Thinking, drinking, and lots of laughs - show with a difference heading to Shrewsbury
Booze and how it has shaped our society is the subject of a thought-provoking show coming to Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn.
Would Adolf Hitler been a nicer person had he learned how to relax over a beer?
It sounds like the type of pub-philosophy might engage in after a few too many in your local, but Ben McFarland points out that while the good guys in the Second World War, Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt were known to imbibe a little from time to time, the baddies, Hitler and Benito Mussolini were much more uptight.
"The winners in the Second World War were all drinkers," he says. "The losers were all abstainers."
Ben is one half of the Thinking Drinkers, a light-hearted double act with a serious message – that the responsible consumption of alcohol has made a hugely positive contribution to the world we live in today.
"Without pubs or bars, we wouldn't have had DNA, democracy or Dickens," says Ben's co-star, Tom Sandham. "Yet, shamefully, we are letting them disappear, never to be seen again.
"Amid a depressing digital dystopia, we're losing our beloved locals thanks to characterless chain coffee shops, crippling taxation, and worst of all, pesky neo-Prohibitionists.
"It's time for us all to put down our phones, pick up a pint – and maybe a packet of tasty nuts – and breathe life back into the struggling British boozer before it's too late."
The duo, who were today at Birmingham's Old Rep, and will perform at Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn on March 15, certainly know their pilsner from their porter.
Ben is the author of World's Best Beers: 1,000 Unmissable Brews from Portland to Prague, and Boutique Beer: 500 of the World's Finest Craft Brews.
Tom lectures on spirits for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and is author of the award-winning World's Best Cocktails. If one of our more forward-thinking universities decides one day to launch a bachelors or masters degree in alcohol consumption, this pair will probably be the professors.
During their latest show, entitled The Thinking Drinkers' Pub Crawl, they will provide the audience with five drinks: an American pale ale, a Venezuelan gin, an Irish whiskey, a vodka and an Australian gin. They talk about the history behind the drinks, and how they have shaped the world we live in.
Ben points out that many of the most interesting people in history have been known to enjoy a drink, from the philosophers of ancient Greece through to George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
"If you look through history, there have been a lot of creative and artistic people who have enjoyed a drink," he says.
"I do think that after a couple of glasses of wine or a couple of pints we are just more relaxed, and more open to ideas.
"The ideas might seem strange the next day, but at least we are coming up with them."
Ben says British beer has been transformed over the past 20 years or so, influenced not only by the work of the Campaign for Real Ale, but also by the influence of the American craft ale movement.
He cites the Salopian Brewery, at Hadnall, near Shrewsbury, and Titanic in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, as shining beacons in the modern ale industry.
"New breweries are opening all the time, there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker.
"There's been an explosion of choice, with a lot of small new breweries coming onto the scene
"It's becoming rarer and rarer to go into a pub and see the same old beers, like you might have done 10 or 18 years ago."
The growing beer festival culture, where people are encouraged to try a variety of different beers in small countries, is also playing a role in making today's drinkers more knowledgeable, he says.
"We always say drink less, but drink better," he explains.
"We keep reading that people are drinking less than they used to, but they are spending more, because they are becoming more discerning."
He also fears for the British pub trade, which has still seen closures taking place at a rate of 18 a week.
"I think a lot of pubs feel overwhelmed, they are under pressure through beer taxes that are higher than anywhere else in Europe, unlike the French and the Germans who support their drinks industry, then there are the business rates, and some pub companies don't help their tenants as well as they probably could."
To show their solidarity with the British pub trade, Ben says they will be joining fans for a beer or two in the pubs of Birmingham and Shrewsbury after their shows, and are inviting people to make suggestions on their Twitter page @Thinkingdrinks
Ben believes that the British drinks industry represents a great export opportunity for Britain, but fears that support may be lacking.
"I don't think we appreciate how good our beer is," he says.
"I went to an official function at the House of Commons recently, and they were serving French wine. Why aren't they serving British beer, or maybe English wine?"