I'll toast Wills and Kate - but with beer, not champagne


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Prince William has provided a snapshot of our times by refusing to serve beer to the 650-odd guests at his reception, According to reports, champagne will instead be the order of the day. The Mirror, which broke this news, said the "ban" had been introduced because ale is "unsuitable" for a state event. "Let's face it," a palace source said, "it isn't really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen's presence."

To which any right-thinking person will surely ask: why not? What is supposed to be so wrong with beer? And by what strange logic do the organisers of this and so many other social events attempt to create an aura of exclusivity by forcing us to quaff champagne?

Many Britons have become addicted to what the upper classes call "shampoo". We put away more of the stuff than any nation except France, seeing off around 40 million bottles per year, a third of all global exports. Yet champagne is surely one of the most overrated drinks available. Sharp and one-dimensional, it is sprayed by racing drivers, romanticised by rap artists, and conspicuously consumed by noisy vulgarians. It is also hideously overpriced.

As it happens, champagne's entire consumer image is a charade. Using vast advertising campaigns, marketeers have "positioned" it, to use industry vernacular, as a quintessentially British tipple. Veuve Clicquot even has the gall to describe itself as the beverage of our summer "season", which takes in such sporting jewels as Henley, Ascot and Cowes.

There is only one alcoholic beverage that is truly British, and that's beer. In this country, we make some of the finest and most varied ales available anywhere in the world. And the public house is among our greatest contributions to world culture. The royals should know. A short trip from Highgrove is Arkell's of Swindon, home to the one of the great bitters of southern England. And not far from the rolling acres of Sandringham is Suffolk's St Peter's Brewery, producer of bottled ale so fine that, in exile as this newspaper's Los Angeles correspondent, I have often driven for over an hour to replenish supplies at one of its few Californian stockists.

Beer of the highest quality built the empire (why else did we invent India Pale Ale?). It lubricated the Industrial Revolution. It has been the honest tipple of conversationalists and literary greats, rich and poor, for centuries. But today, the British pint faces an uncertain future. Pubs are closing at a rate of three a week. The number of independent family brewers has halved in the past couple of decades.

To Prince William's generation, raised on Dom Perignon and vodka Red Bulls, cask ale has become a quite alien tipple, useless for the purposes of binge drinking. You can't even buy a pint at Boujis (I know: I once tried). Champagne, with its swish marketing and expensive price tag, is doubtless what they, along with the dodgy African diplomats and Middle Eastern dictators at tomorrow's wedding, have come to expect. But things are always better with a pint of bitter.