Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Beer in India in the 1860's

A special treat today. A first-hand account of beer in India. It's full of good stuff.

"But to return to the domestic world. If either through local enterprize or home competition, a wholesome and cheap malt beverage could be introduced in Bengal, it would do much towards abolishing the use of spirits amongst many whose means do not warrant the patronage of Allsop and Bass either at 5 and 6 Rs. the dozen in bottle, or from 70 up even to 90 Rs. the hogshead as imported. Of late the price of beer by the great brewers, Allsop and Bass, has considerably augmented. The extension of our dominions in the north, and spread and accumulation of Europeans in the distant provinces, has created a demand for supplies of such things, and encouraged enterprize to provide them, where greater profits could, no doubt, be commanded. Nearly the whole investments of a season were, upon one occasion, said to be monopolized by a rich native up-country dealer or purveyor, and Calcutta was left so scarce of supplies that a hogshead of Bass' or Allsop's beer could not be obtained for less than 90 roopees, though the previous season it had sold for 60.

Numerous have been the attempts, by many very respectable brewers at home, to break the monopoly by competition, and numerous may have been the causes of failure. Such is now the established reputation of Bass and Allsop that people will scarcely take any other brew on trust; hence a new brewer has to fight his way to notice through difficulties the most severe, and would require to spend nearly a fortune to establish his success. By way of trial he sends out a small shipment of ten or a dozen hogsheads. Perhaps it proves excellent—but the maker is unknown to the Indian public, and it sells for half its prime cost! The probabilities are he sends no more —or, if not discouraged, has to carry on, as I have said, a very expensive contest for public favour.

At one time, in the early history of beer commerce in India, Hodgson held the entire market in his hand—but by one of those mishaps which sometimes overtake men in an hour of imagined security—some sudden and accidental inferiority in the brew of a season—the name fell—Bass stept in —and now Hodgson is amongst the competitors who are labouring (I believe successfully) up the hill which once he solely commanded. The very name is replete with associations of the palmy days of India, when the rapidity with which money was often made was equalled only by the celerity with which it could be spent. A friend, and an old resident in India, assures me that in the year 1816, Hodgson's Beer was sold at from 170 to 200 Rs. the hogshead, and from 25 to 45 Rs. per dozen in bottle ! Champagne and Burgundy at 120 Rs. per dozen, and Madeira from 50 to 60. For a one-bladed penknife, yet in his possession, he remembers paying no less an amount than 48 Rs.!—a sum very close upon £5 ;—whilst he has known an ordinary set of Crockery actually to cost from 800 to 1000 Rs. !

The quantity of beer consumed in most private dwellings in Calcutta, would I think surprise you.* It is regarded by many, whether erroneously or not, as the very prop of their existence, and during the hot weather, is used, by ladies as well as gentlemen, to almost the exclusion of wine; hence, therefore, the great importance of its being good, and free from those adulterations which there is no doubt exist in much of the beer procurable in the Calcutta bazars.

I have it on very good medical authority that a considerable amount of beer retailed up the country, not far from the seat of the late war, and finding its way into the very hospitals and canteens, is adulterated by substances most pernicious in their effects;—as, for instance, the Coculus Indicus, Grains of Paradise—Quassia, and the like, which are employed to give the necessary flavour to the beer. It is stated that beer of this kind, given to European convalescents, has been observed to produce, in an hour or so, all the poisonous symptoms which a dose of the Coculus Indicus would be apt to produce —viz. headache—lassitude—and not only mental but bodily prostration, according to the quantity taken into the stomach, and proportion of the poisonous drug contained in the beer ! Small quantities of sulphuric acid, also, are declared to be used in order to convert new, or what is technically termed "mild Beer" into old. Hence, with a knowledge of these facts, it is not surprising that people should prefer the expences of a genuine brew to the risk of the unwelcome charges of the Apothecary or the Undertaker!

Beer—or more correctly speaking, Ale—is of course imported and bought in the wood,—bottled and allowed to ripen for the space of two or three months. Porter is an article seldom used in India, being considered too heavy, and to my unsophisticated taste, moreover, inferior in all respects to the porter drawn from the wood at the public inns of the great metropolis; but Guinness' Dublin bottled stout, which has been recommended to invalids suffering from weakness, has of late years, I believe, obtained repute in India, and is in considerable demand at a high price—4 and 5 Rs. the dozen in pints.

* The Imports of Beer and Porter for the years 1849 and 50, give a return of 176 Butts and 7,723 hogsheads, and for 1850 and 51, 32 Butts and 10,534 hogsheads, besides an average of about 12,158 dozens in each year, in bottle.
Wilkinson's Tabular Statement of the External Commerce of Bengal, 1849-50 and 51."

"Anglo-Indian domestic life: a letter from an artist in India to his mother in England" by Colesworthey Grant, 1862, pages 50 - 52

Let's start off with paragraph one. There's some fairly precise information about the price of Pale Ale in India. Prices of between 60 and 90 rupees a hogshead tally with those given in newspaper trade announcements of the 1850's. The Indian trade was quite a gamble. A brewer couldn't be certain of the price his beer would make even if it did arrive in good condition. The time it took to transport to Indiia meant that there was a considerable delay in satisfying the demand.

The author confirms that Hodgson and been displaced by Bass and Allsopp as the main supplier of Pale Ale to India. Though Hodgson - or rather the brewery that bore his name, he was long dead by this time - was still exporting to India. Though, as the adverts below show, his name was eventually dropped, changing from Hodgson and Abbott to just Abbott.:

English Goods.—Beer, Alsop's per hhd. Rs. 66; Bass's, Rs. 66; Elliot's, Rs.40; Hodgson's, Rs. 65; Saunders, Rs. 35; Tenant's, Rs. 35; Porter, Rs. 40
"Allen's Indian mail and register of intelligence for British and foreign India", 1845, page 91. Price of goods in Madras.

Beer Hodgson's.. 99 Hhds Rs. 66 p. Hhd
"Allen's Indian mail and register of intelligence for British and foreign India", 1845, page 479. Price of goods in Madras.

HODGSON and ABBOTT'S EAST IND1A PALE ALE. E. Abbott, the sole surviving partner of this long celebrated Establishment, informs the Public that this Beer, so strongly recommended by the Faculty, not being sold to the trade, can only be procured at the Brewery, Bow. City Office, 98, Gracechurch Strect.
"The Indian mail, vol 1, 1843-1844", 1844, page 127.

BOW-BREWERY PALE ALE.—This celebrated Beer, which has been held In such high repute in India for nearly a century, and is so strongly recommended by the faculty in this country to invalids and others for its tonic properties, can be procured only by order, addressed to E. ABBOTT, Bow Brewery, or at his City Office, 99, Gracechurch Street.
"Allen's Indian mail and register of intelligence for British and foreign India, vol. 4", 1846, page 222.

I'm not so sure about the claim that Hodgson's Pale Ale was sold for 170 to 200 Rs in 1816. It's outside the personal experience of the author. He's merely repeating a story that he's been told. It could well be an exaggeration.

You'll note the wisely differing prices in the first quote above. Tenant's and Saunders being just over half the price of Bass and Allsopp. With Porter costing just a little more than the cheapest beers.

The author's claim that "Porter is an article seldom used in India, being considered too heavy" is incorrect. I've unearthed evidence of large quantities of Porter being exported to India in the 1850's and 1860's. I think I know why he might have thought that. But that's the subject of another post.

The paragraph on adulteration is a bit weird. Especially when it starts going on about Mild.How on earth could you have Mild in India? By the time it got there, it wouldn't be Mild any more. Coculus Indicus, Grains of Paradise, Quassia are exactly the things it is often claimed were used to adulterate beer in Britain. I suspect that's really referring to practices in Britian, not India.

I'm pretty sure this is the earliest mention of Guinness in India I've come across. 4 to 5 rupees for a dozen  pints at first sight looks cheaper than the 5 to  6 rupees for a dozen bottles of Pale Ale. But I suspect that those were quarts, not pints.

Finally, there's that nice little detail about bottling. That after bottling it was left to ripen for two or three months. I wonder where it was stored while ripening and at what sort of temperature? And how many bottles burst. I'd love to get more details on how beer was handled on its arrival in India.

Quite a few talking points, I'm sure you'll agree.


Alan said...

Any exporting records floating around. Ships manifests? As bookend to India, my town of Kingston was the eastern edge of the British Empire in 1785 or so and continued to be a small pocket of direct British military presence for at least a hundred years more.

Ads show Guinness, Barclay Perkins as well as Allsopp being here in the 1850s and in the 1890s: http://beerblog.genx40.com/archive/2010/june/stuckinmyown

The NYTs tells us in 1980 it was stiil quite culturally distinct and preferred strong ale: http://beerblog.genx40.com/archive/2008/december/acityof1890in

My interest is not just in the flow of casks but the flow of British officers who circulated throughout the empire - and who the beer followed to ensure their imperial taste was matched by the imperial standard of beer. We know that this led, for example, to an early local anti-slavery movement in Upper Canada but I wonder what else was caused by this global shuffling officer class with a taste for ales like home.

Ron Pattinson said...

Alan, there loads of reports on trade to all parts of the Empire. Some is in statistical books, others in newspapers. They were very careful book-keepers.

As I'm beginning to discover, Allsopp, Barclay Perkins, Guinness and Bass got just about everywhere.

I'm sure the Empire helped spread British beer around the world. And not just for slaking the thirst of the troops.

I'm not sure how often troops were moved from India to elsewhere in the Empire. Until the 1850's, they were employed by the East India Company.

Globalisation isn't new. That's one of the lessons that's been hammered home by my research. The number of people moving about the world is surprising. And there were industries built up around that mobility - transport, outfitters (you could be a complete Australia kit) brewing, international couriers. It was a massive enterprise.

Arctic Alchemy said...

Soon time to re-name this blog to "Shut up about Bass and Allsopp "

For Alan and, Ron I suppose, search Hudson Bay Company, loads of stuff listed there too, loads of British explorations and connections , Alan may have access in Canada locally too .