The gradual extinction of the small brewer in Scotland (writes a London correspondent) appears to have almost ceased. Only three have been absorbed or have disappeared in the past twelve months, and the total number of all kinds brewing for sale is only 139 (when the beer duty was introduced in 1880 there were 216 brewers), although there are 11,335 persons licensed to sell beer in Scotland. The average number to each brewery is therefore 82 licensed houses. It is a little singular that brewing for private purposes is confined to Ballater, Peterhead, and Inverness districts. In no other part of Scotland was a licence obtained for this purpose during the year. The number of this class, by the way, has decreased by one-third in two years. In Glasgow there are ten breweries to 2189 beer sellers. It seems strange that notwithstanding the increased consumption of beer there is not a much greater increase in the quantity of malt and prepared grain used than the returns for the brewing year show. Last year 31,000 quarters were worked up, against 30,000 two years earlier. One explanation is no doubt that in the interval an addition of 90 tons has been made to the quantity of sugar used. In the Edinburgh district, where 34 breweries are at work, while in the same period an additional 14,000 quarters of malt have been added to the consumption of the year, the use of sugar has increased to the extent of 650 tons, which is almost twice as much as was used in the whole of Scotland in the last year of the duty on malt. Then the total was 355 tons, now it is twelve times that quantity. Raw grain is only used in Edinburgh.
In Ireland there has been a slight increase in the number of brewers during the past few years, but the total for that country, 41, is small. In Dublin they number 8 to 1580 retailers of beer, and these eight between them used 530,000 qrs. of malt and 13 cwt. of sugar; this is an increase of 20,000 qr. and 5 cwt. of sugar in two year's. In Belfast and Londonderry the trade has decreased materially, but all other centres show an increase.
In England the homebrewed houses have been bought up in hundreds, and amalgamation has reduced the number of large factories very considerably. Even in London there has been a reduction of 18 per cent. in two years. Altogether 1288 breweries, 102 of which were large, have been shut up since 1896, and the total number in existence is now 7000, against 23,000 when the duty on beer was reimposed. With one exception there has been a reduction in the number of all classes up to that which includes those brewers who pay between £15,000 and £30,000 a year duty; the exception is the class which pays from £6000 to £9000 annually. Until last year Guinness and Bass, with a united output of 3.5 millions of barrels, had a class to themselves, but the amalgamation of three of the largest breweries in London has caused another to be added to the class, and these three manufactured five millions of barrels and paid a duty of over 1.5 millions between them. This is more than one-eighth of the duty paid in the United Kingdom."
Aberdeen Journal - Saturday 20 May 1899, page 7.
When talking of mergers, takeovers and closures in the brewing industry, the 1950's and 1960's come to mind. But something similar happened at the end of the 19th century, albeit on not such a dramatic scale. As you can see, there was a considerable decline in the number of Scottish breweries between 1880 and 1898 - 77 out of 216, or more than a third. With 34 breweries, Edinburgh was home to almost a quarter of the total.
82 pubs per brewery in Scotland. I wonder what the figure is now?
Let's take a look at Glasgow. 31,000 quarters of malt plus 90 tons of sugar, which is another 450 quarters. At about 4 barrels to a quarter, I make that around 125,000 barrels being brewed by Glasgow's 10 breweries. Not a huge amount. Especially when you consider Tennent's was a decent-sized brewery. Some of the other 9 must have been pretty small. Hang on. That's an increase of 90 tons. Bugger. They could have mentioned what that was an increase on.
I don't think the increase in the use of sugar can be blamed for the small increase in brewing in Glasgow. 90 tons is only enough to brew 1,800 barrels.
Those Edinburgh figures which only give the increase in malt usage aren't very helpful. All I can say is that 14,000 quarters is the equivalent of about 56,000 barrels.
Private brewing had never been as big in Scotland as in England. By the late 19th century it was concentrated in just a few districts of the Highlands. It wouldn't be long before it died out completely.
Let's give Dublin a quick mention. As the average gravity was higher in Ireland, those 530,000 quarters probably represent a bit less than 2 million barrels, about 1,850,000. Obviously a large proportion of that was Guinness, who brewed over 1 million barrels a year.
The big fall in breweries in England - down from 23,000 in 1880 to just 7,000 - is explained by, as the article says, the closure of thousands of homebrew pubs. Many presumably were purchased by other brewers to be part of their tied house estate. The 1890's is when English brewers went on a pub buying spree.
The new London giant was Watney, Combe, Reid. A name that was still knocking around in my youth. The Combe and Reid breweries closed pretty much immediately and production was concentrated in Watney's Stag Brewery, between Victoria Station and Buckingham Palace.
Total beer production was about 35 million standard barrels in 1898*. Meaning the big three - Bass, Guinness and Watney, Combe, Reid - accounted for about 14%. This concentration of output in a few large concerns would only become more extreme in the 20th century.
* Manchester Evening News - Thursday 28 November 1901, page 3.