James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Pint of Beer is Probably a Healthier Breakfast Than a Full English, Actually

A Pint of Beer is Probably a Healthier Breakfast Than a Full English, Actually

Beer in London

It’s 6:30 a.m. in London’s earliest-rising pub. Outside, the south entrance of Borough Market awakens slowly, as only a couple of stalls are already setting up. Once a typical extension of marketplaces, early drinking houses are now disappearing from the city. Only three are left in central London, and the Market Porter’s bar starts serving one hour earlier than the others.

I used to visit regularly, normally on busy Friday evenings, but the whispering morning atmosphere reminds me more of a place of worship than of the after-5 p.m. hubbub. Two men are engaged in a quiet conversation they could just as likely drag out forever or end at once, while another stares dully at the BBC news subtitles scrolling on the mute screen. Not busy, the bartender seems to be contemplating the void across the counter.

The early service no longer caters to the market-workers. Nowadays police, construction workers, hospital staff, and office workers are the more likely customers. The change of clientele is due to rising beer prices as well as the rising cost of living in London, which means many market-workers commute from outside the city. It also signals the slow decline of market culture, and the shift in drinking habits over the past decades.

As I approach the counter, for once without having to elbow my way through, I’m already foretasting the sole sensible choice in a London pub at 6:30 a.m.—a pint and a Full English Breakfast. The bartender snaps back from his numb state, letting me know it’s too early for food service. Walking away with only a pint in hand proves less disappointing than my rumbling stomach would have me believe.

I Google “breakfast nutrition facts” and the first result that looks vaguely reliable says breakfast should provide anything from 350 to 500 calories. Another quick search reveals that a pint of stout happens to contain 358 calories, which are distributed wisely over slow-releasing carbs and energy-boosting proteins. I raise my eyes from the smartphone with a gloating sip.

Such eureka moments should be shared, but I doubt I’d find an interested audience in here. A handful of people are now scattered across the room, one of which is going for the second round. It seems clear that morning beer drinking is pretty much the same affair as beer drinking at any other time, except in the morning it’s done a little more slowly.

By the time my pint is empty I’ve worked up an appetite. I exit the pub and walk towards the Thames. Wondering how many will hit the pubs in about eight hours, I head East along the river bank. It’s not even 8 a.m. and, technically, I’m looking for my second breakfast of the day.

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