Monday, 12 November 2012

To Make Europe more Sober

I keep telling you how much impact WW I had, even on countries not engaged in the war. This article gives a handy roundup of the restrictions placed on the sale of booze in various European countries.

Though it's worth pointing out that this was still early days. The rules got progressively tighter as the war proceeded.


A White Paper has been issued showing the steps taken in European countries to restrict the sale of intoxicating liquors since the outbreak of war.

Austria-Hungary: Sale limited to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. On Sundays and holidays all liquor shops are closed.

Denmark : A more or less absolute prohibition of the sale of liquor to soldiers (and in some cases to civilians) has been issued in 16 police districts.

France; The sale of absinthe has been forbidden.

Germany : The sale of spirits has been forbidden to soldiers in the district of Berlin and province of Brandenburg. Local authorities are empowered to prohibit or restrict sale of spirits. The production of alcohol has been restricted.

Norway : The sale of spirits was forbidden until October 13. Now the sale is permitted four days a week. The police can prohibit the sale of wine or beer if the public interest makes it desirable. An extensive system of local veto was in force before war broke out.

Russia : The sale of all intoxicants is prohibited, except in first-class restaurants and hotels at meals.

Serbia: A decree was issued forbidding the proprietors of hotels and cafes to sell in any large quantity to soldiers or persons addicted to drink.

Sweden : Although the restrictions in force and the powers possessed by local authorities were deemed sufficient to meet the conditions, a Bill was passed giving extended powers to issue prohibitions " in times of distress and danger of war.

Switzerland : The sale of spirits made by the Government is suspended indefinitely. No licences are at present granted for the distillation of spirits.

No special measures have been taken in Bulgaria, Greece, Holland, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Rumania, and Spain."
Tamworth Herald - Saturday 10 July 1915, page 2.

A couple of points to note. First, that these rules almost all concern spirits. Presumably from fear of soldiers or essential workers getting paralytic and unable to do what they were supposed to.

Second, that these restrictions, with the exception of opening hours in Austria, look voluntary rather than forced. That is, these actions weren't necessary due to supply restrictions. Those come later. Especially with regard to brewing, which, using stuff that could be used to make bread, was likely to struggle to find raw materials in times of food shortages.

In the case of Scandinavian countries, none of whom were involved in the war, these rules smack of temperance opportunism. Using a time of crisis as an excuse to force through restrictions on alcohol. It's a typical tactic of those two-faced bastards.

This was just a taste of things to come, especially for the Central Powers.


Ed said...

I see in Russia you could still get booze in posh restaurants. Time for revolution if you ask me!

Gary Gillman said...


Alcohol had various military/industrial purposes including (at least in Britain) for explosives (acetone), as well as being added to gasoline, so the restriction of alcohol for beverage purposes was in part due to this factor. The same thing happened during WW II in America and elsewhere.

There can be no question though that Temperance motives were behind it too. This was part of a world-wide movement at the time with roots in the early 1800's.

Factory/agricultural efficiency was likely another factor although linked in my view to the one immediately above.

Many years ago, I read that strong beer in Belgium reached strengths not known before the conflict due to the ban on selling spirits in bars and restaurants under the Loi Vandevelde (1918, 1919).

Both on this site and elsewhere, I have seen figures for beer strength in Belgium which suggested that before WW I, most beer was 4-5% ABV (table beer less). The odd one, gueuze-lambic I believe, sometimes around 6%, but this was exceptional.

In 1950 a Belgian poll indicated that a decided majority supported the Vandervelde law. Workers and artisans supported the measure too, by a 65% margin. This suggests that the people at large were behind measures to restrict general availability of hard liquor in the common places of refreshment and resort (i.e., I think small amounts of alcohol could be purchased for home consumption). It wasn't just the elite class, not in Belgium at any rate.

This source stated that beer strength was a maximum 18 degrees, Plato I assume, which is 1075 OG. This top range is pretty much where the mid-range Trappist strength is today, of course some go higher. There must have been an increase in the 18 degrees since 1950.

The question though is whether beers in Belgium first became available, or commonly available, at a higher strength range, 6.00-7.5% ABV, than before WW I.

Years ago again, I read in a modern French or Belgian source that stronger beers in Belgium developed in tandem with the disappearance in bars and restaurants of gin and other spirits under Vandervelde; whether the pre-WW I data bears this out I do not know.