Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Adulterating Porter again

Porter and adulteration seem to have gone together like a glove and carriage in the 19th century. But relief came from an unlikely source later in the century.

The following passage comes from an article about the Licensing Act. It seems to have indirectly led to an improvement in beer quality.

"Another beneficial alteration has also taken place in the quality of the beer sold. Many London brewers have noticed a very large increase in the consumption of beer, and the publicans' orders have increased considerably since the Licensing Act was passed. Some of them say this increased consumption can be fully accounted for by the prosperity of the country, and that the Licensing Act has had nothing to do with it. Others, with perhaps more truth, say that the adulteration clauses have frightened the publicans, and prevented them from calling in the services and adopting the nostrums of the brewer's druggist or the cunning cellarman. The fear of losing his license, and the dread of fine and imprisonment, and the placarding of his offence on his own premises, have been too much for the publican, who has very wisely abandoned, for the present at all events, the general adulteration of beer. The darling method of preparing London porter for sale was till recently an addition of "foots" sugar and water, with salt, or a dash of green vitriol (copperas), to give the mixture a proper "head." Sometimes a little liquorice was used, and the brewer's druggist, whilst scorning "foots" sugar, supplied a treacly substance prepared, not from loaf sugar, but from the washings of sugar hogsheads and sugar bags, the liquid being afterwards boiled down to the proper consistency. This precious stuff will doubtless be considered nasty by fastidious porter drinkers, but it is nevertheless true that gallons of it have been sold for diluting porter, and that most of the porter drinkers of the metropolis have at times partaken of this delightful beverage. "Food Journal, Volume 3", 1873, pages 361 - 362.

Adulteration of Porter had been endemic. Water, suagr and copperas was the standardmix of adulterants, each with their own purpose. The reason why publicans resorted to this practice was simple: economics.

"Why such a mixture has been made admits of an easy explanation. In the first place, the porter when received from the brewers is not sufficiently lively for immediate consumption; and, in the second place, the price paid for it (about 32s. a barrel of 36 gallons) does not allow a sufficient margin of profit when the porter is sold at 1s. per gallon. To remedy these two serious difficulties, the publican who uses the saccharine adulterant, either in the shape of "foots" sugar or of the concentrated washings of sugar bags, etc., takes out of the barrel of porter about six or eight gallons, and adds this to the stout. The stout is thus diluted, and the profit increased on its sale, whilst the barrel of porter is made up to the original bulk by the addition of the saccharine adulterant and lukewarm water in variable proportion.

The increase in the temperature by addition of the water causes the porter to ferment, the yeast left in it acts on the sugar, and the fermentation thus set up causes the porter to sparkle and carry a head till the barrel is empty. In this manner the public are deceived, and, as an illustration, we may cite the case of a publican who always used "foots" sugar in the way described. The brewery from which he obtained his usual supplies having been temporarily closed for enlarging the premises, he had to obtain his beer from a brewery famed for the goodness of the beer brewed there. The publican was afraid to add the sugar to this beer, being doubtful whether it would bear the usual manipulation, and he feared such a mixture would not suit the taste of his customers. The consequence was that this genuine porter drove away the custom from the house, till, in self-defence, he was compelled to resort to his old practice. So much for custom.

As to the profit to the publican by this adulteration, the price of the sugar and water is about twopence a gallon, a price which leaves a good margin of profit when it is sold as beer at a shilling a gallon."
"Food Journal, Volume 3", 1873, page 362.
Through much of the 19th century the retail price of Porter was little more than the wholesale price. For a period in the 1850's, when the malt tax was increased to pay for the Crimean War, they were exactly the same. A publican simply couldn't survive without at least watering his Porter.

To see the effect of that watering, let's look what it would have done to Whitbread's Porter from 1872. That had an OG 1057.3 and an ABV of 5.2%.  Here's what it would have looked like after water additions:

6 gallons of water added
OG 47.75
ABV 4.33

8 gallons of water added
OG 44.57
ABV 4.04

That's a fair drop in ABV, especially with 8 gallons of water added.

The Licensing Act introduced stiff penalties for adulteration, and the police and Excise officers were allowed to take samples of any booze for sale in a pub.
"Mr. Bruce's Act has, doubtless, caused a panic amongst beer adulterators, and it is hoped that the vigilance of those entrusted with obtaining samples will cause this panic to subside into a wholesome dread of the penalties of the law. Fear under such circumstances is a wholesome feeling, and one that will do much good to the general public. There is one very ugly word in the adulteration portion of the Licensing Act which is underlined in the next sentence. "Every person who knowingly sells or keeps, or exposes for sale, any intoxicating liquor mixed with any deleterious ingredients," etc. The prosecution will, in some cases, have great difficulty in supplying evidence to prove that a person knowingly sells adulterated drink, and without such evidence the case must fall to the ground. However, a prosecution or two will show the blemishes in the Act, and happily the subject of drunkenness is of such national importance that the Act must be altered where necessary to carry out the original intentions of the legislature. The matter cannot rest if guilty persons can escape, and there is reason for confidence in public opinion to remedy any defects in the part of the Act dealing with the adulteration of intoxicating liquors. It is only necessary to set the machinery of the Act vigorously in motion, and there is no doubt all adulterators will be on their guard, when detection means ruin, and when they may be pounced upon at any moment by those who have to obtain samples for analysis."
"Food Journal, Volume 3", 1873, pages 362 - 363.
You'll see why getting caught could mean ruin below. This is part of the Act as it relates to adulterarion:


(1.) Every person who mixes or causes to be mixed with any intoxicating liquor sold or exposed for sale by him any deleterious ingredient, that is to say, any of the ingredients specified in the First Schedule to this Act, or added to such schedule by any Order in Council made under this Act, or any ingredient deleterious to health ; and

(2.) Every person who knowingly sells or keeps or exposes for sale any intoxicating liquor mixed with any deleterious ingredient (in this Act referred to as adulterated liquor),

shall be liable for the first offence to a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month, with or without hard labour; and for the second and any subsequent offence to a penalty not exceeding one hundred pounds; or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour, and to be declared to be a disqualified person for a period of not less than two years nor exceeding ten years, and shall also in the case of the first as well as any subsequent offence forfeit all adulterated liquor in his possession, with the vessels containing the same.

Where the person so convicted is a licensed person, he shall further, in the case of a second or any subsequent offence, be liable to forfeit his license, and the premises in respect of which such license is granted shall be liable to be declared to be disqualified premises for a period of not less than two years nor exceeding five years.

In the case of a first offence and any subsequent offence until the license is forfeited, the conviction shall be recorded on the license of the person convicted.

Where a licensed person is convicted of any offence under this section and his license is not forfeited for such offence, the police authority of the district shall cause a placard stating such conviction to be affixed to the premises. Such placard shall be of such size and form, and shall be printed with such letters, and shall contain such particulars, and shall be affixed to such part of the licensed premises as the police authority may think fit, and such licensed person shall keep the same affixed during two weeks after the same is first affixed ; and if he fails to comply with the provisions of this section with respect to keeping affixed such placard, or defaces or allows such placard to be defaced, or if the same is defaced and he fails forthwith to renew the same, he shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings for every day on which the same is not so undefaced, and any constable may affix or re-affix such placard during the said two weeks, or such further time as may be directed by a court of summary jurisdiction."
Intoxicating Liquor (Licensing) Act, 1872, pages 7 - 8.

The section about forfeiting the licence is what I meant. Second time you were caught your landlording days were over. Even for the first offence there was the humiliation of having to put up a placard telling your customers what you had done.

The fines are pretty big if you consider a barrel of Porter only cost 32/-. But forfeiting the liquor, and the vessels it was in, could have added quite a bit to a landlord's financial damage. Half a dozen hogsheads of Porter were worth more than £16, without taking into account the value of the hogshead itself.

Was the Act really effective in halting, or at least curtailing adulteration? I'm not sure. I do know that there's much less written about it after 1870. Which implies it was declining. What I need is another of those reports where they sampled the same beer at the brewery and in pubs. They tell you what was really going on.

1 comment:

Phil said...

The part about the word 'knowingly' being a get-out clause is interesting. At just this period the Adulteration of Food Act 1872 was brought in to replace the Food and Drink Act 1860; one of the key differences was that the offences created by the new Act were offences of strict liability, i.e. they didn't depend on the adulteration being carried out 'knowingly'. As the writer suggests, 'knowingly' is quite a high bar to clear in this context; there had been no prosecutions at all for food adulteration between 1860 and 1872.

So the Licensing Act 1872 brought beer (and spirits) into the realm of legally-enforced quality control, but under a special regime which was more permissive than the standard food regime. What happened next was the Licensing Act 1874, followed by the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875. The 1874 act repealed the adulteration clauses of the 1872 Act; the 1875 act officially brought intoxicating liquors under the same regime as food. (In theory this created a one-year window when beer quality wasn't legally regulated at all, but in practice I think the courts would just have said the 1872 food legislation was good enough and used that.) And this was a 'strict liability' regime, i.e. no need to prove that the publican had 'knowingly' kept or sold bad stuff - although there was a get-out clause for anyone who openly advertised that their liquor was diluted(!). Food manufacturers (and quite possibly brewers) did lobby to have 'knowingly' clauses put back in for the 1875, but it came to nothing. By the time of the next big 'food' Act in 1899, the industry was lobbying for tighter regulation, on the grounds that the big companies were already applying high standards and they didn't want to be undercut by unscrupulous newcomers.

Just think - if you'd been studying legal history instead of boring old beer you'd know all this already!