Monday, 28 September 2009

How Porter faded away (at Courage)

In my last archive trawl I fished out some dead handy documents. Full of statistics. From the Courage archive.

Today's table comes from the thinnest book I've ever seen. It had no pages at all, consisting of just a hard cover with loads of numbers written on the inside. Those numbers are an overview of the draught beer sold in London between 1929 and 1951. By type.

It's not the beer brewed at Horsleydown, but the beer sold in Courage pubs. How do I know that? Because it include APA (Alton Pale Ale) which was brewed, who would have guessed, at Alton. How can I be so sure? I've looked in the Horsleydown brewing records for 1929, 1930 1932 and 1937 and there's no Pale Ale.

A word of explanation first. About the beers. Porter is pretty obvious. BS = Brown Stout. C, CC and MC are Milds. Don't ask me why they're called that. XXX looks like a Burton and KKK a Strong Ale. These were their gravities:

C 1027.7
CC 1031.58
MC 1039.33
XXX 1053.74
KKK 1072.57
Porter 1032.69
Stout 1046.54

OK. Explanation done. Here's the table:

By the late 1930's, Courage's draught Porter was clearly on its last legs. Even without WW II, it looks as if it would have disappeared in the early 1940's.

What struck me more when I looked more closely was the even more rapid decline of draught Stout. In 1929, with over 25,00 barrels sold, it was a pretty mainstream product. By 1940, it was on the edge of destruction. Surprisingly, it made a brief reappearance in 1945 and 1946 before disappearing forever.

This graph illustrates the rapid fall of Courage Stout:


Paul Bailey said...

Ron, you may be interested to know that according to the book "A Draught of Contentment" - "The Story of the Courage Group", published im 1971, although Courage had recognised the growing demand for Pale Ale during the 1870's, they considered that the Southwark water lacked the necessary minerals for a decent pale ale. (This must have been before the idea of "Burtonisation" became established.)

According to the book they first contracted Flowers of Stratford-on-Avon to supply their pale ale requirements. The contract was eventually switched to Fremlins of Maidstone during the late 1880's; the beer being transported by barge from the River Medway, and then along the Thames to Horsleydown.

In 1903 Courage acquired the Alton-based business of G. & E. Hall to supply their pale ale requirements, and presumably this arrangement continued into the period you refer to in your article.

The book doesn't say when pale ale brewing commenced at Horsleydown, but it does mention how Courage, Guiness and Mitchells & Butlers joined forces during the early 1960's to construct the Harp Lager Brewery at Alton. What happened to the old Halls brewery there isn't made clear.

Ron Pattinson said...

Paul, I really should read through all my books properly. I do own a copy of "A Draught of Contentment".

Graham Wheeler said...

Oh! The evil of taxation.

Looking at the graph for porter and brown stout, I noticed a couple of changes in slope which indicate certain social conditions. Those social conditions being a massive increase in beer duty in 1931 and a decrease in beer duty in 1933. Changes in slope can be clearly seen even though the slope is always downwards. Encouraged by this observation I thought I'd plot the others out, and they really do show the effects of taxation - to a remarkable degree.

The situation was that beer duty was regularly increased during the 1920s and this resulted in a proportional drop in beer consumption each time, and the exchequer ended up with less revenue with each duty hike, indicating that beer was taxed in excess of its optimum. This revenue drop was noticed and to reduce beer prices overall, a form of bulk-barrel rebate was introduced in the late 1920s. I am not sure how bulk-barrel rebates worked, but it did reverse the trend and beer sales increased, but it was obviously delicately balanced on the edge of practicality, because although beer consumption increased, presumably revenue didn't, because the Government slapped 3 shillings per barrel extra duty in 1930. This was sufficient to cause beer sales to slump again. Then in 1931 a further 31 shillings per barrel duty was slapped on beer (Yes 31/-), and beer sales fell through the floor. By 1932 the government realised that the Golden Goose had been well and truly murdered and the duty was reduced again.

By plotting out all the beers in the table, including total volume, sharp peaks and troughs can be seen at these three key dates, often with trends completely reversing. The 1930 3/- tax-hike can be seen (although there may have been depressionary trends in this), the 1931 31/- hike is really remarkable, and the 1933 drop in duty can be seen by yet another change of slope.

The most remarkable of these is MC which was increasing in sales until 1930, was their second or third best-selling beer, at which point consumption dropped sharply, and then it really plummeted after 1931. It then recovered somewhat after 1933, but only to a fraction of its former glory, struggled on until 1941 and then went to the hand pump in the sky.

CC, the second weakest beer, although showing similar trends is not affected anywhere near as much as the others, indicating that people were moving over to it, and actually increases in sales during the 1930s.

The real trend-bucker was C, the weakest beer. While other beers changed slope to sharp decline at the critical dates, C went the opposite way and increased in sales, after the 1933 duty reduction it started to decrease again, showing that some people moved to the cheapest beer. HB was similar, it came up from nowhere in 1931 and, although a low-volume beer, remained fairly level in sales thereafter.

The strongest beer, KKK, at 1072, seemed totally unaffected by the trends. Although being the lowest volume of all the beers, it starts at the beginning of the graph at a certain level, maintained an almost flat line throughout, and disappeared of the other side of the graph at more or less the same level. This shows that those people who could afford to drink a 1072 beer, could still afford to drink a 1072 beer despite the tax increases.

The 1054 XXX didn't do too badly considering the circumstances. Indeed, the three main beers during this period here XXX, APA - Alton Pale Ale of unspecified gravity, and CC. CC was the only one that increased in sales showing that people were moving over to it from the more expensive beers, probably from MC.


From about 1960, our local hand-pumped Courage beer came out of the ex-Simmonds Reading brewery. When the traditional Reading brewery was closed, to be replaced by Courage's mega-keggery on the outskirts of Reading, Courage beer; Best and Directors, was brewed at Georges Bristol Brewery. I think the "ordinary" bitter, on the rare occasions when it was available, was John Smiths in disguise.

Ron Pattinson said...

Graham, you're right that the effect of the tax rise of 1931-1933 is quite visible.

It's fascinating to see how much of each type of beer was sold. I've got figures from Whitbread for most of the 1930's. You see exactly the same trend: Porter dwindling away through the 1930's and being on its last legs when WW II began.

I've got a longer spread of Whitbread numbers, but not for every year. They span 1881 - 1939. Unfortunately, they discontinued keeping totals in their logs during the war.

C was clearly introduced as a cut-price Mild. All the breweries made one. Something around 1027-1030 that cost 4d a pint.

Things like KKK were often seasonal. An extra strong beer for the winter. Even I can remember that tradition. You used to get Marston's Owd Roger on draught in winter. That probably explains the small but steady sales over the years.

I did drink beer brewed at Horsleydown. Russian Stout, for sure. Probably some Bitter and Mild, too.