Monday, 10 June 2013

Brewing in Denmark in WW I (part two)

Welcome back my friends to the fun that never ends, come inside, come inside. We're still stuck inside WW I Denmark, with mines and submarines lurking threateningly just off shore.

Just as in Britain, the tax on beer shot up in Denmark during the war:

"In addition to these restrictions the taxes on beer have been greatly increased. Up till Nov. 10th, 1917, beers containing less than 2.25 per cent, by weight of absolute alcohol were duty free. Those with over 2.25 per cent, being taxed at Kr. 9.50 per hectolitre (equivalent to about 15s. 6d. per barrel). But now all beers are taxed, being divided into "Skatteklasse I" and "Skatteklasse II" (Taxclasses I and II), the former containing more than 2.25 percent, by weight of absolute alcohol bearing a tax of Kr. 18 per hectolitre (about 29s. 6d. per barrel) and the latter so-called temperance beers with less than 2.25 per cent, alcohol at Kr. 5.70 per hectolitre (9s. 4d. per barrel)."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, page 26.

Seems like a good time for some contextualisation. Let's take a look at the tax in the UK during WW I:

UK tax and average OG 1914 - 1921
Tax/Bulk Barrel Tax/Std. Barrel Average OG
1914 7s 4d 7s 9d 1052.8
1915 21s 11d 23s 1052.35
1916 21s  23s 1051.88
1917 20s 11d 24s 1048.54
1918 20s 25s 1039.81
1919 21s 10d 50s 1030.55
1920 40s 8d 70s 1039.41
1921 71s 6d 100s 1042.61
1928 Brewers' Almanack

That's creepy. The pre-war Danish tax of 15s. 6d. per barrel was exactly double the UK rate of 7s. 9d. You may have noticed that I've included both the tax per standard barrel (36 gallons with an OG of 1055º) and per bulk barrel of a beer with an average OG. You can see that the two were almost the same in 1914, when average gravity was close to 1055º but diverged as the war progressed.

Repeated tax increases in Britain left the rate considerably higher than in Denmark. Surprisingly, the largest increases came after war's end. I can understand why there was less pressing need to boost tax revenue in Denmark, which didn't need to buy all those expensive guns and shells, but it seems perverse that the tax rocketed in Britain once war expenses were done with.

Now we come to the price of beer. A direct comparison is a bit tricky, as the types, strengths and packaging of beer were so different in the two countries. But I'm going to make an attempt anyway. First the Danish numbers:
"These and greatly increased expenses in every other direction have raised the prices of "Pilsener" beer from 11 ore (about 1d.) to 26 ore (2.5d.) per bottle of 330 and in cask from Kr. 26 to Kr. 72 per hectolitre (about 42s. 6d. to 117s. 6d. per barrel). The beers with less than 2.25 per cent alcohol show an even greater increase. The new Pilsener for instance increasing from Kr. 7.5 to 24.25 ore per bottle (about 0.75d. to 2.5d.) and from Kr. 16 to Kr. 60 per hectolitre in cask (or 26s. 3d. to 98s. 6d. per barrel)."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, pages 26 - 27.
1d for 33cl of Pilsner is the equivalent of about 1.7d per pint. It's stupid to compare it with the price of Pilsner in Britain, because that was an expensive niche product. It makes most sense to compare it with Britain's favourite, Mild Ale, which cost 2d per pint in 1914. But we also need to take into account the different gravities: Danish Pilsner was 1044º, Mild Ale about 1050º. Taking that into account, the Danish Pilsner was about 2d per pint. remarkably close to the British price.

Beer was price-controlled in Britain in the later war years. Which is handy, since, as it was based on gravity, I know exactly what beers of a specific strength cost in Britain. We know that in 1920 Danish Pilsner had an OG of 1038º, which puts it firmly in the 1033º to 1039º band. Which cost 6d. for draught beer, 8d. for bottled*. How much did the Danish Pilsner cost? The equivalent of about 4.3d. per pint. A good bit cheaper than the British price.

I've also done the maths for draught Pilsner, which works out to 1.77d. per pint in 1914. After taking into account the difference in gravity, it comes out to exactly 2d. per pint. Or the same as Mild Ale. And the same price as bottled beer. It's no wonder bottled beer was popular in Denmark if draught beer was no cheaper.

The 1920 price of draught Danish Pilsner is the equivalent of 4.9d. per pint. More expensive than the bottled version, but still a good bit cheaper than the 6d. you'd have paid for a pint of British beer of a similar gravity.

We're almost, but not quite done. There's still some stuff about Danish beer styles and the Dane's love of bottled beer to come.

* "The Brewers' Almanack 1928" pages 100 - 101.


BryanB said...

"it seems perverse that the tax rocketed in Britain once war expenses were done with."

Britain never paid off all its WW1 debts, it still in theory owes (and is in turn owed) billions. Apparently it all went into financial limbo in the 1930s.

Germany on the other hand finally paid off the last of its WW1 reparations in 2010, and Britain did pay off its WW2 loans eventually, in 2006.

Either way, the expense of WW1 did not suddenly end in 1918!

Ron Pattinson said...

BryanB, weren't the loans finally paid off in 2006 not strictly war loans as they were taken out after the end of the war?

Rob said...


Mostly correct. Lend-lease items during the war werent paid back, but those in posession or in transit as of end of war went on as debt, and then the Anglo-American loan program of 1946 was the major part of it.

Last payment was due on Dec 31, 2006 but was paid early, on Dec 29th (the 30th and 31st werent working days in the US).