Saturday, 5 March 2011

Russian Duties on Beer

You must remember earlier discussions of Russian import duties and how they messed up the trade of Burton brewers. The duty being only on Ale, London brewers like Barclay Perkins were still able to ship their Porter to Russia. I'm now started to wonder if that was really true. Because in the text below, the Russian import duty is on both Ale and Porter.

"§§. 79 and 80. Spirits, Wine, and Malt Liquors.—The question of the Russian duties on spirits and wine will no doubt be brought forward by the Chambers of Commerce of wine growing countries.

Porter and ale are articles in which Great Britain is considerably interested. It being the policy of the Imperial Government to promote the use of malt liquors in order to diminish the present deadly recourse in Russia to raw spirits, the object would be greatly furthered by the admission of British porter and ale at a small fiscal duty, equal to, or very little above, the excise levied from Russian brewers. The brewing of malt has been so much improved in Russia that some of the ales of St. Petersburgh and Moscow will bear comparison with those of Great Britain and Germany in regard to quality, while in reference to price they are produced so cheaply as to fear no competition from abroad. The demand for Russian beer would not be lessened by a greater importation of British pale ale and porter, which, on the contrary, would give fashion to the consumption of malt liquors. A considerable revenue would also be obtained by the reduction of the present disproportionate duty, which is 264 copecks per pood on porter and ale in casks, but which M. Kolesoff proposes to increase to 265 copecks per pood.

A reduction to 1 rouble per pood would increase the consumption, and, on a bulky article, would at the same time help to fill up the steamers that come to fetch Russian produce. The Commission will surely take into consideration that the present duty is nearly 25 times higher than the excise levied on beer.

The wholesale price of English malt liquor in casks is as follows :—

per Ton Value Weight

£ roubles poods
Porter, best Barclay's 16 100* 70
Stout, Barclay's 18 to 19 113 to 120 70
Ale, Bass 20 to 21 125 to 130 70
Ale, Cobb's 18 118 70

The rate proposed by M. Kolesoff on porter and ale in casks would, therefore, fall as follows:—

Value Duty Ad valorum

roubles roubles per cent.
Porter, best 100 185 185
Stout, average 115 185 161
Ale, Bass 127 185 156
Ale, Cobb's 118 185 164

The duty on bottled porter and ale (22 copecks per bottle) is more especially objectionable, as it is not only a luxury, but in many oases a useful medicine, and yet M. Kolesoff proposes to increase the duty to 25 copecks (9.5d. per bottle). The great expense of sending bottled beer to Russia is alone sufficient protection, without an import duty equal to more than 200 per cent, ad valorem in the case of small bottles, and to about 100 per cent, in that of the larger sizes. A duty of 5 copecks per bottle would be amply sufficient for fiscal purposes on full-sized bottles or imperial pints, and half that rate on half- imperial pints.

It is a great defect in the present Tariff that the size of the bottles on which the duty is leviable is not specified. The wholesale price of an imperial pint of porter or ale is about 6d. (20 copecks, at the exchange of 2s. 8d. and 16 copecks at that of 3s. 2d.), while Messrs. Eliseyeff and other dealers sell a smaller quart bottle at 1 rouble, and a half bottle at 55 copecks to 60 copecks.

Importers of "comestibles" invariably take unreasonable advantage of high duties.

* At the Exchange of 38d. A ton contains 4 hogsheads, of about 270 ordinary bottles each. A hogshead weighs about 17 poods.
"Accounts and papers 1868 - 1869 of the House of Commons, vol. 26, Commercial Reports received at the Foreign Office from Her Majesty's Consuls during the year 1868", 1869, pages 10 to 11."

It's heartening to learn how concerned the British authorities were about the health of Russian citizens. And the need to keep them away from vodka by having them drink British beer. Very noble-spirited of them. And surely totally disconnected from the earning potential of beer exports.

As you can see, the Russian duty was the same for all types of beer. Burton brewers clearly hadn't completely abandonned the Russian market, as Bass's name crops up in the tables. I wonder which of their Ales they mean? Burton Ale of Pale Ale. It is, unfortunately, impossible to tell from the limited information. It was a pretty burdensome duty: more than the value of the beer. No wonder it discouraged brewers.

If the law didn't specify the size of the bottle, I'm surprised they didn't start using half gallon ones. It seems the logical approach.

It makes you realise why British brewers exported most to parts of the Empire. No dependency of fickle foreign governments who could ruin your trade at the stroke of a pen.


Martyn Cornell said...

Mind, that's an extract from 1869, so it doesn't prove the ale brewers were not excluded from the Russia trade in the early 1820s, only that they were in it later.

Interesting to see Cobb's of Margate mentioned as an exporter to Russia, rather than, say, Lacon's of Yarmouth, let alone any of the Newcastle or Edinburgh brewers. Cobb's, of course, were heavily involved in supplying beer to ships anyway, so it would have been only one step from there to exporting.

Yuri Katunin said...

Hi, Ronald,
Probably it would be interesting for you to investigate the real figures of British porter import to Russia during the 19th century.
You may easely get it here from:

And if you'd like I can translate the material for you.
Yuri Katunin

Ron Pattinson said...

Yuri, thanks very much for the link. I'd be very grateful if you could translate it for me. My Russian isn't great.