Sunday, 24 August 2014

Whitbread bottled beer in the run up to WW I

Bottled beer was big business for Whitbread, even before WW I.

Which explains why I keep coming across adverts for their bottled beer from all over the country. Like this one:

Morpeth Herald - Friday 17 March 1911, page 11.

Morpeth in North of Newcastle - about as far away as you can get from London and still be in England. It imples that Whitbread's bottled beers had just about mational distribution.

I can't help wondering what Nourishing Ale was. There are only two beers that fit the bill gravity-wise: 2PA (a slightly weaker version of their PA) and X Ale. I'd be inclined toi go for the latter.

This table shows just how important:

Whitbread Draught and Bottled sales 1901 – 1938
total draught Bottling Burton
Year barrels % barrels % barrels % Total
1901 538,097 73.63% 188,525 25.80% 4,153 0.57% 730,775
1902 546,043 72.92% 198,812 26.55% 3,975 0.53% 748,830
1903 552,383 71.00% 221,651 28.49% 3,998 0.51% 778,032
1904 546,402 69.40% 237,522 30.17% 3,379 0.43% 787,303
1905 538,584 67.67% 254,373 31.96% 2,983 0.37% 795,940
1906 526,766 64.32% 289,898 35.40% 2,361 0.29% 819,025
1907 513,881 61.49% 320,140 38.30% 1,749 0.21% 835,770
1908 477,470 58.97% 330,767 40.85% 1,459 0.18% 809,696
1909 456,638 56.14% 355,212 43.67% 1,481 0.18% 813,331
1910 446,477 55.72% 353,534 44.12% 1,325 0.17% 801,336
1911 459,908 53.81% 392,899 45.97% 1,564 0.18% 854,371
1912 464,539 49.95% 463,938 49.88% 1,548 0.17% 930,025
1913 436,095 51.17% 414,661 48.66% 1,415 0.17% 852,171
1914 418,402 49.38% 427,455 50.45% 1,415 0.17% 847,272
Whitbread archive document number LMA/4453/D/02/16

By the outbreak of WW I, 50% of Whitbread's sales were in bottled form. That's a huge proportion, far, far more than the average. Which makes it all the odder that Whitbread insisted on bottle-conditioning its beers.

All that bottled beer meant that there were loads of empty bottles knocking around. Which other bottlers were only too happy to use.


An interesting case under the Merchandise Marks Act was heard before the Stipendiary (Lord Ilkeston) at the Birmingham Police Court to-day.

John Bailey, trading as Barrett’s Country Bottling Company, 240, St. Vincent-etreet, Ladywood, was summoned for selling four bottles of ale on 12 September to which a false trade description had been applied.

Mr. P. Sandlands (instructed by Messrs. Duggan and Elton) prosecuted, and the defendant was represented Mr. Simmons.

Mr. Sandlands stated that the prosecution wae taken at the instance of the Birmingham and District Mineral Water Manufacturers’ and Bottlers’ Association. On 12 September the defendant's carter delivered to Mr. Q. S. Grubb. Icknield-street, four dozen bottles of ale, and of that number no fewer than four of the bottles belonged to Whitbread and Co., brewers and bottlers. The bottles bore a special label of Barrett’s Country bottling Company, but they also had the trade mark and name of Whitbread’s impressed upon them, and stoppers bearing different brewers’ names. There was no excuse for the defendant using the bottles belonging to other people. Messrs. Whitbread spent no less than £12,000 every year renewing their stock of bottles.

Mr. Simmons admitted that a technical offence had been committed the defendant, but contended that there was no intention to defraud.

Mr. Bailey gave evidence, and said when he took over the business in 1912 he had 1,234 gross of bottles in stock, more than sufficient to carry on the business. He had given instructions to his men not to take or use bottles belonging to other firms. The label he put on the bottles did not bear the name the brewer of the beer he sold.

Another summons was heard against Mr. Bailey for selling three bottles on the same day bearing the name of R. White and Sons, mineral water manufacturer, who it was stated, spent £20,000 on renewing bottles.

A third summons was also heard in respect of the use by the defendant of stoppers belonging to R. White and Sons in bottles containing his beer. This it stated. was the first case the the kind in Birmingham.

The Stipendiary fined defendant £5 and costs on the first summons, £2 and costs on each the other two summonses, and £5 5s special costs.

Three other summonses were withdrawn on the payment of costs."
Evening Despatch - Wednesday 30 September 1914, page 4.

It must have been annoying to spend all that dosh on bottles and have someone else use them. Although there was a deposit charged, it was often less than the value of the bottle. Which means the brewer lost out if the bottle wasn't returned.

With the resurgence of proprietary bottles, it's a problem that could reapper. Except those bottles aren't usually returnable. I can only think of one returnable bottle that bears a brand: Westmalle. And that does get re-used, without complaint, by other brewers, notablt Westvleteren.


Barm said...

There is a resurgence of proprietary bottles in Germany. They are notionally returnable, but of course, being proprietary, only to the brewery of origin, which might be at the other end of the country. Critics say this is endangering the viability of the entire returnables system.

Shloopy said...

If you're ever able to figure out more specifics about what was meant by "nourishing ale" I'd love to read it, even if it turns out to be nothing more than marketing folderol.

A quick look at US Newspapers and the oldest reference I can find is an ad for "Frank Jones' Portsmouth Ale" in the New York Tribune of 14 May 1901.

"Frank Jones' Portsmouth Ale is healthful as outdoors; most palatable and most nourishing ale yet produced"

There's also the Essex County Herald (Vermont) of 18 March 1904

"No amount of sophisty can prove that there is any real need of beverages stronger than nourishing ale or light pure wine"

And there's also an ad for Bass Ale from the New York Sun of 7 Nov 1912

"After the theater refreshments are always in order. Whatever you select from the menu, it will be much more enjoyable if accompanied by good ale. The most delicious and nourishing ale is Bass Ale...."

The same ad was running almost a year earlier in the NY Times.

Ron Pattinson said...


good finds. But I don't think any are referring to a specific type of beer called Nourishing Ale. They're just using nourishing as an adjective to describe Ale.

Shloopy said...

I assume it's nothing you could shoehorn into a BJCP style, just curious if there are some associated qualities that were commonly conveyed by the term, such as sweet, or dense, or moderate alcohol, or something of those natures, in the way that appears that some brewers might call something a bright ale or a spring ale to convey different sets of attributes, or for that matter a breakfast cereal marketer might call a product "natural."

For what it's worth, it appears that an 18th Century study of etymology suggests that ale and nourishing (and eel) come from the same root, Ael, although I doubt that's the reason why people were referring to nourishing ale in the early 1900s.