Here, reproduced exactly as we found it, is a paragraph from the front page of a Cumbrian pub menu:-
The reason vinegar is not allowed in the bar area is open to great debate! We have had chemists both professional and amateur provide us with formulae both for and against.
Having vinegar in your mouth it will take the head off the beer, also vinegar spirit in close proximity may do the same. Will the smell of vinegar in the air override the drinker’s taste buds into thinking the beer is off? Do we want the bar to smell all vinegary? We are not willing to chance it! Until we have proof to the contrary we will continue with our policy of no vinegar (in the bar area) as the White Hart has done for over 15 years
Firstly, the pub in question – the White Hart at Bouth, near Ulverston – was fantastic. A gem, with five real ales on, dried hops hanging from the ceiling, and stuffed animals perched on every groaning shelf. The food served was lovely, too – it’s just the vinegar-related paragraph really caught my eye (particularly as it was in bold print).
It seems as if a lot of chemists must live in the village – or own second homes there. Either way, the entire BeerCast team were there for several hours and didn’t hear a single, whispered, conversation about the periodic table or gas chromatography.* Most of the chat revolved around the Cartmel races that were taking place, or why twelve strange young men had commandeered one of the long tables next to the bar.
I’m not questioning the White Hart here – they’re absolutely right to take a stance against something they feel would adversely affect the enjoyment of their customers. It’s more the fact that it’s related to vinegar. Admittedly, here in south-eastern Scotland you rarely see bottles of it on tables – we’re firmly in ketchup country (‘sauce’ – as in ‘salt and sauce’ is the Edinburgh chip-soaker, but this is even rarer in pubs).
I was obviously keen to try the science out for myself – although not at the White Hart, clearly. On the way home from the weekend, we stopped for lunch at the Hawkshead Brewery tap in Staveley, where a side of pickled cabbage gave me the opportunity. Sipping a mouthful of vinegary cabbage juice really put the damper on my Hawkshead lager, I can tell you. As expected, it destroyed pretty much any semblance of flavour from the beer.
So, the citizens of Bouth are certainly on to something. Will we see the day when the science of vinegar relating to beer flavour wins a Cumbrian-based chemist the Nobel prize? If, of course, you already have proof that one does not affect the other, please inform the White Hart as soon as possible, to get their fifteen-year ban overturned…
* The two things I remember from chemistry, other than what happens when you throw Caesium into water. That experiment is surely the day many people sit up and take notice.