Sunday, 14 December 2008

Brown malt (yet again)

Serendipity. Great concept, cool word. A little of it came my way on Thursday at the London Metropolitan Archives.

I've have a routine at the LMA. I have request slips pre-filled. I slip them into the box as soon as I arrive. It saves valuable time. But there's still at least a 15-minute wait before the first documents are brought up to the reading room. While I'm waiting, I have a quick look through the archive catalogues. Looking for documents other than brewing logs. The descriptions are sometimes rather vague, which means it's a bit hit-and-miss, but I always get one set of five (that's the most documents you can order at one time). I hit the jackpot this time.

"Notebook with brewing information and statistics". That's how the catalogue described document LMA/4453/D/02/16. It turned out to be a disintegrating notebook. Only about half the pages were still bound. But what a source of information. It certainly does contain statistics. Amount brewed of each type of beer 1902-1920, amount of beer bottled 1900-1939, costs - raw materials, wages, duty, coal - 1900-1920, "Trade Charges" - attorneys, auditors, repairs to casks, horse van hire, delivery, corks, brooms, spiles, shives, stillion - 1900-1920, and much more. Really, much more. Just the sort of stuff that fascinates me.

Now here's the serendipity part. What I've seen in WW I brewing records has led me to seriously doubt the story, repeated in the 2008 Good Beer Guide, that the brewing of Porter and Stout died out in Britain because of wartime restrictions on making roasted malts. Yet the logs show that not only did Porter and Stout continue to be brewed right through the war, but that they also started using brown malt in beer - like X Ale - which had contained none in 1914.

I'd tried making a few rough calculations about the quantity of brown malt Whitbread used in the later war years. But I didn't have quite all the information. I'd been planning on collecting it via the brewing logs. Turns out, I didn't need to bother. LMA/4453/D/02/16 had a couple of pages listing the quantities of each type of malt used in the years 1903 to 1932.

It's time to nail down firmly this particular coffin lid. After, just as a precaution, driving a stake through the myth's heart. Here's a table of Whitbread's malt usage:

Yes, their usage of brown malt went down during the war. But they used less of all malts because of the government limit on how much they could brew. In the last year before the war (the brewing year ending in July 1914) 6.68% of the the malt Whitbread used was brown malt. By 1917, that had increased to 7.54%. Usage peaked in 1919 at 8.77%. That's the year where the regulations around brewing were the tightest.

You'll have to wait a while for me top get the years 1917-1920, but you can see that a considerable percentage of Whitbread's output was Porter and Stout. Their London Stout was still one of their best-selling beers in the 1930's. Yes, the percentage of Porter and Stout brewed fell during the war years, but it bounced back again afterwards. And Porter had been losing popularity for decades.

Sadly, a few years are missing in the notebook. But I'll be able to put them together myself, from the brewing logs. They have a handy couple of pages at the back listing how much was brewed of each beer each week. With the logs I photographed last week, I have all the years 1914-1921.


Bailey said...

You're making things very difficult for lazy hack writers who can't be asked to do any research. I think it's time CAMRA and other publishers issues new editions of all of their books with "or so the legend goes" inserted after every single statement about the history of beer...

ATj said...

You’ll find that some of us are starting to go that way already. I saw Ron the other night at the Guild do and wondered if the idea of beer styles was still viable. It’s anarchy out there — a bit like Greece.

Bailey said...

Any beer writers who know what's good for them should hunker down with a few crates of beer, some tins of corned beef and a box of candles, and wait a few years for the storm to blow over.

Lew Bryson said...

I've bought myself a hairshirt and a lantern, and I'm going to let my beard grow so people will take me seriously as a prophet of beer writing's doom.