: the following argument shall, I hope, provide justification not only for the nigh on 19 years of formal education I’ve enjoyed, but also the equally magnitudinous quantity of beer that has accompanied (some of) them. This argument is not, I clarify, a two-pence apology for those who cannot handle their drink — I am just as frustrated by Darren trying to ram his dome through the Aikman’s cellar wall as you are by Dorothy preparing her eighteenth rollie on a Vic toilet seat — nor a naïve paean to how great beer-induced tipsiness may be. Rather, it’s a celebration of what beer has stood for and does stand for: replenishment, community, and chat.

Let’s start with the basics. Human beings need calories. Given that I am writing in St Andrews, there’s a higher-than-usual chance that you, the reader, get your daily fill through sautéed scallops, jus de framboise, and white bean shakshuka (I don’t know what this is either). Alas, I get mine from ham sandwiches and beer; it’s not glamorous, but it’s effective. That a sleepy four-pinter can provide almost half a man’s recommended daily intake is not a cause for complaint. On the contrary, it’s a reason to rejoice. Think of how large a typical keg of beer is. Assuming there are 72 pints of malty goodness therein, we’re on track for — at a bare minimum — an 18,000-calorie feast. Seldom stumbles one upon such energetically dense sustenance. And they call quinoa a superfood…

Moving on and ramping up, we ought next to discuss community. The profoundest problem with the anti-beer lobby is that they quite clearly hate other people. The exact 568 millilitres in which consists a proper and decent pint — the crown symbol occasionally spotted on the side of your trusty recipient is royal testament that you’re being sold your full measure — and which tower over the continental, half-litre knockoffs, have been carefully calculated to ensure optimal human bonding. If you get a beer with someone, you’re signing a contract. “I will sit with you, stand with you, be with you — I am dedicating my time to you — until your glass is empty, my glass is empty, and we’re back up for seconds.” This is a human warmth not afforded, and perhaps inaccessible to, the tequila-shooting, flash-photographing misanthropes who swell around the bar only to shoulder-barge others and drunkenly smash the empties that represent a transcendental realm to which they are tragically barred.

Finally, we come to what so much of human life leads us to: chat. In a world where one’s opinion on the nation’s adherence to a supranational political body is for some a reason to come to blows, and in which tying your shoelaces with a modicum of neatness is deemed a fascist tendency, I firmly believe good chat is one of our final refuges. (If you agree, I’m in Aikman’s cellar most evenings of the week.) The beer, cultural icon it has become, is the platonic ideal of the chat enabler: its gentle pace, which can be hastened where needs be, allows for an observable transformation. As moods modify and topics turn from today’s weather to your more personal academic struggles, to how much you reminisce over the ex you dumped because she called Guinness “too foamy,” you learn not only about other people, but also yourself. Albeit an increasingly expensive tool for self-discovery, and one that should be consumed in moderation, in a catchline inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘the only thing we have to cheer is beer itself.’


A glass of Chardonnay means she’s classy. A shot of tequila she’s fun. A gin and tonic she’s a hoot with a story to tell. A pint of Guinness, she’s what exactly? Angry? Depressed? Craving an alcoholic Cappuccino?

At risk of revealing my veiled identity as a snob, I truly despise beer. For one simple reason: it’s disgusting. And before you accuse this stance of being a result of my intensely nauseating pub golf hangover (sorry Brew Co bathrooms) or accuse me of not having tried “good beer” (if that’s the case there seem to be so very few of them), I’m here to argue that you dislike it too.

You always hear that beer is simply an ‘acquired taste’. Acquired taste is just peer pressure at its finest. As a society, we’ve gaslit every ongoing generation that a piss-coloured-beverage of fermented grains is the height of drunken taste.

I’ll admit that even at my geriatric age of twenty, I’m a bit of a beer novice. I still remember vividly the first time I walked up to the Molly’s bartender and confidently ordered “one beer please,” to which he responded, “which beer?,” to which I just blankly stared as I frankly hadn’t the slightest clue. To those anxiously awaiting the answer to what Summer King’s first beer order was, I shamefully admit — a lukewarm glass of Tennent’s. Fitting, a medium sized glass for an exceptionally mediocre beer.

As if the nasal assault of rancid spilt beer every time you walk into a pub isn’t bad enough, order anything other than a pint and the beer snobs come running. I suppose beer does have an exciting and diverse flavour scale, ranging from water to the classic taste of a ‘fertilised field of barley.’ But personally, I like to pay for what I get with my consumption. And for £4.50, I’d like my alcoholic percentage consumed to be a lot higher than 4 per cent. Now I’m no maths major (and it would mean terrifying things for the world if I was), but unlike the delectable tequila soda’s I eagerly consume; at 200 calories a pint, with ten beers, you could fulfil your daily calorie limit and still only end up tipsy.

Now you could argue that past the gross mistake of the drink itself, there is a culture associated with this beloved beverage. Rampant violence, shouting, crawling around pubs and apparently the Communist Manifesto. But beer has utterly robbed society of any creativity. Take sports, imagine if the official sponsor of the Premier League was Smirnoff. Gone would be the days of aggressively spraying ale over crowds and ambivalent little kids in the stands. Instead enter an era of sipping Vodka Sodas with a lime, through a logo straw in a comically large bucket, with every fan at the perfect level of jovial inebriation (imagine how sexy the merch would be).

Bartenders, desperately yearning to fix up a new innovative drink, have been robbed of any clients by the vile thief that is ‘the pint’. How many hospitality workers will say they were verbally accosted by a customer who had a few Spicy Margaritas? How many can say they’ve seen people so wasted off beer they turn into screaming toddlers, waddling and tripping over chairs and chatting up (prowling around) the 20-years-younger bar staff.

Maybe one day if I wake up in the body of an old alcoholic man — à-la-Freaky-Friday — I’ll crave a well-pulled pint of Guinness. But in the meantime, life is too short to drink vomitous concoctions, I’ll pass on the beer belly and stick to my timeless vodka crans instead.

Illustration by Clodagh Earl

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