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The cornerstone of civilisation

29 November, 2019 — By The Xtra Diary

WHAT do Alexander the Great, Harry Houdini, Louis Pasteur and Albert Einstein, a moose that drinks lager, an astronomer with a metal nose, a Chinese pirate, Indian warriors and, last but not least, God, all have in common?

They enjoy booze-related walk-on parts in a new show by Diary’s favourite experts in alcohol, The Thinking Drinkers.

Made up of Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham (pictured, they present their new show – Heroes of Hooch – at the Leicester Square Theatre.

In it they will reveal the liquid lives of history’s most extraordinary elbow-benders and take audiences on a hilarious and informative imbibing adventure that celebrates the men and women who have used alcohol to light a fire under the rocking chair of moribund ideas.

The booze-hungry pair met while working for the trade newspaper The Publican – which they point out folded soon after they both handed their cards in.

“It was sent out to all the pubs and bars in the UK. Ben was the drinks writer but also covered snacks… as you can still see by looking at him,” Tom suggests rather unkindly.

“Tom, meanwhile, was a roving reporter who called landlords and asked them tough questions such as ‘How often do you host a meat raffle?’ It was hard-hitting stuff,”adds Ben.

They teamed up to write a guide to west coast American beer culture.

“The ‘research’ took us over three months, visiting every brewery and brewpub on the west coast – it was brilliant fun and, having spent over 12 weeks in each other’s pockets, sleeping in hire cars and getting chased out of a bar in San Diego by some Marines, we thought we could certainly handle working together – so we set up Thinking Drinkers,” Ben says.

Taking their expertise to the stage required a bit of tinkering.

“It was a bold decision given that we hadn’t been in a play since primary school and, crucially, we had no idea what we were doing,” recalls Ben. “But we wrote a decent script and were then thrust into a two-day acting boot camp with a very patient and talented director who told us how to ‘do’ theatre. It was a very, very, very steep learning curve but, don’t tell anyone, it’s not that difficult. You just have to pretend and remember your lines. Benedict Cumberbatch – we’re coming after you.”

The history of tipple is a cornerstone of their show.

“As historians with a healthy interest in alcohol, we realised that the really interesting stuff emerges when you place it in a historical and cultural context, broadening it beyond booze into the past, the people and the places that have shaped it,” says Ben. “Historically, drinking and alcohol is the cornerstone of civilisation – always has been – and there are so many fascinating stories and interesting anecdotes linked to drink. The reason that monkeys were coaxed down from the trees and evolved into man was because of sweet-smelling fruit fermenting on the jungle floor. If it wasn’t for drink, we literally would not be here.”

And with the UK spending a whopping £22billion on booze last year, and the numbers of craft breweries and small vineyards and distilleries rocketing, the Thinking Drinkers expertise is in great demand.

• The Thinking Drinkers: Heroes of Hooch, Leicester Square Theatre, November 30 to December 10. www.leicestersquaretheatre.com

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