Sunday, 6 March 2011

A quarter century of change

You may have spotted I've a bit of a WW II theme going on. There's a reason for that. One that, if I'm feeling nice, I might tell you sometime. But not now.

I've been rooting around some brewers trade magazines from the war years. I've had them a while but have  yet to go through them fully. (That's the problem with having too many books: no time to read them all.) There's so much great material in them that it's hard to select what to share. Still I've plenty of time. I've another three or four hundred posts to write this year.

The article below is a review of what would, on the face of it, appear to be a deathly dull publication: "Licensing Statistics, 1938,". Not quite as boring, however, on more close observation.

"Licensing Statistics, 1938," the Blue Book issued annually by the Home Office, makes dry reading for the layman, for it is a compilation (to use the official jargon) of " statistics as to the operation and administration of the laws relating to the sale of intoxicating liquors in England and Wales." But its publication this month became for the Press headline news. The explanation is that included in the Report are statistics for 1913. Not only does this span a quarter of a century, but it also provides a comparison between two pre-war years. It was the significant changes in the nation's drinking habits during that quarter of a century that made the subject palatable to the ordinary reader. For ostensibly the nation drank only about half as much beer in England and Wales in 1938 as in 1913: the consumption in the former year was 14.22 standard gallons per head of the population, and in the latter year 27.86. This does not mean, however, that in fact the consumption = of beer has gone down by half, since the bulk barrelage has not descended in anything like so great a proportion. As to spirits, in 1938, 20.65 proof gallons of spirits were consumed for each 100 of the population, as against 69.65 in 1913—a drop of more than two-thirds.

The reasons for these declines are not far to seek. Whisky, which in 1913 cost 3s. 6d. a bottle, was 12s. 6d. in 1938 ; and as to beer, the term "four ale bar," which belonged to the days of 1913, has become "public bar" for the very good reason that the then prevailing duty of 7s. 9d. per standard barrel had,in 1938, been increased tenfold. In all the circumstances, it is surprising to learn that there has not been an even greater decline in the specific gravity - of the nation's national beverage — in 1938 it was 1041.02 deg., as against 1052.80 deg. in 1913. Another reason for the decline in the consumption of alcoholic beverages is that while the maximum permitted trading hours in 1938 were nine per day (eight hours per day were general in a large number of areas), in 1913 19.5 hours per day represented the maximum period of trading. Sunday hours also have been curtailed to five in 1938 as against seven in 1913.

Further than this, there are far fewer licensed houses to serve the needs of the public. On-licences in 1938 were 17.94 per 10,000 of the population, as against 24.04 in 1913. Off-licences, too, have declined for the same proportion of population, being 5.35 in 1933 as against 6.4 in 1913. We do not attribute the decline in consumption appreciably to this cause, however, since registered clubs virtually doubled themselves in the same period; they were 4.11 to every 10,000 people in England and Wales in 1938, as against 2.29 in 1913. Most spectacular of all is the decline in convictions for drunkenness, which, per 10,000 of the population, stood at 11.31 in 1938, as against 51.16 in 1913. With regard to the year 1938 itself, drunkenness convictions fell by 154. compared with the previous year, to a total of 46,603. It is interesting to learn that in England 30 per cent, of the drunkenness offences took place on a Saturday; 10 per cent, on a Sunday ; and 11 per cent, on a Monday. In Wales and Monmouthshire (where Sunday closing of licensed houses is in force, though registered clubs are permitted to open) the percentages were: Saturday, 39; Sunday, 5 ;  and Monday, 12.
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 43.

This is the executive summary. There are about another 10 pages in the next couple of issues of "The Brewers' Journal" dedicated to the figures in the book. Enough figures, in fact, to deter me from harvesting them. When I get a better scanning program and it doesn't take almost 5 minutes a page, maybe I'll collect them then.

For my purposes (which I still don't feel inclined to reveal) the comparison of 1913 with 1938 is particularly useful. They demonstrate the long-term effect of WW I on British beer.

"ostensibly the nation drank only about half as much beer in England and Wales in 1938 as in 1913". That might seem an odd statement. And it is, because it's both true and false. The figures given are for standard barrels. A standard barrel being a nominal device for taxation purposes. It represents 36 gallons of beer with an OG of 1055º. Excise duty was calculated per standard barrel. Breweries had to convert their output into standard barrels to work out their tax bill. For example, two barrels of beer at 1027.5 make one standard barrel.

Pre-WW I, 1055 was close to the average gravity of beer, so the number of standard barrels consumed was close to the number of bulk barrels (the actual volume of beer). After 1914, as gravities tumbled, they grew further and further out of step. As you can see from this handy table:

British beer production 1913 - 1938
1913 1914 1917 1918 1920 1930 1938
Production (bulk barrels) 36,296,000 37,558,767 30,163,988 19,085,413 35,047,947 25,061,956 24,205,631
Production (standard barrels) 34,712,175 36,056,416 26,621,091 13,814,369 25,113,447 19,548,326 18,053,000
Average OG 1052.60 1052.80 1048.54 1039.81 1039.41 1042.90 1041.02
Handbook of the British Beer & Pub Association 2005, p. 7
Brewers' Almanack 1928, p. 110
Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 50

The amount of alcohol consumed through beer fell much more than the volume of beer drunk.

The other big changes over the 25 years? A fall in average beer gravity of about 22%. A more than halving of the hours pubs were allowed to open. A decrease of about 25% in the number of pubs per head of population, but a relative doubling of in the number of clubs. A tenfold increase in beer tax. Though not a tenfold increae in the price of beer. In 1914 Four Ale, or standard Mild, was called that because it cost 4d per quart. Or 2d per pint. For a beer that was around 1050º. In 1938, Barclay Perkins had Milds at 4d, 5d and 6d per pint. With gravities of  1031º, 1035º and 1043º respectively.

25 years. I've been drinking longer than that. Has beer changed as much in my drinking life as between 1913 and 1938? Probably not. Beers strengths have edged up a tiny amount, but are still below the 1938 level. With styles, I can see a parallel between the fortune of Porter in the past and Mild in my day. Going from common to rare to disappeared. And pub openeing times. They've been pretty much rolled back to the 1913 situation. DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) determined when Britons could drink for the greater part of the 20th century. I wasn't sad to see the annoying closing times it dictated finally swept away.


Craig said...

I would argue that beer and the brewing industry in the US has changed, amazingly, from 1986 to 2011. The idea of beer being anything other than yellow, 4 or 5% ABV, and a lager was almost unheard of twenty-five years ago.

Thomas Barnes said...

I agree with Craig, and would also argue that the American craft brew craze has had some influence on the European brewing scene.

The fact that craft beer companies like Sierra Nevada and Boston Brewing Company have gone from nothing to some of the top-20 beer producers in the U.S. is huge. By contrast, the macro-breweries are losing market share and are consolidating.

I'd also argue that the past 25 years has seen a huge explosion in new varieties of beer. While you might not like some of them, aggressively hopped American beers, represents a new direction for American breweries, as does the the vast variety of "specialty" beers brewed using wheat/rye, herbs, fruit, spices and whatnot. Who would have believed 25 years ago that Coors would produce a wheat beer flavored with citrus peel and spices!

dave said...

Even with craft beer, the change of beer strength on average has not changed all that much (with 90% of the market being roughly 5%, that remaining 10% would need to be significantly stronger to have any true percentage change).

Yes there is more variety, but that has yet to change what the most consumed variety of beer is in the US (American-style Lager), which is what Ron talks about with the changes regarding Porter and Mild. Porter and Mild in their respective times were the American-style Lager, and they "disappeared".

Yet with all of that said, I think craft is helping change the industry and it is possible a true change could happen within the next 25 years, this past 25 years has just got the ball rolling.

As for the post I found the "standard barrel for taxation purposes" very interesting (never thought I would describe something about taxation as 'interesting').