Thursday 2 August 2012

Beer then wine, feeling fine – or not…

Once again, an adage has let me down. 

I should, by now, have learnt my lesson. Better late than never, I found, carries little weight with Ryanair. And people who encourage you to put your money where your mouth is are probably cosmetic dentists.

However, waking up recently with a blinding headache, I realised that I had personally disproved one of the adages I had learnt concerning wine, namely “Beer then wine, feeling fine; wine then beer, feeling queer”. Despite following this clearly delineated order of drinking, of starting with beer and then following it with wine, I was feeling distinctly queer. I probably should have called the doctor, were he not excluded from the house thanks to my daily consumption of apples.

But there may already be some of you raising an eyebrow, and saying that I have got it wrong. For, as I now painfully realise, there are two versions of my adage. And the alternative version says that it’s “Beer on wine, feeling fine; wine on beer, feeling queer.” In other words, the order of the drinks is the other way around.

Now, there may be, indeed are, adages which contradict each other. How is it, for example, that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you’re never too old to learn? But I have never come across an adage of which there are two contradictory versions.

Some people will say the solution is clear; simply don’t mix your drinks, whatever the order. But as Kingsley Amis said, “The belief that mixing drinks upsets you is about as widespread and as mistaken as the one about bullies always being cowards.” And there are certain occasions when you inevitably end up drinking both beer and wine. Indeed, the occasions often dictate the order.

Beer on wine seems to go hand in hand with football matches. (That’s soccer, to our friends in the former colonies.) You meet up first for a perfectly civilised lunch, a pleasant meal accompanied by a pleasant quantity of wine. But broadcasting schedules now dictate that, instead of a 3pm kick-off, the game often won’t start until 5pm. And before you know it, the afternoon has descended into heroic amounts of beer-drinking, until you’re stumbling into your seats under the baleful gaze of pious fans like Big Richard, muttering under his breath about alcoholics.

(This has happened several times, although the exact number of occasions, or indeed players that were on the pitch, may be subject to double-counting.)

Wine on beer, however, generally occurs when you meet for a meal out with a mate. You meet in the pub, of course, and that means you start with a beer. This is determined by the fact that the majority of English pubs serve good beer, but their wine is either poor, over-priced or, in many cases, both.

I realise that’s a huge generalisation. Yes, there are gastropubs which serve excellent wine, but they assume you are eating a meal. The last time I drank wine in a pub which didn’t serve food, I was forced to drink Jacob’s Creek at £13 a bottle.

It’s also a fact that, while you can drink a good wine at home, you can’t get a proper real ale from the cask except in a pub. So when you’re there, you should take the opportunity. Plus, you’re unlikely to appreciate the subtleties of a fine wine in a pub once the singing and celery-throwing starts. 

Where did these ideas of a particular order for beer and wine come from? Someone has suggested it was nothing to do with hangovers, but was originally a metaphor for one’s success in life. Beer in youth, followed by wine in midlife, suggests that one is going up in the world; whereas the reverse is true if you progress from wine to beer.

There is, however, a more immediate financial aspect. If you start with beer, then move on to the (more expensive) wine, you are probably going to carelessly drink more of the latter, costlier drink. Start with modest consumption of a good wine, then move on to the cheaper beer when you’re a bit tipsy, and you may not spend as much. 

This is linked to a notion that the order governs the quantity; if you start with beer, you are in a quaffing mode, which leads to disaster when you move on to wine, and continue drinking at the same rate. If you start by sipping wine, the theory goes, you continue sipping if you move on to beer, and so consume less and suffer less. 

Nonsense, in my experience. By this logic, if you began the evening with a slug of vodka, you’d continue by downing tiny measures of beer out of shot glasses. Drinks each have their own, natural manner in which they should be consumed. Beer is meant to be quaffed, wine is emphatically notwhile as I painfully discovered, it is inadvisable to down port by the tankard.  Each, as another adage has it, to their own.

So I’m giving up on adages. Wine before beer, beer before wine, grape not grain, beer before liquor – none of them have succeeded in preventing a hangover, although I confess to having enjoyed the trials if not the verdicts. 

Perhaps the hangover is the occupational hazard of the wine drinker, a negative accompaniment like weeds to a gardener. Deal with them, and carry on, because you’ll never stop them. I certainly haven’t succeeded in preventing either.

And you know what they say. If at first you don’t succeed, save time and give up now.



  1. I'm watching you, Keers.

  2. If I'm at a dinner party, I'll start with a beer and then have wine with the dinner.

    After that, it all goes downhill.

    Great post!

    1. Thank you, sir!

      You clearly have generous hosts. In both senses...

  3. For me, at my advancing age, I find mixing full stop is a bad thing (the next day), I try and stick to wine...

    1. Well, Kingsley's quote about mixing being a myth goes on: "The confusion arises simply because the night you mix Dry Martinis and Burgundy and Sauternes and port and brandy and Scotch can't help also being the night you go over the top in sheer quantity."

      (And what a heroic combination...)


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