Somehow I never did feel at home quaffing pints of foaming euphoria

Yesterday I began the first volume of my autobiography - My Life in Beer. An evening among the tankard-bearing hayseeds gathered in Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival set me off, though in truth we go back a long way, beer and I. Or at least lager and I do. But you can't call your autobiography My Life in Lager. It sounds too much like the story of a South African internment. Which would be to overstate my suffering.

I am not, of course, the child of a beer-drinking people. Why one drink should be more culturally inimical than any other - we have no difficulty with Ribena, for example, or Rose's Lime Juice, or Lucozade laced with syrup of figs - I have never fully understood. Presumably it's a manual thing. Everyone in my family has palely fragile hands, suitable only for playing the violin, writing scriptural exegesis, or pointing the finger of doom. None of us has a hand strong enough to hold a glass of beer, let alone to tilt it.

Nor are we at our most natural standing in circles. How do you expostulate if you're standing in a circle with a beer glass clutched to your heart? Every time you voice a disagreement on a point of principle it's crash! - not just beer on the floor but fine splinters of glass in your chest. And that's you flat on your back in a tweezering ward for a month, sipping Rose's Lime Juice.

The blame is not all ours. Yes, we may be unfit for beer, but beer was never brewed with us in mind. I went looking, at the Great British Beer Festival, for an ale that wasn't hostile; forget the taste, forget the alcohol content, just something whose name didn't put the fear of God into me. And what did I find? Parson's Porter. Curate's Choice. Rector's Light Relief. Bishopswood Bitter. Bishop's Tipple. Bishop's Finger. White Bishop. Bishop's Farewell. Bellringer. Choir Porter. Augustinian Ale. Great Crusader. Pig's Ear. Notice anything missing? Exactly! Where was Rabbi's Renunciation? Shammes's Snifter? Yente's Wallop? Barmitzvah Boy? Salt Beef Sandwich? Tocheslecker's Quencher?

Cain's Dark Mild - that was the nearest I came to finding a beer suitable for me. You take my point: beer is not only generically gentile, it is root-and-branch ecclesiastical. They might not have been aware of it, those tubby troglodytic quaffers with beer badges on their caps, but they are in a direct line of descent from Friar Tuck. Go to Munich for the Oktoberfest and you think you're at a Dionysia. Pure paganism. At Olympia they celebrate that rollicksome never-never period in the history of the English church - when drunken abbots roamed the countryside tupping prioresses and sportive piss-pot prelates dispensed alms. Now whatever else you might want to say about paganism, from a Jewish perspective it has the advantage of not being a contradictory faith. Pagans thought differently, that was all. They weren't quarrelling specifically with us. And at least we were in the vicinity when paganism was happening. Which is more than can be said for that idealised Friar Tuck phase of pre-Cromwellian English Christianity. There is a theory that the Sheriff of Nottingham was Jewish, but otherwise you could count the number of us in residence on the fingers of one hand. We're friends again now, but the fact remains that in its very nomenclature beer willy-nilly commemorates the historical absence of my people.

Can you wonder that we made a beeline for lager when bar refrigeration finally made it possible? It sounded so much more inclusive for one thing. No more Prebendary's Noggin or Torquemada's Night-cap. At last, names we felt at home with. Tuborg. Grolsch. Schofferhofer. Carlsberg. Why, my best friend was a Carlsberg. It's impossible to over-emphasise the cultural significance of this. If Stuart Carlsberg could have a lager named after him there was a chance for Saul Seigleman as well. And Menachem Casofsky. Funny the brewers never twigged it. Had there been a feather- light pilsener called Casofsky on sale in Manchester in1959 the drinking habits of an entire people might have changed forever.

Lager was less forbidding to look at too, and you could disguise the taste of it with Rose's Lime Juice, which was the true reason most of us drank it. "Make that a lager and feel free with the lime," we called across the bar. But really what we wanted to say was "Make that a Rose's Lime Juice and go easy with the lager."

We didn't aspire to drunkenness. Another curious cultural difference. At Olympia I watched circles of Womble-like real-alers throwing beer into one another's faces in order to attain the condition of leglessness all together and all at once. Single drinkers simply did it to themselves. A carefully selected pint of Merlin's Magic (4.3 per cent, 1044) brewed by Moor of Somerset, and slosh! - pissed on the instant. This is a species of satisfaction foreign to my people. You know your Proverbs. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts." Alcohol is for the dying, in other words, and for those that remain only that they might be comforted in their loss.

This applies with equal justice to the ceremony of circumcision. You all need a drink then, the boychild no less than the spectators. But whisky's the thing. You certainly don't shove a pint of Betty Stog's Bitter (4.0 per cent, 1040) into the hand of an eight-day-old baby who's just lost his foreskin. Not in a civilised faith, you don't.

Howard Jacobson's new novel `The Mighty Walzer' is published by Jonathan Cape on 26 August

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?