In ye olde days, there were a bunch of men – the early council trading standards if you like – who would test the ale brewed by local alehouses to ensure that they didn’t contain too much sugar. Sugar was a way of using cheaper grain and hops, so excessive sugar was a sign of poor ingredients.
There were traditionally four Ale-Conners within the City of London – and amazingly the job still exists. Like many City of London posts now, it is largely ceremonial and the holder is not expected to actually carry out any duties. I do understand though that the position does entitle the holder to drink as much ale for free as they like, although I haven’t been able to verify it. Still, could be a nice job!
The ale-conner had a fairly simple task. The ale conner would visit a pub or brewery wearing leather breeches and upon being given a pint of ale would promptly pour half of it onto a wooden bench and then sit on the damp wood. He would consume the remainder as a reward – for the testing was not in the taste, but in how the ale dried out on the wooden bench he was sitting on.
If after half an hour, when the man stood up, his leather breeches stuck to the bench – then there was too much sugar in the ale. Assuming the test was passed the conner would announce “I proclaim this ale to be of good quality. God save the Queen”.
It was Queen Elizabeth who introduced the role of the Ale Conner – although over time, presumably the cry would be for God to save the King – or at one time, possibly God save the Protector Cromwell?
Anyhow, the job of testing ale is still carried out a few times per year in the city – typically when a new pub is opened.
Trawling around Google reveals that Dr Christine Rigden of the The Worshipful Company of Constructors is a current Ale Connor, as is Grant Simmonds of The Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects. I wasn’t able to find out whom the other two Conners are though.