Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Meux Burton Ale quality 1922 - 1923

We're half way down the hill, about. Or is it half way up? Whatever, we're stuck in the middle of my review of London-brewed Burton Ales in the 1920's.

1921 was a big year for Meux. That's when they left their cramped site on Tottenham Court Road and moved brewing to the former Thorne Brothers Brewery in Nine Elms, Wandsworth*. Consequently all the beers we'll be looking at were brewed there.

How well were Meux doing financially? Not that badly, though it seems they had endured some challenges.

"Meux's Brewery Co.. Ltd.
The annual general meeting was held on the 6th inst. in London, Mr. William Harris presiding.

The Chairman, in moving the adoption of the report, said in the course of his speech: When I saw you last year I said I was hopeful that the accounts for the year 1922 would show as good a result as those for the year 1921. I am glad to say that my hope has been realised. Our profits, including rents, interest and other revenue, for the year 1920 were £83,704: for 1921 they were £70,887; and for 1922 they were £83,969. The general trade of the country during the year has improved a little, but the large number of unemployed and the crushing taxation on beer are very unfavourable factors. I said last year that by their crushing taxation on beer the Government were gradually killing the trade in that article, and that, while in 1914 brewers paid duty on 36,000,000 standard barrels of beer, I doubted whether in 1922 they would pay duty on more than 22,000,000. That happens to be the exact number of barrels on which duty was paid last year. This year I doubt if it will reach 20,000,000.

Dealing with the balance-sheet, our interests in freehold, leasehold and other properties show a large reduction, being now £1,027,233. against £1,400,430 in 1921. This reduction, of course,  is due to the fact  that the Tottenham Court Road property is no longer included in this item, and to the depreciation of leaseholds. The expenditure on the new brewery at Nine Elms now stands at £40,927, against £423,383 at December 31st, 1921. We had some expenditure during the year, but we have, I think, now finished.

I dare say you have noticed that some of the intelligent London newspapers have started a discussion about beer, its price, its quality, and the profiteering that brewers are supposed to be indulging in. Their idea seems to be that brewers' profits are such that they could easily reduce the price of beer by 1d. per pint without any reduction in taxation. A penny a pint is 24s. a barrel. There were some 22,000,000 standard barrels of beer brewed in the kingdom last year. This would amount to over £26,000,000, of more than double the profit which I estimate was made in the year by all the brewers of the entire kingdom from the brewing of beer. As for the quality of the beer, our friends seem to forget that brewing is a highly competitive industry, and the brewer who lessens the gravity of his beer will very soon find that he has lessened the volume of his business and the amount of his profits. As for the charge of profiteering, I have made up the profits each year of this brewery from 1891 to 1922 inclusive. Our profits in those 32 years from the brewing of beer, and from rents, interest, and other revenue, applicable to the payment of interest and dividends, have amounted to 5.15 per cent, on the capital employed.

[The Chairman here dealt with the subject of Prohibition, his remarks on which are reported elsewhere in this issue.]

Meux's Nine Elms Brewery in 1896

Returning to our own affairs, if you approve and adopt the report and accounts we submit to-day, the whole of the arrears of Preference dividend will be extinguished, which will mark the end of an epoch in our affairs. . . . Our huge debt of £360,000 has been funded and no longer threatens our very existence. We have to-day the newest, and, I venture to hope  the most efficient and the most economical brewery in London. Our houses to-day are in an admirable state; we have over £300,000 in the bank, and, although we stand in no need of if, our credit is good and stands high.

The report and accounts were unanimously adopted.

Mr. Percival Wolton then proposed " That the directors be paid, in addition to their fees for the year 1923, such a sum as after providing for taxation will leave them each the sum of one thousand guineas." He said:- Within a day or so, the balance of arrears of interest on our preference shares will have been entirely paid off; that will be a great satisfaction to all of us, and also, no doubt, to the directors. At one time the interest was in arrear for the long period of fourteen years. I think our directors are deserving of this proposed bonus; they have sold the site of the old brewery for the handsome sum of £400,000. I think you will agree that that was a very good price to have obtained. Also, instead of an old brewery, we now have a new brewery which is thoroughly up to date, and which cost rather more than the price the old site was sold for, and yet the company has a large amount of cash in hand. I understand that the bulk of the ordinary shares are held by Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux and Lord Tweedmouth. I may mention that both these gentlemen are aware that I am proposing this resolution to-day, and that they are in complete agreement with my proposal.

Mr. T. R. Ronald seconded the resolution, which was carried unanimously.
"The Brewers' Journal, 1923", pages 131 - 132.
Remember me telling you about how much money brewers had tied up in property? Here's proof. Meux had over £1 million in property, but were only making a profit of £70,000 - £80,000 a year. That's a rubbish return on investment.

It looks like Meux was another brewery that experienced difficulties in the first decade of the 20th century. If they had been in arrears for 14 years, that would place the start of their troubles in 1909 - the year of the People's Budget. Exactly when things went tits up for Hoare.

I'm not surprised that they got a got price for the old brewery. It had a great location (for anything other than a brewery) close to the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street:

Meux Brewery in 1896
Though they'd spent all that £400,000 - and more - on their shiny new brewery in Nine Elms. Sounds to me like they would have been screwed without the windfall from the old brewery site. On those meagre profits, how could they have ever financed a new brewery?

Right, that's enough financial bollocks. Let's at least look at some beer. Even if we aren't going to get to drink any.

A low FG and high degree of attenuation leave Meux's Burton with one of the highest ABVs. But what about the flavour?

Meux Burton Ale quality 1922 - 1923
Year Beer FG OG ABV App. Atten-uation Appearance Flavour score
1922 KK 1007 1058.4 6.68 87.33% cloudy good 2
1922 KK 1013 1054.8 5.49 77.01% almost bright only fair 0
1922 KK 1010 1052.8 5.54 80.49% bright v fair 2
1922 KK 1008 1050.9 5.55 83.50% bright good 2
1923 KK 1010 1053.8 5.74 81.78% v hazy good 2
1923 KK 1010 1054.6 5.87 82.42% bright fair 1
1923 KK 1010 1052.1 5.54 81.57% hazy only fair 0
1923 KK 1010 1051.3 5.41 80.90% fairly bright poor palate -1
1923 KK 1010 1051.1 5.34 80.23% bright v fair 2
Average  1010 1053.31 5.69 81.69% 1.11
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001

Again fewer than 50% - four out of nine - of the samples were bright. Honestly, hazy or cloudy pints seem to have been commoner than clear ones. But it comes through on flavour, with just one negative score and six positive ones. Giving a very healthy average score of 1.11.

That's quite a turnaround from their Mild, which placed 13th out of 17 with an average of -0.57. The advice is obvious: stay away from Mild in Meux pubs and stick to Burton.

* "The Brewing Industry: A Guide to Historical Records", edited by Lesley Richmond, Alison Turton, 1990, page 233.

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