Sunday 20 April 2014

Disclosing gravity

Here's another gem I uncovered while looking for something else.

There was a lot of friction between working men's clubs and brewers after WW I. Clubs suspected brewers of overcharging for beer. Which was one of the reasons many clubs breweries opened around then. They didn't trust brewers, so made beer themselves.

That might explain why clubs were keen to find out the gravity of the beer supplied by brewers. Supplying weaker beer would be a way of upping the price, without it being obvious.


Derbyshire branch of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, Ltd., is supporting a measure adopted by the national executive of the union  to compel brewers to state the gravity beer supplied to various clubs.

At a meeting of Derbyshire representatives Westhouses prior to the general election, a resolution to this effect, drawn by the executive in London, was presented and passed. All the M.P.s the county were approached and asked if they would support a bill, and opinion was divided.

This procedure was adopted in all the branches throughout the county, and, so for, 95 M.P.s have agreed to support the Bill, which will be introduced in Parliament during the next session. The Chancellor to asked to receive a deputation on the matter.

The union has four M.P.s of its own.


Derbyshire clubs obtain a good deal of their beer from the union's own brewery in Leicester, and this is always of standard gravity.

Other beer is supplied by Messrs. Offllers, Ltd.. Derby, Messrs. W. Griffiths, and Messrs. John Hair & Sons, Melbourne.

Mr. R. W. Griffiths told a "Derby Telegraph" representative that if the Bill passed the breweries would boycott the clubs and would not supply any beer. Mr. J. Wood, the local secretary of the Union, stated that this would not affect them, as they would be able to get all they required from their own brewery.

Mr. C. Offiler said: "As far this country is concerned, working men's clubs will never be able to compel us to disclose the gravity.


If they want to know the gravity of beer, it is a perfectly simple matter to send it to any analyst, and they have it analysed in half hour."

The executive of the Union took this step following repeated complaints from the clubs that thp strength of beer supplied appeared to vary."
Derby Daily Telegraph - Saturday 12 December 1931, page 7.
You have to assume that brewers were pulling the trick of dripping the gravity unannounced, based on the level of hostility from Mr. Offiler. And the fact he was prepared to lose trade rather than disclose his beer's gravity.

Derby Daily Telegraph - Friday 23 March 1934, page 16.

Of course brewers could be forced to reveal their gravities, if parliament insisted. Which is what happened in the 1980's. Though CAMRA - by doing exactly what Mr. Offiler suuggested, getting beers analysed themselves - had already let the cat out of the bag.

I can only think of one brewery that voluntarily put the gravity on their labels: Federation. Unsurprisingly, a clubs brewery.


Tim Nichols's said...

Briefly, what happened in the 1980s?

And why was gravity so important? Surely the ABV was already available and tightly and relevantly correlated with gravity? Or was ABV not a standard published stat back then?

Ron Pattinson said...


in the 1980's it became a legal requirement to have the OG on beer labels and pump clips.

Why gravity and not ABV? Because at the time beer duty was based on the OG.

Anonymous said...

As a rule of thumb of course for ordinary milds and bitters the ABV could be read from the quoted OG.
For example a beer of OG 1.037 would have an ABV of 3.7% as near as makes no difference,