Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Overcharging for beer at Culter

The price controls on beer initiated during WW I outlived the war by several years. I'd wondered to what extent they could be, or were, enforced. It seems they were taken very seriously indeed. As this article demonstrates.

It seems the landlord was confused about the rules - or at least that's what he claimed.


A prosecution under the Beer Prices Order was dealt with by Sheriff Laing Aberdeen yesterday.

Adam Marr, hotelkeeper, Gordon Arms Hotel, Culter, was charged with having, on 20th May, sold two bottles of Bass' bottled beer at the price of 1s a bottle, being 2.5d in excess of the maximum price allowed under the Order in regard the quantity in one of the bottles and 3d in excess in the case of the other bottle.

Accused pleaded guilty. Mr G. A Wilson, advocate (Messrs Mackenzie and Wilson), who appeared for accused, said the only excuse he could offer was that Marr acted in good faith, and what he did was in ignorance of the proper changes in the recent Order issued the Food Controller. And it was not to be wondered supposing these licence holders should fall into mistakes because of the extraordinary number of Orders issued from time time by the Controller. In fact, one would require to have a skilled lawyer sitting on the doorstep to keep the licencehoider right (Laughter.)

The Sheriff—That is an opportunity for you. (Laughter.)
Mr Maclennan, the fiscal — A fine opening for the lawyer. (Laughter.)

Mr Wilson — The only difficulty is that they would require lawyer for every licenceholder — there would hardly be enough to go round. (Laughter.)

The Sheriff — Where would you sit, Mr Wilson?

Called to "the Bar."

Mr Wilson — On the doorstep — just take the orders as they come in. (Laughter.)

The Sheriff — I thought perhaps in the bar. (Laughter.)

Mr Wilson explained that the last Order was issued on 20th April.

Mr Maclennan — This is a fresh Order account of the Budget.

Mr Wilson said the authorities were prepared to allow a sliding scale of an ounce up or down, and took the average about 13 ounces. In this complaint, in the one case it was 12oz. and in the other 12.5. One would require a chemist sitting with a measure to measure every bottle. (Laughter.)

The Sheriff — A chemist as well as a lawyer. (Laughter.)

Mr Wilson — And a fiscal. (Laughter.)

The Fiscal — And a Sheriff. (Laughter.)

Mr Wilson — And we must not forget Mr Connor, the Sheriff-Clerk Depute.

The Sheriff —There would not be much room for the general public. (Laughter.)

Not Behind the Bush.

Mr Wilson said Marr really committed the offence in ignorance, and had boldly set up in the smoke-room bar — "Beer and stout 1s 1d per reputed pint," so that he was not going behind the bush. He had been a licenceholder for 13 years, and this was the first complaint against him.

Mr Maclennan said tho inspector went to the Gordon Arms Hotel and asked for two bottles of Bass, and the girl charged him 2s. Marr replied — "The charge is correct; this is a private bar." The inspector told him it was under the provisions of the Order applying to sales in private bars that he was charging him. The contents of the bottles were measured out. In the city of Aberdeen the traders were all supplied with the schedule of prices at which reputed pints might be sold, and had no doubt the same thing had been done in the country. If the licence holders would take the trouble to read them, they would see at a glance what they were entitled to charge.

The Sheriff said from what the fiscal had stated it seemed as if the practice that was dealt with on the previous occasion had been stopped, and was glad hear it. He trusted this case would be a warning to those in the country and that the prices fixed under the more recent Order issued in April would be rigidly observed. In the circumstances, he would impose penalty of five guineas."
Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 19 May 1920, page 6.
The rules were quite complicated. There were two tables of prices: one for the public bar and off-sales, and one for all the other bars in a pub. The price was determined by the gravity of the beer. This was, as far as I am aware, the first time drinkers would have been aware of the strength of the beer they were drinking.

Here are the public bar prices from the Beer (Prices and Description) Order, 1920:

First Schedule.- Sales of Beer by Retail in a Public Bar or for Consumption off the Premises.
Beer by gravity  Non-bottled Bottled Price per
price per pint half pint pint  quart
Under 1020º 3d. 3d. 6d. 10d.
> 1020º < 1027º 4d. 3.5d. 7d. 11d.
> 1027º < 1033º 5d. 4d. 7.5d. 1/1d
> 1033º < 1039º 6d. 4.5d. 8d. 1/3d
> 1039º < 1046º 7d. 5.5d. 9d. 1/5d
> 1046º < 1054º 8d. 6.5d. 11d. 1/7d
> 1054º 9d. 7d. 1/1d 1/9d
Taken from "The Brewers' Almanack 1928" pages 100 - 101. 

But that's not the one we're interested in, because the offence was committed in a private bar (which, despite the name, was one of the public rooms in a pub) , where these prices applied:

Second Schedule.-Sales of Beer by Retail for Consumption on the Premises Elsewhere than in a Public Bar 
Beer by gravity  Non-bottled Bottled Price per
price per pint half pint pint  quart
Under 1020º 4d. 4d. 8d 1/-
> 1020º < 1027º 5d. 4.5d. 9d. 1/1d
> 1027º < 1033º 6d. 5d. 9.5d. 1/3d
> 1033º < 1039º 7d. 5.5d. 10d. 1/5d
> 1039º < 1046º 8d. 6.5d. 11d. 1/7d
> 1046º < 1054º 9d. 7.5d. 1/1d 1/9d
> 1054º 10d. 8.5d. 1/3d 1/11d
Taken from "The Brewers' Almanack 1928" pages 100 - 101. 

It's possible to work out the gravity of Bass Pale Ale from the amount of the overcharging. The bottle which sold for 3d over the maximum price contained 12 fluid ounces, or 60% of an imperial pint. The price should have been 9d, which is 60% of 15d, or 1s 3d. Meaning it was in the highest strength band of above 1054º. Isn't that interesting.

There would be little point in having a beer with a gravity of much over 1054º as it would make the beer less profitable. I'd guess Bass Pale was about 1055º, a very respectable gravity for the day. As the fact that the weakest band was under 1020º demonstrates.

But I don't need to guess. I've got real figures:

Bottled Bass Pale Ale 1921 - 1922
Year Beer FG OG colour ABV App. Atten-uation
1921 Pale Ale (bottled by Whitbread) 1055.2
1922 Pale Ale (bottled by Whitbread) 1055
1922 Pale Ale (bottled by Aldridge) 1055.1
1922 Pale Ale (Belgian sample) 1010.9 1055.1 5.76 80.22%
1922 Pale Ale 1011 1054.73 20 5.70 79.90%
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001
Younger, Wm. & Co Gravity Book document WY/6/1/1/19 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive

Just as predicted, the gravity was around 1055º.

It's going to be really strange when I get tired of bottled beer and have to think of something else to write about.

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