Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Why Lager didn't catch on

This might help explain why British brewers were so reluctant to move to bottom-fermentation. There was an incentive in the system of beer taxation to get beer out of the brewery as quickly as possible, because the tax was paid before the beer had even fermented.

Colonel J. Baldwin-Webb, M.P , has issued the following statement: —

In view of the urgent representations which have been made within the past year to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to individual Members of Parliament by various lager beer brewers, with regard to what is undoubtedly a real grievance, I have, after consultation with colleagues at the House of Commons, and in conjunction with fourteen of them, suggested the addition of the following new clause to the Finance Bill: —

"The duty of excise and the excise drawback allowed in respect of beer brewed in the United Kingdom under Section 1 of the Finance Act, 1933, shall be reduced as from the first day of July, 1934, by 5 per cent, in the case of beer known as lager beer—that is to say, beer mashed by the decoction process and fermented by a bottom yeast at a temperature of under 45 deg. Fahr."

The supporters of this new clause are Mr. W. W. Boulton, Mr. H. G. Williams, Col. Sir George Courthope, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold Wilson, Wing-Commander James, Lt.-Col. Heneage, Sir Thomas Rosbotham, Sir Arthur Shirley Benn, Vice-Admiral Taylor, Dr. O'Donovan, Lt.-Commander Bower, Sir Paul Latham, Mr. Mitcheson and Mr. D. G. Somerville.

At least half of these Members belong to the Parliamentary Agricultural Committee and have the interests of farmers no less than brewers at heart.

Until comparatively recent times, lager beer was virtually a foreign monopoly, but manufacturers in this country have been trying to make it an entirely British article, and but for the heavy pressure of foreign competition would have been successful. The home producer has to store his beer for four months, and the high rate of duty entails a considerable loss of interest on the capital so locked up, whereas the. foreign competitor, on the other hand, does not pay duty on the beer until it arrives at the port, and is also able to purchase his raw materials more cheaply.

The lager beer brewers of this country who are endeavouring to build up a British industry feel that they are entitled to some support from the Government.

They have already built up a considerable trade under great handicaps, but a great many of them are beginning to feel that, ii they have to conduct their home trade at a loss in order to compete with foreigners who enter this country under no handicap, they will have to give up what they hold to be an unequal struggle. This would cause unemployment among the makers of British labels, bottles, corks, etc., and among bottlers and casers

While the British lager brew has been struggling against these heavy odds, foreign imports have been increasing. The last available figures show the increases as follow: —

1932-3        22,486 standard barrels
1933-4        32,480 standard barrels

Other trades could, of course, go before the import Duties Advisory Committee and obtain protection for their business, but, owing to the technical point that beer is a dutiable article, the lager beer brewers are not entitled to do this. Nevertheless, they feel very strongly, that they are entitled to some protection, since their trade has greatly benefited other British industries. For instance, one firm I have in mind spent £70,000 last year for its export trade alone in purchasing glassware, labels, etc., of British manufacture, and, in addition, paid over £30,000 in freights to British shipowners. Failing other means of assistance, various British lager beer brewers have urged me to take up their case in the House of Commons, but as a Private Member is not entitled to move any clause or amendment to impose fresh taxation, my colleagues and I have adopted the alternative of pressing for a reduction in the excise duty.
June 6th, 1934.
House of Commons.
[The  new  Clause  was considered in the House Commons  on  the 12th inst., and negatived.—ED
"B. J."]"
Brewers' Journal 1934, page 324.

Of course they got nowhere with this proposal. One of the problems was how to decide what was Lager and what wasn't. The amendment suggested a decoction mash and a cool bottom fermentation defined Lager. Odd that lagering didn't get a mention. I'd have thought that was a key part of the definition. Especially as it was this long storage that financially disadvantaged Lager brewers.

In the 1960's and 1970's the extra costs involved with lagering were given as an explanation of the higher proce of Lager compared to top-fermenting beers. Bullshit, obviously, as very little lagering was going on by then.

The extra cost in brewing Lager must have been a disincentive to switch to bottom-fermentation. Especially at a time when brewery profits were under pressure. Anyone making such a bold step risked being undercut by competitors who stuck with top fermentation.

Those figures for the imports of Lager aren't 100% precise. As the official figures didn't record the type of beer, they just assumed that all beer coming from Denamrk, Holland, Germany and Czechoslovakia was bottom-fermenting.


joe v berlin said...

Revealed in the attached photo is a sign on the Devonshire Arms Sherwood St. for Barclays Lager from 1953.

But alas Gentlemen, I need your assistance to find out when did "Snow's Chop House" at 3-4 Sherwood Street London W1 close down. Can anyone remember it trading as a pub still in 1974 (or thereafter)? Is there a chance that it traded under another name under new ownership after this date? It was a Younger's pub serving Younger's Scotch Ale.

"Snow's Chop House" was located just across from the main entrance from the old Regent Palace Hotel on the corner of Glasshouse and Sherwood Street.
The pub had on its interior surrounding wall frieze, a series of old painted coloured murals around the bar - depicting the evolution of the London Gin Laws - a bit like 'Punch Magazine' caricatures and showing people in various states of dissipation and inebriation. The era that I was there - and am referring to - was the mid to late 1970's.
Or is my memory playing tricks and was it Bobby's Bar at Nr. 9 Glasshouse Street that had the murals?

Today the former "Snow's Chop House" is a place called Bar Blanca and before 2006 it was a Pizza restaurant called "Alabahma Pizza Pasta". Nobody there can tell me anything about "Snow's" and when it closed down.

Here is the photo from 1953 that may help jog a memory or two.

Gary Gillman said...

Can't assist much here but googling produced these interior photos of Bar Blanca:

Maybe the square bar in the back also served as the bar for the chop house. The Blanca seems a part of the Jewel which I gather is another bar or pub in the area, quite elegant it looks.


joe v berlin said...

Thank you Gary.