Friday, 6 September 2013

Bottlers fight back

The letter to the Evening Standard from "A Medical Man" about the low quality of bottled, drew a predictable response from those involved in the business. Then again, even I, at a distance of almost 150 years, could see that some of what he claimed was obvious bollocks.

Sir, — As bottlers of beer with the experience of nearly half a century, will you kindly allow reply to the misstatements put forward by "A Medical Man" in your issue of the 20th inst. ?

Your correspondent starts with the astounding assertion that the beer intended for bottling "is made as a rule from the cheapest and worst kinds," whereas exactly the reverse is the fact. We have been for upwards of 40 years agent to Messrs. Bass and Co., Burton-on-Trent, and Messrs. Guinness and Co., of Dublin, and these brewers invariably use only the finest malt and hops in the manufacture of their beers, and one of the most anxious and critical duties connected with our business consists in carefully selecting the very finest of these brews for bottling purposes, instead of using only the "refuse" beer, as your correspondent, would lead the public to believe.

"A Medical Man" certainly does not understand the simple bottling machine he endeavours to describe, and as to his mythical remarks respecting the "chopped hay and straw which surrounded the bottles, and was made to heat by sprinkling water over it now and then," to ripen the beer, we must charitably suppose that in this instance some humorous bottler has succeeded in imposing on his credulity.

It would have been far more satisfactory had "A Medical Man" appended his name to his extraordinary communication, but we suppose modesty forbade him adopting such a course, as, from his unqualified condemnation of bottled beer, he is certainly in direct antagonism to his medical brethren of the highest professional standing, many of whom we have the honour of numbering amongst our customers, and who not only consume the "most unwholesome beverage" themselves, but actually prescribe its daily use to their patients.

We are certain that with your usual courtesy you will insert this letter, and, apologising for having occupied so much of your valuable space, we are. Sir, your obedient servants,
27, Brook-street, Bond-street, and 242, Marylebone-road."
London Standard - Wednesday 31 January 1872, page 3.
From my time spent rummaging around in 19th-century brewing records, I know that beer for bottling was often brewed especially for the purpose. The B in brewhouse names usually stands for "bottling". I'm not so sure about the assertion that it was higher gravity. I think you can guess what's coming here. Time to cross check against some brewing records.

Truman seems a good choice. In particular, their Burton brewery which made Pale Ales along the lines of Bass and Allsopp. They produced a variety of Pale Ales, mostly variations on P1 and the slightly weaker P2. Both came in Stock (P1 S, P2 S), Running (P1 R, P2 R) and Bottling versions (P1 B, P2 B). I assume the "K' suffix, like "S", also stands for a Stock or Keeping beer.

The table shows that, while there was a little variation in gravity, the bottling version wasn't stronger that the other versions:

Truman Burton-brewed Pale Ales 1877 - 1883
Date Year Beer OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation lbs hops/ qtr hops lb/brl
11th Oct 1877 P1 1066.5 1016.6 6.60 75.00% 19.00 5.39
8th Feb 1883 P1 1066.5 1018.3 6.38 72.50% 16.95 4.62
29th Nov 1877 P1 B 1069.5 1024.9 5.90 64.14% 20.00 5.86
19th Jan 1883 P1 B 1067.9 1022.2 6.05 67.35% 16.56 4.75
9th Apr 1883 P1 export 1068.7 1022.2 6.16 67.74% 17.44 5.17
11th Dec 1877 P1 K 1068.7 1022.2 6.16 67.74% 19.00 5.37
19th Nov 1877 P1 R 1066.5 1019.4 6.23 70.83% 19.00 5.21
15th Jan 1883 P1 S 1066.5 1024.9 5.50 62.50% 16.56 4.61
11th Oct 1877 P2 1062.3 1019.4 5.68 68.89% 19.00 5.01
22nd Jan 1883 P2 1061.5 1017.7 5.79 71.17% 11.89 3.02
18th Jan 1883 P2 B 1063.2 1020.8 5.61 67.11% 16.11 4.37
10th Dec 1877 P2 K 1063.2 1020.5 5.64 67.54% 19.00 4.79
6th Mar 1883 P2 S 1062.6 1017.7 5.94 71.68% 18.00 4.65
Truman brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number B/THB/BUR/35.

I see the man from Foster & Sons was as sceptical as me about the dampened straw story. It does sound like unmitigated tosh.

The Evening Standard had quite a full post bag in response to the letter of A Medical Man". The next letter admitted that there was cheap, low-quality bottled beer on the market. Just taht it didn't come from respectable bottlers like him. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? No-one's going to stand up ahnd say "Yes, I bottle all sorts of crap."

Sir,— The letter on "Bottled Beer," in the Standard of Monday last, must not pass without a rejoinder ; and we claim with confidence the exercise of your spirit of fair play to enable us to make a few hurried remarks.

If your correspondent is simply warning the consumers of cheap bottled beer of the risks they run in drinking it we can agree with him; on the other hand if he is, without entering upon the question of quality, condemning the use of bottled beer in toto, we certainly must object to his conclusions.

To the large and respectable firms of bottlers it must be self-evident as to the sort of company your correspondent has been in. It is, however, to say the least, a great pity he did not take a little trouble to obtain facts from responsible firms before inditing a sensational letter to an influential daily paper.

. . . .

We are, however, inclined to the opinion that your correspondent's principal object is to expose the practice of putting unwholesome beer into bottle; this, although a tempting subject, our modesty prevents us remarking upon to any extent, but we can say the public have the matter in their own hands. Cheapness is the order of the day, and when the price is a farthing a bottle cheaper that often decides the choice, without any reference to the quality.

There was always great competition in our business as in others, but within the last three or four years quite a separate trade has sprung up for the sale of cheap bottled beer, and even a name has been invented to sell it by, which a few years ago was as unknown as Greek, a name, doubtless, your correspondent has been unhappy enough to have before him when he had bottled beer.

The sort of malt liquor used on the premises visited by your informant shows the danger of the present rage for the cheapest article: we know such a trade is not remunerative by the failures that take place, and it can only be made to pay by using such rubbish as your correspondent describes.

The respectable bottler is always searching for and obtains the very pick of the brewings of Bass, Allsopp, and Guinness, and he pays at least 5 per cent, more for his beer than that which is sold for draught. Undoubtedly the very finest beers that are made are put into bottle, and they are brewed expressly for that purpose, being of higher gravity in order that they should keep properly. Let your correspondent take some specimens of both good and common bottlings and keep them till the autumn, and he will then make a discovery.

If your correspondent had called upon us we should have shown him that we bottle from hogsheads only, and it is well known that bottling beers are never put into smaller casks. We should also have shown him that we do without chopped hay or straw, and that beer, to be good and wholesome, cannot be forced, but must be allowed to go through a natural process.

We desire to avoid strong words, but we must complain of some of your correspondent's inferences as being reckless, and given without sufficient data; we know there is a large consumption of the beer he refers to, but we do not believe it forms the principal portion of the trade, and therefore he is not justified in making such a sweeping condemnation.

We could almost fancy your correspondent to be a teetotaller ; if he is, it will be a matter of consolation, and we hope he will believe us when we tell him we have never heard of a person being intoxicated from using it. At any rate, the convenience of beer in bottle is very apparent. It is economical, for it does not spoil like beer in wood; it offers no temptation; it is the very best of malt liquor, and is free from any adulteration, provided only that persons like your correspondent will first take the trouble to obtain it from a bottler, and in the next place not object to pay a fair price for it.

Apologising for taking up so much of your valuable space, and thanking you in advance for your courtesy, we remain, Sir, your obedient servants,
Daukes and Co.
Exeter Hall Vaults, Jan 30."
London Standard - Wednesday 31 January 1872, page 3.
It strikes me that both these correspondents stressed that they actively sought out the best brewings of Bass, Allsopp and Guinness to bottle. I wonder how that worked, exactly. Did they sample beer from a variety of casks before purchase? I'd sort of assumed that bottlers would place an order with Bass or whoever and have the beer delivered to their bottling stores. It sounds as if that wasn't the case.

It's interesting that he blames over-enthusiastic competition and the public's love of a bargain for the rise in rubbish bottled beer.

I'm sure that he's right about beer for bottling being filled into hogsheads. The literature on bottling confirms this. Though it does seem that in Scotland both hogsheads anmd half hogsheads were used. Possibly it's connected with the fact that in Scotland much beer was bottled by publicans or shopkeepers rather than dedicated bottlers. Such retailers would likely be bottling on quite a small scale.

The description in the original letter of one man bottling from a kilderkin sounded like a very small-scale and not particularly professional operation.

The last section is confusing. When he says: "we have never heard of a person being intoxicated from using it" is he talking about cheap or good bottled beer? You'd certainly have got pissed from Bass or Allsopp Pale Ale or Guinness Extra Stout. As this table shows:

Allsopp, Bass and Guinness in the 1860's and 1870's
Year Brewer Beer package Acidity OG FG ABV App. Attenuation
1862 Allsopp Pale Ale draught 1067.1 1008.6 7.74 87.18%
1862 Allsopp Pale Ale bottled 1071.9 1009.3 8.30 87.07%
1862 Allsopp Pale Ale bottled 1088.4 1008.6 10.66 90.27%
1862 Allsopp Pale Ale draught 1070.8 1007 8.47 90.11%
1869 Allsopp Pale Ale draught 0.18 1064.16 1010.38 7.18 83.82%
1869 Allsopp Pale Ale bottled 0.15 1068.45 1013.47 7.19 80.32%
1869 Bass Pale Ale draught 0.17 1065.89 1010.21 7.33 84.50%
1869 Bass Pale Ale draught 0.16 1065.41 1012.51 6.96 80.87%
1869 Bass Pale Ale draught 0.13 1066.67 1011.78 7.20 82.33%
1869 Bass Pale Ale draught 0.28 1067.03 1013.2 6.81 80.31%
1869 Bass Pale Ale draught 0.29 1056.52 1010.13 5.98 82.08%
1870 Guinness Extra Stout 0.24 1078.06 1015.51 8.20 80.13%
1870 Guinness Stout draught 0.24 1078.06 1015.51 8.51 80.13%
1870 Guinness Stout draught 0.20 1078.01 1019.56 7.75 74.93%
1870 Guinness Stout draught 0.26 1064.49 1015.97 6.36 75.24%
"The lancet 1853, Volume 2", 1853, page 631.
British Medical Journal August 28th 1869, page 245.
A dictionary of chemistry and the allied branches of other sciences, Volume 6 by Henry Watts, 1872, page 256
British Medical Journal June 25th 1870, page 658.

As for the assertion that bottled beer "offers no temptation" I haven't the faintest idea what he means. Why should bottled beer be less tempting than draught?

I've loads more letters defending the good name of bottled beer. Pretty much all from bottlers. Funny that.


Rod said...

"It strikes me that both these correspondents stressed that they actively sought out the best brewings of Bass, Allsopp and Guinness to bottle. I wonder how that worked, exactly. Did they sample beer from a variety of casks before purchase? I'd sort of assumed that bottlers would place an order with Bass or whoever and have the beer delivered to their bottling stores. It sounds as if that wasn't the case"

I'm certain that in the piece you quoted some time ago regarding a visit to Salt's beer stores within St Pancras there was a definite reference to tasting rooms, and the customers tasted the beers they were about to purchase.
Quite possibly other brewers had similar arrangements?

Ron Pattinson said...


that's a good point. I'd forgotten about that. I would imagine all the big Burton Pale Ale breweries operated in a similar way.

Phil said...

I'm guessing that "offers no temptation" means that you have to go to the effort of opening the bottle - and then finishing it - so you're not tempted to have a quick nip here and there. The 'temptation' reference is so brief, it obviously needed no explanation - perhaps temperance propaganda of the time talked about the perils of the nip at the jug?

The 'intoxication' line sounds odd too - as if to say "Buy our beer, it won't get you drunk!" I'd hazard a guess that "intoxication" meant something closer to its etymological roots at the time - so he was actually saying that bottled beer wouldn't make you pass out in the gutter and wake up in your own sick. Although even that seems like quite a large claim.

Anonymous said...

A possible explanation for the lower finishing gravity of the "B" beers would be that they were using the last few points to carbonate the beers in the bottle.