Friday, 17 October 2014

Brewing in WW II (part one)

This is from another really useful article in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing that I somehow forgot about. Which is incredible given its subject. Oh well, better late than never, I suppose.

"While it cannot be denied that the brewing industry has gone through a very difficult and trying period it is to its credit that it has been able to surmount these difficulties, probably not always with complete success, but the output of beer has nevertheless been maintained and there has certainly been no difficulty in disposing of it.

In the war of 1914-18 the brewing trade was continually harassed by frequent restrictions, cuts in materials, increases in duty, the rising price of materials, and finally a drastic reduction in output and the regulation of gravities and prices, while in addition to all these was added the threat of State purchase. At the outbreak of the second war, the Government, profiting by their previous experience and in anticipation of a long drawn-out struggle, formulated a definite policy which has been very little altered throughout the whole 6 years.

The decision that beer was essential to maintain the morale of the country was a happy one as it disposed once for all of the bogie of prohibition. It would have made it much easier for everyone concerned, however, if brewing had been listed as an essential industry. It was fortunate that brewing was treated as a "willing" industry and that harmonious relations were established between the Brewers' Society and the Ministry of Food which prevented the imposition of arbitrary orders and regulations that might have been difficult to carry out, and brewers were afforded an opportunity of adapting those which were found to be necessary."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 117.

The author is right to highlight the difference in the government's attitude to the brewing industry in the two world wars. There had been considerable friction between the industry and the Liberal government in the years leading up to WW I. Many in the Liberal party, including chancellor Lloyd George were teetotallers and generally hostile to the brewing trade.

Temperance campaigners saw the war as a great excuse to push through prohibition on the pretext of alcohol weakening the war effort and had some support for their view within government. Lloyd George, for example, said that drink was a greater threat than the Germans. Total bollocks, of course. Workers saw things quite differently. Harvest worker threatened to strike if they didn't get beer, which was a long-standing custom. But that didn't stop many anti-alcohol measures being introduced, including a drastic reduction in opening hours.

The situation in WW II was quite different, especially after Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940. He recognised that a steady stream of beer was vital for morale. But the temperance movement had changed, too. Its successes in WW I ended up undermining its campaign. With reduced gravities and consumption after the war, drunkenness was not perceived as the same threat it had been before the outbreak of hostilities.

It's fascinating to see how, though beer tax increased greatly during both wars, the different way that happened:

Beer tax in WW I
Year tax per standard barrel % change
1914 7s 9d
1915 23s 196.77%
1916 23s 0.00%
1917 24s 4.35%
1918 25s 4.17%
1919 50s 100.00%
1920 70s 40.00%
1921 100s 42.86%
change 1914 - 1921 1190.32%
1928 Brewers' Almanack

Beer tax in WW II
Year tax per standard barrel % change
1939 80s
1940 80s / 104s 30.00%
1941 135s / 165s 29.81%
1942 165s 22.22%
1943 240s 7.5d 45.83%
1944 281s 10.5d 17.14%
1945 286s 5.5d 1.63%
change 1939 - 1945 258.07%
1955 Brewers' Almanack

In WW I, there were massive increases at the start and end of the war, with very little change in 1916, 1917 and 1918. While in WW II the increases were smaller but happened in every year of the war. In percentage terms the increase in WW I was much greater - almost 1200% - compared to just 250% in WW II.

Brewers had one big advantage in WW II when it came to beer quality. During WW II

"With the rationing of food early in the war came the rationing of brewing materials. The amount of malt each brewer was allowed to use was not to exceed the amount he used in the year immediately previous to the war, while the amount of sugar was also restricted. Brewers were obliged to reduce the average gravity of their beers by 20 per cent, of the pre-war strength, mainly with a view to conserving materials as much as possible, and this of course was strictly enforced."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 117.

The British government learned well from WW I in terms of food policy. Unlike the Germans who hoped for a quick war, Britain assumed from the start that it would last many years and planned accordingly. This early planning definitely benefitted Britain's war by making sure no resources were wasted. Which meant there was never a crisis similar to that in 1917, when for a while it looked as if Britain might run out of grain.

Next time we'll be looking at malting during the war.

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