Like many correspondents to newspapers at the time, the author used a pseudonym: "A Medical Man". Implying that he was a medical doctor.
"BOTTLED BEER.One thing jumps out at me from the second paragraph: the price quoted for a gallon of beer. 1s. 10d. to 3s. a gallon looks too expensive to me. Let's check, shall we?
TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD
Sir, — Now the attention of the public is being drawn by the "declaration" in reference to alcohol, it may not be out of place to allude to the obnoxious practice in reference to "bottled beer." Bottled beer is very often recommended and drank as being the best kind of beer. I believe it to be the most unwholesome beverage that can be supplied to the public. It is made as a rule from the cheapest and worst kinds. For many years I had met with scores of cases of indigestion attributable to drinking "bottled" beer; and I determined if possible to ascertain how it was prepared, and I give you the result of my inquiries. I will premise that the information was given to me by parties engaged in the trade, and the bottling process I myself was allowed to inspect.
Brewers, it appears, supply the public with "returnable" and "unreturnable" beer, The former goes as a rule to the consuming public, chiefly to private individuals. If any barrel is not approved of it is allowed to be returned, and is replaced by the brewery. It varies in price, of course, from 1s. 10d. to 2s 6d or 3s per gallon, according to its quality. The "unreturnable" beer consists of all that has been returned to the brewery as not being approved of, and when mixed together is again offered, and is what supplies the bottling trade. It is sold as low as 10d. a gallon, and is not allowed to be returned, This information was given by a party concerned in one of the largest brewery firms. I then went to the "bottler," and found this to be confirmed, and was shown over the process of bottling. Before an 18-gallon barrel sat a man engaged in putting corks into bottles, which were very ingeniously filling themselves by being place in a kind of trough under the barrel, the weight of four bottles, when full, being sufficient to stop the tap. In this way one man bottled off an 18-gallon barrel in an hour, in pint bottles. This gives an idea of the amount of labour required in the process. In the centre of the large shed or room was a chopping machine for chopping hay and straw in small pieces. Around the room were places shelves about one or two feet wide, and on these was arranged the beer when botttled; and all the bottles were surrounded with the chopped hay and straw which was made to heat by sprinkling water over it now and then. The depth into which the bottles were immersed in the hay depended upon the time it was expected the beer would be required for consumption. It could ba ripened at pleasure. Thermometers were placed on every shelf, and everything done in a systematic way. The beer, before it was bottled, was thick, muddy, and undrinkable; and I tasted some which was undergoing the ripening process, and by being filled with gas as it becomes ripe it certainly betrayed nothing of its origin. Labels are put on, and this rubbish — for however duisguised it is still is an inferior article — is sold at 4d. or 6d. a bottle. I do not mean to say all "bottled beer" is thus prepared, though my informant stated he believed all was of this character.
I have never touched bottled beer when I could get other, and I have always cautioned my patients against what I believe to be a very deleterious article. I do not doubt but that very often some of bottles issued from the more respectable firms get refilled with an inferior article, and passed off with the name of the label. This might easily avoided by every consumer defacing the label on every bottle he uses, and I wonder no Chancellor of the Exchequer has not hit on the plan of taxing such labels with a halfpenny stamp, compelling them to be defaced once used. By this means an immense income would be returned, and a budget enriched by means that would not be felt on the lower orders, but on tha more fastidious consumers of our national beverage.
Medically, such beer bottled and ripened as I have explained is a most perrnicious article, and I have often seen its deleterious effects in the production of flatulent dyspepsia and other disorders of the alimentary canal; and I think it is only proper the public should be made aware of the existence of such a process, as one would imagine it is only to be made known to be discarded.— I remain yours, &c,
A MEDICAL MAN."
London Standard - Monday 29 January 1872, page 3.
|Hampshire Telegraph, Saturday 10 June 1871, page 2.|
|Brewery||Place||year||beer||price (per gallon)|
|J. A. Gittens||Portsea||1871||The Staines Bitter Ale||1s|
|J. A. Gittens||Portsea||1871||The Hampshire A.K. Ale||1s|
|Younger, Wm.||Edinburgh||1871||Edinburgh Ale||1s 6.67d|
|Younger, Wm.||Edinburgh||1871||India Pale Ale||1s 8.67d|
|Allsopp||Burton||1871||XX Ale||1s 4d|
|Allsopp||Burton||1871||Mild Ale||1s 6d|
|Allsopp||Burton||1871||Pale Ale||1s 10d|
|Barclay Perkins||London||1871||Mild Ale||1s 2d|
|Barclay Perkins||London||1871||Strong Ale||1s 6d|
|Bass||Burton||1871||Mild Burton Ale||1s 6d|
|Bass||Burton||1871||East India Ale||1s 10.67d|
|????||London||1871||The Chiswick Pale Ale||1s 4d|
|Guinness||Dublin||1871||Dublin Stout||1s 6.67d|
|Barclay Perkins||London||1871||London Stout||1s 4.67d|
|Barclay Perkins||London||1871||London Porter||1s 2d|
|Courage||London||1871||London Stout||1s 4.67d|
|Dreher||Vienna||1871||Vienna Beer||2s 9.33d|
|Jewell & Son||Portsea||1871||A.K. Pale Family Ale||1s|
|Hampshire Telegraph - Saturday 22 July 1871, page 2.|
I think it proves that "A Medical Man" was talking out of his arse. You can see that the cheaper beers started at 1s per gallon, though some country breweries had Harvest Ale at 10d per gallon. Bass and Allsopp Pale Ale - two mightily expensive beers - were only 1s 10d and 1s 10.67d per gallon, the same as the lowest price he quotes. Dreher Vienna Lager, the most expensive beeer on the British market, was only 2s 9.33d per gallon. The idea that any British beer could cost 3s per gallon is pure fantasy.
To extrapolate from this one small bottler that all bottled beer was made in the same way is quite a jump. I think that, in his place, I'd have investigated a little further.
The stuff about packing straw around the bottles to "force" them - i.e. speed up the maturation process - is just weird. Bottlers almost certainly would have straw, because it was used as padding when crates were packed. But using them this was is just odd. In any case, wouldn't it be easier just to warm the room? That's what breweries do nowadays.
I can't see how bottling beer thick with sediment could work. Every description of blttling I've ever read says that the beer has to be bright before bottling, either through naturally dropping bright, fining or filtering. The sediment wasn't going to magically disappear after bottling and the result would surely be, at best, a thick deposit at the bottom of the bottle.
As for refilling bottles of a reputable brand with another beer, I'm pretty sure that did occur. I've read reports of it elsewhere. For example, the seller only returning the deposit of bottles with intact labels. Bass and Allsopp Pale Ale were the main victims of this fraud.
As for "flatulent dyspepsia", which beer drinker hasn't experienced that at some point? Drinking less is the solution to that problem.
The letter certainly stirred up controversy and generated many angry replies from those in the bottling trade. We'll be looking at some of those retorts next time.