Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Free Mash Tun Act

A highly significant piece of legislation was adopted in 1880: the so-called Free Mash Tun Act. It introduced a new method of taxing beer and removed restrictions on ingredients.

The 1830 Beer Act had repealed all excise duty on beer. Instead, the raw materials needed to brew beer were taxed instead. In 1880 the malt and hop tax were replaced with excise duty on beer, based on the original gravity of the wort. This duty was payable at the end of the month.

As soon as the wort had run into the fermenting tun, it was checked by an Excise Officer to determine its volume and gravity. This was the basis on which beer duty was calculated. An allowance of 6% was made by the Excise for losses during fermentation. At the end of each month a calculation was made to convert the total amount of beer brewed into its equivalent in standard barrels. Should the yield have been fewer than 4 standard barrels per quarter, then the duty was levied on the materials used, rather than the number of standard barrels produced. (Source: "Principles & Practice of Brewing" by Walter J. Sykes & Arthur R. Ling, 1907, pages 528-529.)

For Excise purposes, a quarter of malt was deemed to be 336 pounds. The following amounts of other fermentables were considered by the Excise to be the equivalent of a quarter of malt:

cane sugar 224 lbs
glucose or invert sugar 256 lbs
flaked maize or rice 256 lbs
No. 1 syrup 272 lbs
No. 2 syrup 328 lbs
(Source: "Principles & Practice of Brewing" by Walter J. Sykes & Arthur R. Ling, 1907, page 529.)

Breweries were now able to use a whole range of adjuncts, such as maize, rice and unmalted barley. This was the final nail in the coffin for private brewers, whose last advantage over commercial brewers had been the ability to use whatever ingredients they chose. As duty was paid on the wort, there was a big financial; disincentive to age beer for long periods. The tax already having been paid, it meant huge amounts of capital were tied up in maturing beer. Fashion had already been moving away from the "aged" taste in beer (derived from the action of brettanomyces). The decline in production of vatted Stock Ales and Stouts was further accelerated by this change in the law.

Not all drinkers were so keen on brewers being given a free rein to use what they liked in their beer. In 1886 an organisation called The Pure Movement was Formed in Kent to campaign for restrictions on the ingredients used in brewing. Originally based in in the Southeast, the group expanded its activities to cover the whole of the country at the end of the year. "As a general principle, the average Briton believes in malt and hops as a sheet anchor of the Constitution, and a million scientific statements to the contrary would not convince him that good beer can be brewed in any but an orthodox way." (Source: DNW June 10th 1886.)

A Pure Beer Bill was introduced to parliament in 1886. It would have compelled wholesalers and retailers of beer that contained anything other than malted barley and hops to display a prominent sign saying what else was in it. Sounds fair enough to me, and way ahead of its time. Of course, it didn't pass and never became law. (Source: News of the World, May 23rd 1886.)

Beer production fell between 1900 and 1910, partly in response to a tax increase in 1901 to help fund the Boer War. It began to rise again from 1911 until the outbreak of WW I. Average gravity fell by about 2º between 1900 and 1914. That would turn out to be insignificant compared to the massive changes in beer strengths wrought by the two world wars.


Bill in Oregon said...

That's a really clear and concise summary of the major effects of the 1830 Beer Act and the 1880 Free Mash Tun act. It puts a lot of things in perspective. Thanks as always.

Anonymous said...

That Stroud Brewery "Home Brewed Mild Ale" label is, of course, a reminder that the Free Mash Tun Act also did in, eventually, the many thousands of surviving home-brew pubs, whose beers, frequently strong milds, were popular enough that larger brewers tried to replicate them with their own versions of "home brewed", but who couldn't cope with the cashflow problems the new tax regime imposed on them, particularly as taxes increased and, after the First World War, beer sales fell.