The tax on a standard barrel of beer (36 gallons of beer with an OG of 1055º) had been 80 shillings since 1924. Quite a long period, by modern standards. In 1931 it was increased to 114 shillings, which raised the average price of a pint from 6d to 7d. At a time of high unemployment and stagnant or even falling wages, what happened is no surprise. Consumption fell.
"BIG DROP BRITISH BEER PRODUCTIONTwo things buggered the amount of tax collected: a fall in consumption and a fall in gravity. Rather than increase the price of mass consumption beers such as Mild, brewers simply lowered the gravity so they sould sell it at the same price. The average gravity of Mild dropped from 1043º to 1037º.
Decrease of Three-quarters of a Million Barrels in Six Months.
A decrease of over three-quarters a million standard barrels of beer produced in the first half of this year, compared with the first half 1930, is indicated in a written answer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a written answer to a question put by E. Winterton (Lab., Loughborough).
Mr Snowden states : The number of standard and bulk barrels of beer produced in Great Britain and Northern Ireland during the half-years ended June 30, and 1931, respectively, and during the months of July and August, in the years 1930 and 1931, was as follows
Standard Barrels. Bulk Barrels. Six months ended— June 30, 1930 9,115,427 11,685,770 June 30, 1931 8,314,279 10,733,878 July, 1930 1,918,455 2,523,103 July, 1931 1,777,613 2,347,465 August, 1930 1,577,375 2,055,363 August, 1931 1,464,800* 1,921,700*
Western Daily Press - Thursday 08 October 1931, page 9.
After two years the government reversed the increase, but the damage had been done. Rather than raise the gravity of Mild back to the 1930 level, brewers merely reduced the price from 6d to 5d. Which meant that the tax generated fell even more in 1934.
By 1938 production levels had returned to a similar level to in 1930, but, because of the fall in average gravity, tax receipts were still lower. It was only when the tax was increased in 1940 to 104 shillings a standard barrel that the sum generatedexceeded that of 1930.
|UK beer production and tax receipts 1930 - 1940|
|Total Tax £||bulk barrels||standard barrels||average OG|
|1955 Brewers' Almanack|
|Brewers' Society Statistical Handbook 1988, p.7|
|Brewers' Society Statistical Handbook 1973, p.11|
Brewers had been perfectly aware of the likely impact of the tax increase and had warned the government. Here's one from a favourite character of mine, Calder, the canny Scot who rescued Allsopp:
"THE BEER TAXSlumping prioduction also had a knock-on effect on brewery profits and share prices:
BREWER DECLARES IT "GIGANTIC BLUNDER"
A striking speech on the injury to the revenue and to British trade by the additional beer duty imposed by the Supplementary Budget was made last night by Mr. J. J. Calder, managing director of Allsopps Brewery Company, at the annual dinner of the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Licensed Victuallers and Beer and Wine Trade Association Nottingham.
Mr. Calder declared that a gigantic mistake had been made, and that the tax, while it will fail to yield additional revenue, will seriously affect the employment brewery workers, ruin the market for barley and hops, and injure every industry which depends on the brewery trade.
The sale of beer had gone down by a percentage which was disastrous from the point of view of the revenue, of the brewer, and particularly of the licence-holder."
Western Morning News - Thursday 26 November 1931, page 8.
MARKET DISAPPOINTED BY BUDGET
The outstanding feature of the Stock Exchange was the sharp set-back to Breweries, the market being very disappointed at the maintenance of the beer duty.
Courages and Guinness both lost over 5/-, while Watney deferreds and Meuxs both shed 4/9. Hoares slipped back to 40/-, while Benskins, Bass, Barclays, Allsops, Ind Coopes, and Taylor Walkers all showed appreciable losses."
Gloucester Citizen - Wednesday 20 April 1932, page 12.
How did the tax rise change British beer forever? It created modern Dark Mild. For the first time standard Mild fell below 4% ABV. A place it's been ever since.