Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Hard to believe, but yet another book is ready to go: "Peace!". A companion volume to, naturally enough, "War!". (Just like Tolstoy I've written War and Peace. Except mine are separate volumes.)

What's it about? Well, peace. The peacetime years between the two wars: 1920 - 1939.

The interwar period is fascinating. For me at least. It’s where modern British beer began. While Edwardian beers seem exotic and strange, those from after WW I are reassuringly familiar. Weak and watery Dark Mild, Bitter you could drink more than four pints of without falling over, Stout that isn’t really very stout at all, sweet Brown Ale. The standard beers you found down the pub when I started my drinking career all have their origins in the interwar years.

What would British beer be like today if the two world wars had never happened? That’s a question I’ve asked myself many times. Obviously, it’s impossible to answer without a machine to travel between parallel universes. Lacking such a handy device, we’re left with guesswork.

Looked at rationally, the wars only accelerated processes already in action. The move away from heavy, aged beers to light, running beers began in the 19th century. I can’t imagine standard Mild and Bitter having remained over 5% ABV. Maybe they’d be a little stronger, perhaps 4 to 4.5% ABV. Or maybe not. As I’ve already said, this can only be guesswork.

Luckily, the period is very well documented. To be honest, the Whitbread and Truman Gravity Books have provided far more information than I need. At least for London beers. Combined with the extensive brewing records held in archives, it makes study of the period a doddle. As an intensely lazy person, that’s why I picked it. Not too much work. When I’m feeling more energetic, I may take on the 18th century.

I've just remembered. New book = new competition. I need a question. Let's think . . . .

. . . . that's not working. I'll ask the kids . . . . . .

What's Andrew's middle name? [No, I've already given that one away.] Who's Alexei's favourite artist? Which is our least favourite tree? What colour is our new kitchen? Where did dad break his first ankle? How many jenevers can dad drink before we call him an alcoholic? When will you stop singing?

All excellent suggestions, I'm sure you'll agree. But, I'm the father here. My word is final. A specific question, with one, unambiguous answer is what I need. How about this:

What would British beer be like today if the two world wars had never happened?


Tandleman said...

The same as it is now.

Barry M said...

Ehhhh... Everything would be "extreme" by todays standards, so be definition, there'd be no such thing as "extreme" beers :D

Or, just stronger.

Matt said...

Stronger and cheaper.

Oblivious said...

By British beer I presume we are talking about ale?

I think people over look the positive effects that the wars had on the consumption of ale/English brewing. Yes gravities decreased and breweries have be closed or consolidated.

But I think it galvanized the population into keep British brewing firmly in the public mind. Pete brown’s books “Man walks into a pubs” has some good account of the role of British ale and pub during WW2, especially in the Blitzes and spitfire flying casks of ale over to the beach lands. My two cents if the Wars had not occurred, ale consumption may have died out especially cask ale in favour of keg beer.

mrbowenz said...

British beer would be ......Russian Lager.... available in ONE flavor, and each person would be allowed only one bottle per day, and no one would be allowed to write or speak about it.

Pivní Filosof said...

Hmmmm..... The question should be how that would have affected consolidation, not only at a local, but at an international level.

Would these massive brewing concerns exist, or something like that?

If the answer is yes, then beers would be pretty much the same they are now, and not only in England.

If the answer is now, well, probably they wouldn't be much different, but perhaps a natural cycle would have take them back to the Eduardian stuff.

Chap said...

Today: "I can’t imagine standard Mild and Bitter having remained over 5% ABV. Maybe they’d be a little stronger, perhaps 4 to 4.5% ABV."

Yesterday: "Bavarians. They always liked their beer. In the 19th century, to a crazy extent. Though remember that the beer they were drinking was probably around 4% ABV."

Given that standard Bavarian beers are now around 5%, any ideas as to why the two countries show such contrasting trends?

The Beer Nut said...

The imposition of the Reinheitsgebot in the Bundesland of Großbritannien, the ensuing internal trade and eventual industry consolidation, would have left pilsner the overwhelmingly dominant style. Though there's always the regional specialities like Cornish weißbier.

First Stater said...


Did I win?

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Nut, I said "if the two world wars hadn't happened" not "if the Germans had won the war".

In any case, without WW II the dominant German style might wel;l have been Dunkles. Or Lager Mild, as I like to call it.

Ron Pattinson said...

Chap, well spotted. Odd how British beer went from being on average the strongest to the weakest in just 20 years.

The Beer Nut said...

You don't have to fight a war to get colonised by the empire next door, you know.

Séan Billings said...

Well, the mainstream beers would be fairly similar. The rise of lager would have happened anyway.

Brewery consolidations were not triggered by the wars but by the natural tendency for large companies to consume smaller ones in order to gain market share. Improved transportation allowed beer to be shipped great distances, so a brewery could hope to dominate trade nationally and even internationally. It might have been different firms and different beers, but I think you would still have a 4.X% vol. lightly hopped pale lager as the main beer ordered in the average pub.

Maybe the Spaten und Becks brewing conglomerate would ship tonnes of hops directly from Hallertau to the Heathrow International Airship Yards and brew the beer in England using locally sourced lager malt, but I bet it'd still taste like Carling.

I wonder how the pubs would be though. Closing time would never have been introduced, so the British public would not have spent generations being treated like children and sent home early for their own good.

Chap said...

If the First World War had not been fought:

(1) Germany would have been the dominant economic power in Europe (apart from the reparations it was required to pay to the victors, estimated at the equivalent in 2007 of US $400 billion, it lost 10% of its population, 15% of its agricultural population and 20% of its iron, coal and steel).

(2) The Austro-Hungarian Empire would not have been split up into the central European states of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, etc. Instead, it would have been a major player in European affairs.

(3) The UK would have concentrated on its own imperial interests.

(4) The USA would have remained happily isolationist.

If the Second World War had not been fought:

(1) Germany would have been even more dominant economically (see above, plus it lost another 24% of its territory).

(2) The bulk of the Austro-Hungarian Empire would not have been isolated behind the Iron Curtain for some 40 years. Instead, it would have remained a great power (see above).

(3) As a result of (2) above, Franconia would not have been isolated by the Iron Curtain to its north and east.

(4) The UK would have concentrated on its own imperial interests.

(5) The USA would have remained happily isolationist.

With their home markets unable to absorb any more of their production (see Ron's post yesterday), the German brewers would have had to focus on overseas markets in order to satisfy their shareholders' requirements for growth. The largest and most convenient market for them would have been the UK. Given that Barclay Perkins and other British lager brewers had already prepared the ground, the Germans could have used their economic power (which would have made their cost of capital lower) to acquire British brewers and introduce their brewing techniques to the UK market on a massive scale. Franconia's brewers would not have been so isolated and would have played a greater part in the German brewing sector than they have. For the same reason, their central European cousins would also have played a part in the process of expansion into the UK. The end result would have been that the British beer market would have been colonised by the Germans and that UK drinkers would even now be enjoying the Bayerische Anstich!

Of course, in real life the dominance of Germany would have been resisted by the UK, whose foreign policy towards Europe was always to prevent any one continental power becoming over-mighty. The result would have been war in any case.