Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Beer in India in the 1880's

I've been trawling the newspaper archives, looking for stuff on brewing in India. I've hauled in a few tasty-looking fish,

Let's start with one from the 1880's:

"The Bombay Government have completed arrangements with a firm of brewers of Kassouli to supply the European troops of Bombay, Poonah, Deolah, Mhow, Ahmednuggur, and Belgaum with 13,000 barrels of beer annually for a period of five years, the firm in question meantime erecting a brewery at Poonah for its production. The consumption by the British troops of malt liquor brewed in India is steadily increasing, while the quantity imported from England for that purpose is yearly diminishing."
Morning Post - Tuesday 02 September 1884, page 5.
13,000 barrels may not sound like a huge amount, but it represents about 10% of the beer brewed in India in the 1880's. The brewery in Poonah quickly grew to one of the largest in India, probably on the back of that contract to supply British troops.

That claim about imports of beer declining just doesn't stand up, I'm afraid.

Beer imported into India 1881 - 1890
Year gallons barrels
1881 1,152,678 32,018.83
1882 1,199,395 33,316.53
1883 1,170,554 32,515.39
1884 1,261,444 35,040.11
1885 1,066,444 29,623.44
1886 1,299,408 36,094.67
1887 1,715,638 47,656.61
1888 2,138,518 59,403.28
1889 2,398,580 66,627.22
1890 2,797,965 77,721.25
"Statistical abstract for the British Empire, Issue 33", 1896, pages 42-43.
"Statistical abstract for the British Empire, Issue 34", 1897, pages 42-43.

Though there was a slight dip in 1885, in general imports rose during the 1880's, ending rthe decade around double what they were at the beginning.

And this article directly contradicts the last one:

"MR. J. E. O'Conor's official review of the trade of India, just issued in the form of a Blue-book, comprises among its mass of facts and figures many details of special interest. Last year witnessed, we are told, the largest import into India of malt liquors ever known, the quantity being no less than 2,138,518 gallons, or more than twenty-five per cent. in excess of the imports of the previous year. Beer brewed in India amounts, it appears, to more than double that quantity, but it is nearly all bought by the Government for the British troops. Hence the competition of the home-brewed liquor has had no effect on the trade in beer imported for general consumption. At one time it appeared that imported beer was losing its hold on the Indian market, but the German and Austrian beers were opportunely introduced; light English ales were then specially brewed to compete with them, and the result is that the importation of beer is thus large and increasing."
London Daily News - Tuesday 04 December 1888, page 5.

That's an interesting point: as all the locally-brewed beer was sold directly to the government to supply British troops it didn't directly compete with imports. Locally-brewed beer did have one big advantage: it was untaxed, there being no excise duty on alcohol in India.

Reading the article, it sounds as if British brewers had successfully fought off competition from German and Austrian Lager by brewing Ales with similar qualities. I've seen adverts from the 1890's where brewers boast that their beers have all the good features of Lager. The ability of British brewers to mimic Lager to some extent with very light Ales has also been proposed as one reason why Lager brewing took so long to take off in Britian.

Once again, there's a false claim: that more beer was imported into India in 1888 than ever before. That's not true. The peak year in my figures was 1860 when 3,850,291 gallons (106,953 barrels) were imported*.

Next time we'll be looking at the 1890's.

* "Statistical abstract for the British Empire, Issue 9", 1873, pages 34-35.

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