London’s Old Spitalfields Market has announced it’s looking for a candidate to resurrect the ancient role of Ale Taster – a revival of one of the earliest forms of consumer protection to check that the ales sold by inns were of a suitable quality.

Rather oddly, the puff piece from the market claims the job was highly desirable, when in fact is was loathed. Indeed, Ale Tasters (also known as an Ale Conner) would often have to be forced to do the job as closing down a low-quality, but popular pub could lead to being ostracised by their friends – not to mention the punishment for the innkeeper being quite unpleasant.

Today, although the Ale Conner lacks the legal powers to close pubs down, the job still exists in a ceremonial role within the City of London – managed by the livery companies, who appoint four people to the role.

The Old Spitalfields Market seems to be seeking to revive the job a bit more formally though, and applicants for the job will have to demonstrate a decent knowledge of ales to be suitably worthy of the role.

I have previously written about the Ale Connor, and was sternly rebuked for repeating the story that one way of testing the ale was to pour some on a wooden bench and let it dry – testing it for stickiness. My commentator has explored the myth in some depth – although the absence of written documentation is in itself not proof of an absence of a tradition.

To apply, applicants need to submit a short, written application (link dead 2021) – of no more than one A4 page – explaining why they would be the best person for the ceremonial role.

I wonder if my beer swilling (link dead 2021) flatmate will apply?


Article last updated on May 14th, 2021 at 10:04 am

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2 comments
  1. Zythophile says:

    the absence of written documentation is in itself not proof of an absence of a tradition

    On that logic, the absence of any proof that your dad shot John F Kennedy is not in itself proof that he wasn’t on that grassy knoll in Dallas.

    • IanVisits says:

      That is a reductio ad absurdum.

      At a time when writing was scarce, and where day to day commonplace events were not recorded – the absence of written documentation is not proof that something didn’t happen. Today, we are more used to having every minute thing documented and catalogued by someone. That was not the case, even as little as 150 years ago.

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