When I started drinking, some 40 years ago, it was quite common to see beers being drunk in “mixed form” in pubs. The most common blend was “light and bitter”, a drink that consisted of half a pint of ordinary bitter, with a bottle of light ale to top it up. Whilst this mix was fairly common in East Kent, where I grew up, it was always much more a London thing.
The reasoning behind it's popularity was two-fold. First, back in the 50’s and 60’s, the quality of the draught (cask) beer in many pubs was rather variable, to say the least, so the addition of a bottle of light ale helped pep it up (it would certainly add condition to a draught beer that may perhaps have lost most of its own, and would to all intents and purposes be virtually flat). It may also have helped mask “off flavours” associated with poorly-kept cask beer. The second reason was a slightly crafty one on behalf of the drinker, in that before the advent of marked glasses, and metered pumps, many landlords would dispense slightly more than half a pint of draught beer meaning, that when the light ale was added, the drinker would receive a bit more than a pint of beer!
The other common, but slightly less popular mix, was “brown and mild” (sometimes referred to as a “boilermaker”); basically a half pint of draught mild, topped up with a bottle of brown ale. Again the reasons for the popularity of this mix were exactly the same as described above. Other, less common mixes were “old and bitter” (known universally as a “mother-in-law”), “black and tan” - Guinness (or other stout) and bitter. and “mild and bitter”, sometimes simply abbreviated to “AB” – these letters standing for “and bitter” and date back to when mild ale was the most common and popular draught beer sold in pubs. The abbreviation inferred the publican knew you wanted your half pint of mild topped up with draught bitter.
During my late teens, my friends and I went through a phase of asking for this mix, partly because it was quite a pleasant drink, but also out of a sense of mischievous curiosity, just to see what reaction we would get from the bar staff. Actually, most landlords and landladies knew what we were asking for, especially old school licensees. Back then most had either been in the trade for some time, or had come from pub-owning families, and there was certainly not the high turnover of publicans there is in the trade today.
The late Richard Boston, in his excellent book, “Beer and Skittles”, lists several more mixtures, and reminds readers that drinks such as shandy and lager and lime ( the latter not often seen these days, but very common back in the early 1970’s) are of course, mixtures. Incidentally, the strange practice of requesting a dash of lemonade to be added to one's pint, in the form of a “lager top”, has taken over from adding a shot of lime juice to lager He also informs us that mild and bitter is known as “Narfer narf”. (Perhaps my friends and I should have tried our luck with this name back in the 70’s!)
The mixing of different types/styles of beer to achieve the taste desired by the drinker, of course dates back many hundreds of years. Many people know the story (true or otherwise), about the origin of porter, or Entire Butt to give the beer its correct name. Formerly, drinkers would have mixed three different beers - pale, brown and stale (old ale), to create a blend known as "Three Threads", but in 1722 Ralph Harwood of the Bell Inn, Shoreditch hit on the idea of combining the different attributes of this blend in one single beer hence, name Entire Butt. However, despite the popularity of porter, drinkers continued to mix beers, well into the 20th Century, in the way I have described.
I’m not quite sure what caused practice to die out; it may have been the increasing popularity of keg beers during the 1960’s and early 70’s, when drinkers were presented with a much more consistent, albeit bland, product. Alternatively, it may have been the influence of CAMRA and the growing interest in beers from different parts of the country, combined with the desire to sample and enjoy them in their pure, unadulterated form (ie. on their own and not mixed with another type of beer). Most likely it was a combination of both factors which caused the mixing of two different types of beer to virtually vanish; but not in Chiddingstone it seems!
As a way of rounding off this subject, I would be most interested to hear other people’s thoughts and experiences of drinks such as light and bitter, brown and mild etc, along with any other strange combinations they may have come across, (and even tried!).