Friday, 9 December 2011

Scotland's brewing industry in the 1930s

I've been taking a look at my bound Brewers' Journals again. Looking for stuff about Scotland. This is one of the first things I found. Mostly because it appeared in the index under "Scotland". Talk about making life easy.

The article is a fairly brief (and dare I say it, superficial) look at the state of Scotland's brewing industry ion the late 1930's. Despite its superficiality, it does make some good points about how changes in the outside world were having an impact on Scots brewers.

The following is ail extract from a recent article in the Scotsman Trade Review by Robert Bruce, C.A., J.P.:-

Popular conception of Scotland and its products is very apt to identify the country with distilling of whisky, ignoring what, after all, is a very stable and important industry—the brewing of beer—which has contributed to Scotland's social and industrial life since the time of the great abbeys and monasteries of years ago.

A specialised industry such as this does not, as a rule, establish itself without special reasons and advantages, and brewing centres in Scotland (Edinburgh, Alloa, etc.) are particularly favoured by the type of water which is available from their special wells, which provide naturally perfect water for the production of the first quality of beers. In addition, the broad acres of farm land in the Lowlands of Scotland provide barleys of the high grade essential for the production of malt liquors.

As the centuries rolled on breweries were enlarged and modernised. The somewhat slipshod methods of old were replaced by highly specialised technical methods assisted by the most meticulous scientific control, with the object of not only maintaining quality, but also  of  improving the  stability,   flavour, and character of the product. This, combined with modern transport, has enabled Scotland to send its ales broadcast throughout the world, and the reputation once purely local is now not only natural but world-wide.

Trade in Scotland may be termed "local trade" inasmuch as it is trade competed for by Scottish brewers only for all practical purposes. The main sale here is for beer sold to the public on draught, and naturally the largest output is in the industrial areas such as the coalfields of the Lothians, Fife, and West of Scotland, and the engineering and shipbuilding districts of the Clyde. This trade is dependent on volume of wages very largely and therefore fluctuates considerably with the trade barometer, and as this barometer has been rising of late so sales have been recovering from the low levels of recent years in these districts.

This is of special concern to Scotland, as over 50 per cent, of Great Britain's beer exports, and practically the whole of the bulk beer consumed by our troops abroad, is exported from Scotland.

Conditions have changed materially during recent years, local breweries have been established in many countries. and this, combined with adverse tariffs, has curtailed opportunities of profitable trade. Australia and South Africa—at one time our largest customers— have practically ceased to import, and local breweries in the Straits Settlements, Egypt, India, etc., are all combining to diminish the trade done in the various markets In addition, there is a very intensive competition from other countries, especially in the case of lager beer. Notwithstanding this, the improvement in world conditions and spending power have their effect on the consumption of bottled beer and, with plentiful money, the extra cost of imported beer is overlooked, and what may be in the nature of a luxury is indulged in more freely.

The future is more difficult to forecast; the conditions referred to will continue to exist and, in the case of export, competition will increase rather than decrease. One serious problem is the increase of costs, which have risen consistently of late, and even now the full effect of this has not yet been felt and unfortunately there is no sign of any decrease, but, on the contrary, every likelihood of further continued increases. As outstanding examples peculiar to brewing, the cost of barley has risen 80 per cent, and of casks 60 per cent.; these, combined with rising freights, carriage, coal, etc., all mean the profitable margin being reduced, and, in certain cases where heavy carriage is involved, may even mean the impossibility of doing business on a profitable basis. In view of this it is the more essential that output should be kept up, and, given favourable conditions, it is hoped that this will be achieved."
"The Brewers' Journal 1938", May 15th 1938, page 246.
I agree with him about Alloa and Edinburgh basing their renown as brewing towns on their water, but not about local barley. I've looked at enough brewing records to know that Scottish brewers used large quantities of grain imported either from England or elsewhere. And at a parliamentary into malt in the 1830's, some Scottish brewers stated that the quality of English barley was generally better and that accordingly they mostly used malt made from English barley.

There's confirmation of Scotland's over-representation in Britain's beer exports. More than 50% of exports and almost all the draught beer for British troops throughout the empire. With their small local market and dependence on exports, it's no wonder the 20th century was a difficult time for Scottish brewers. After WW II, as the empire dissolved away, export markets disappeared almost completely.

Brewing in the tropics only became practical after the development of artificial refrigeration in 1870. The logic behind setting up breweries in the hotter parts of British is sound: why ship large amounts of water around the world. It's not very efficient. Scottish brewers, as big exporters and big in the Lager trade, were disproportionately affected by these changes abroad. London brewers had seen their export markets disappear earlier. But, having a large local trade, the impact was relatively small.

The future, of course, was pretty bleak for Scotland's brewers. Declining trade, ageing breweries and apathetic management led most to sell up at the earliest opportunity.

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