Monday, 16 August 2010

Watering beer

Food and Sanitation. It's becoming one of my favourite magazines.There's always so much about beer in it. Admittedly, not very reassuring stuff if you're living in the 1890's. At the distance of more than a century, the tales it tells aren't quite as scary.

I'll admit that the title of this item is a bit of a puzzle. There's no mention of a brewer anywhere in the article.


At Lambeth on June 18th, John Thomas Smith was summoned hy the Excise for diluting beer. Mr. Squires, from the Solicitor's Department, Somerset House, appeared in support of the summons, and said the case was a bad one, the dilution being equal to 6.5 gallons to a barrel of 36 gallons. The defendant carried on business at a fully-licensed house in Marmont-road, Camberwell, and on March 27th a supervisor of Inland Revenue took a sample of beer from a cask in the defendant's cellar. Upon examination at Somerset House, it was found that the beer had been diluted at least to the extent mentioned.—The defendant said his instructions to the cellarman were that he was in no way to dilute the beer, and the cellarman assured him that he used only a gallon of finings. The defendant had no chance of defending himself, as the Excise did not divide the sample, and he heard nothing of the matter for two months,—Mr. Squire pointed out that the defendant was present when the officers called, and could have had a sample if he had chosen to ask for it.—Mr. Biron (to defendant) : You were there when they took the sample, and any man of ordinary intelligence would have taken a sample himself.—The defendant said samples had been taken from his place on previous occasions without any complaint being made. There must be some mistake in this case.—Mr. Biron ordered the defendant to pay a fine of £30, and £2 10s. costs."
"Food & sanitation, Volume 4", 1894, page 199.

To put the fine of £30 into context, a 36-gallon barrel of standard-strength beer cost £1 16s. The landlord could have bought a couple of week's supply of beer - 16 barrels - for the same amount as the fine.


Thomas Barnes said...

The title of the article implies that brewers are free to dilute their beer as they see fit while the poor publicans get it in the neck.

Was this illegal brewery practice, or did the excisemen not care since tax had already been paid on the mash?

As you probably know, "high gravity fermentation" is a standard brewer's technique. It is advantageous because it allows you to save space on fermenters by brewing a higher-gravity beer which is diluted with water just before packaging.

The only problem, other than legality, is that the water must be pure and de-oxygenated before it is added to the beer to avoid problems with contamination and flavor stability.

Speaking of which, do you know how excisemen determined if beer had been adulterated? Did they do actual chemical assays or did they just drop a hydrometer into a sample glass? In the latter case, justice might have easily miscarried if barrel fermentation resulted in a serious drop in gravity.

Barm said...

By my reckoning that's between four and six thousand quid in today's money, relative to the price of beer. Is it really that reassuring if punishments for ripping off your customers are less severe nowadays?

Ron Pattinson said...

Thomas Barnes, I assume that the excisemen analysed the beer to work out the OG. They would have known from the tax documents that the brewery was obliged to fill in what the OG of a specific beer should have been.