After my daughter was born, the first outing we took was to our local pub in Bethnal Green. It became a regular thing: there was something about the smell of beer and sound of cockneys swearing that calmed her. Nearly four years old now, she still loves these trips and even plays "going to the pub" with her friends. I'm expecting a call from the social services any day. We go at least once a week but it seems that we're not going enough.
You may have noticed a current advertising campaign for beer. You'd think that the British would need this like they need reminding to breathe or eat crisps, but beer sales have been falling for years now. The advert is directed by Michael Winterbottom, but those hoping for something as funny as The Trip or even an 80s lager commercial will be disappointed. It's village-fete Britain on display, with a diverse cross-section of the population drinking out of an array of glassware. The message that they're trying to get across is that beer isn't just drunk out of pint glasses while shouting at the footie; it's a civilised beverage to be enjoyed with food. The slogan is "there's a beer for that".
You can see what they're getting at. You'd never guess it from scaremongering stories in newspapers, but the British are drinking less of everything. The traditional boozer's boozer, like our East End local, may well be doomed. Nowadays, the only sort of pubs that seem to be thriving are ones that concentrate on food. In the past, the British would have drunk beer at the table. Walter Besant, a novelist and historian, wrote in 1880: "Beer was universally taken at dinner; even at great dinner parties some of the guests would call for beer." But now wine has usurped our native brew. Matching specific wines with food has become all the rage, so why not try a similar thing with beer? Recently I had a pint of strong Brakspear Triple III with some Colston Bassett stilton. The hoppiness and sweetness of the beer beautifully ameliorated the saltiness of the cheese. The pairing enabled me to drink more beer and eat more cheese. I had some pretty odd dreams that night.
I'm not completely sold, though. One of the things I love most about beer is its uncomplicated pleasure. I appreciate the taste but I don't want to worry about whether I'm drinking the right one with my pork scratchings. As soon as people start trying to match beer with food then it can add a layer of pretension. Do we really want beer sommeliers? Me, I'm going to do my bit to save beer by drinking four pints instead of two when I take my daughter to the pub, and take comfort in the knowledge that I'm educating the next generation of British beer drinkers.
Henry Jeffreys' first book, Empire of Booze, will be published by Unbound in 2016. @henrygjeffreys