A few weeks ago, an old word resurfaced in the Twitterverse — quafftide — which apparently originated in the 16th century and its resurgence has been attributed to English lexicographer, etymologist, and media personality Susie Dent, although it was Stephen Beaumont sharing a tweet about it that brought it to my attention. The first mention of it by Dent I’ve found is a tweet from 2016.
And at the time I wholly endorsed its acceptance in our everyday language, and I was not the only one. Even fellow beer writer Don Tse changed his Twitter handle to Don Quafftide Tse. I still see it being used on social media and I hope to play some small part in its — fingers crossed — resurrection into common parlance. It’s a beautiful word that definitely does not deserve to be considered obsolete. So in an effort to help it along, I did a little digging.
The definition I first saw for quafftide was as follows:
‘quafftide,’ or ‘quaff-tide,’ a wonderful old word (16th century?) meaning: ‘The single word announcement that this is the time, or season, for a drink.’
I grabbed my O.E.D. (the 1971 compact edition) and found quaff-tide listed.
Fame, the blab vnciuil, fosters her phansye reciting,
That the fleete is strongly furnisht, theire passage apoincted.
Deuoyd of al counsayle scolding through cittye she ploddeth.
Mutch lyke Dame Thyas with great sollemnitye sturred
Of Bacchus third yeers feasting, when quaftyde aproacheth,
And showts in nighttyme doo ringe in loftye Cithoeron.
At last she Aeneas thus, not prouoked, asaulteth.
Curiously, there’s another word with the base ‘quaff’ whose use was also found first in Stanyhurst’s Aeneid. In this case, it was in Book I and the word was “quaffy.”
Theyre panch with venison they franck and quaffye carousing,
The O.E.D. defines it simply as “of the nature of quaffing.” Both words, of course, come from the word “quaff” — ‘to drink deeply; to take a long draught; also, to drink repeatedly in this manner’ — which was first used sometime between 1529 and 1579, not long before quaff-tide appears.
Quaff, of course, is the most common form of the word, which is still in use today, although I would argue it’s not terribly common these days and is likely waning. Other forms of the word include “quaffer” (one that quaffs) and “quaffing.”
But there’s also one more that I recently came across, “quaffsmanship.” I’d actually seen it before, but saw it again fresh from having learned about quafftide. It’s not in the O.E.D., or any other dictionary I’m aware of, for that matter. I’ve only found two instances of it being used online. The first is from Time Magazine, in A Letter From The Publisher, Jul. 4, 1977, in which he describes writer Stefan Kanfer.
Senior Writer Stefan Kanfer, who chronicled the aesthetics of beer, imbibes neither hard liquor nor water — only beer. “If they did an analysis of my blood,” he says, “they’d find 10% red corpuscles, 10% white corpuscles and 80% hops and malt.” Of the 187 varieties of classic beer, Kanfer has sampled about 100. Says he: “That’s not over a weekend or even a year, but over a lifetime of quaffsmanship.”
And the second one I found is from an article by Jeff Simon in the Buffalo Daily News, entitled No Talk Show For You, Bubba, Not At Any Price from May 7, 2002. Simon uses it in describing former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in comparing him to another former president, Bill Clinton.
All I can think of is Ulysses S. Grant. Yes, I know he was a war hero and a deeply devoted family man — neither of which would be the way a conservative would describe you, to put it mildly. Grant was also only 5 feet 8 inches tall and smoked 20 cigars a day (we won’t even talk about his legendary quaffsmanship).
But then I figured out why it seemed familiar. I had seen, and even shared an old ad prominently using the word quaffsmanship in the late fifties and early sixties. The Carlsberg Brewery used it in a short series of ads from 1959 until 1962, as far as I can tell. The earliest I could find is from 1959 and ran as a two-page advertainment in Sports Illustrated in their June 22, 1959 issue. Its title? “Quaffsmanship.”
The art for this, and in fact all of the art during Carlsberg’s quaffsmanship ad campaign, was created by famed Danish designer Ib Antoni. All of the illustrations in the Carlsberg ads were done by him.
I also discovered a short New York Times article from just before the above Sports Illustrated double-truck. It appeared in the newspaper on May 29, 1959, and details Carlsberg’s plans with the new ad campaign, focused on promoting the brand under the banner of “Quaffsmanship — the joy of drinking beer.” It actually mentions the Sports Illustrated ad and teases other publications that will carry subsequent ads in the same campaign.
But this is the only ad I could find from 1959, but interestingly it makes reference at the bottom to a “handsome Quaffer’s Plaque” which can be ordered for a mere 75-cents from an address in New York. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to discover what that looked like, but I bet it was spectacular.
It wasn’t until 1960 that a series of “Quaffsmanship” ads started to appear. Each ones tells a part of beer’s history that it was 1960 and not all of the stories are completely accurate, but they are all fairly entertaining. They seem very wordy, not just compared to today’s advertising, but even for the time.
And this ad using elements from the the other ads ran in the New York Times on May 8, 1960. It also includes other material, and even coins a new word, referring to collecting beer items from the campaign. That word is “quaffiana,” an obvious play on breweriana, and is yet another new word based on quaffing. The article includes more information on how to acquire your own quaffiana.
And on the same day, the Times also published this article, “Advertising: Fomenting a Beer Revolution,” which provides another report on Carlsberg’s quaffsmanship ad campaign, how it’s going and their plans for the coming year as it continues.
The following year, 1961, saw less ads, and less history, and instead focused on types of modern day quaffers.
But I guess it wasn’t quite as good an ad campaign as their initial reports about it suggested, because by 1962 they abandoned it for something else. I was only able to find one quaffmanship ad for that year, and it’s similar to the ones from 1961.
From there, the trail goes cold, and there’s no more from Carlsberg on the subject. I did, however, find an earlier ad, from 1917, for Rainier. It includes the headline: “Remember— Rainier at ‘Quafftide.'” Curiously, it’s for “The New Rainier,” which is turns out is a non-alcoholic version of their beer (or as they put it, “a non-intoxicating cereal beverage”), which given the year was probably their answer to prohibition coming. But using it in an ad presumably aimed at the general public suggests that the word would have been understood by most people who read it.
Is that it? Nope, I also found a poem entitled “Quaff-Tide” written by a Mac McGovern in May of 2019
Its QUAFF-TIDE, “The season for drinking,” don’t you know?
A time to celebrate; a few pints go down each round.
Then, stagger, fall down, too drunk, crashed on the ground.
So that must be it, right? Not quite, I found out one more interesting tidbit about quafftide. There’s an English band called “The Zen Hussies.” The band’s Twitter feed describes their music succinctly. “Vintage Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Ska, Pre-War Jazz and Soulful Latino – all infused with a feisty Post-Punk attitude and a terribly English sensibility.” They’re based out of Bristol, or at least they used to be. I can’t be sure, but their website isn’t working and on social media there’s nothing newer than 2017. But they have around six albums on Bandcamp. Their most recent album (or their last, depending on how you want to spin it) was “The Charm Account.” And the first track on the album is titled … you guessed it … “Quafftide.” I strongly encourage you to give it a listen below. It’s a jaunty little ditty. It’s also completely wonderful and reminds me a lot of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.