Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Why Scottish brewing boomed after 1850

Geography is a funny thing. Sometimes its with you, others against you.

Take Scottish brewing. There were a few natural obstacles to its development: relatively small population, limited access to raw materials locally, stiff competition from England. Yet Scottish brewing boomed in the second half of the 19th century. Take a look at the figures:

Scottish beer production 1850 - 1870
1850 476,000
1851 534,000
1852 564,000
1853 686,000
1854 686,000
1855 460,000
1856 539,000
1857 588,552
1858 673,000
1859 774,000
1860 810,727
1861 767,000
1862 802,000
1863 893,000
1864 986,000
1865 1,207,595
1866 1,254,000
1867 1,205,000
1868 1,171,000
1869 1,089,000
1870 1,026,000
“A History of the Brewing Industry in Scotland”  by IanDonnachie, 1998, pages 147-148.
Brewers' Almanack 1928

I suspect one reason Scottish brewers clustered around the coast is that they were importing many of their raw materials. Hops, obviously. We've already learned how in the 1830's some Scottish brewers were using all English barley. The only Scottish ingredients in their beer were water and yeast. This turned to their advantage after 1850 when Britain became dependent on foreign barley and hops. All brewers had to use foreign ingredients which came in by sea. Alloa brewers could pick them up virtually on their doorstep. Literally on their doorstep in the case of the Shore Brewery.

Located as they were on the coast, Scottish brewers had an advantage over some British brewing regions - Burton comes to mind - that were inland. Railways made bringing in materials and sending out beer simpler within Britain. But they still needed a port to bring in malt from abroad and ship export beer out. Brewers in Edinburgh and Alloa had direct access to the sea.

It's no surprise then that Scottish brewers were quick to exploit the export possibilities of the expanding Empire, shipping beer literally around the globe.

Funny how their geographical disadvantage was changed into an advantage. Globalisation was the reason. There's nothing new.

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