Sunday, 19 October 2014

Brewing in WW II (part two)

This time we'll be looking at malting during WW II. I  must say that there have been some surprises for me.

"Imported barleys were not allowed to be malted for use in brewing, and so when stocks of Californian barley in the hands of maltsters or brewers were exhausted, no more was available. Since the end of 1940, therefore, no Californian malt has been used in brewing. This order also applied to barleys from the Mediterranean ports, and barleys from Central Europe ceased to be available. Brewers, therefore, have had to depend entirely on malts made up from English barleys throughout the greater part of the war years.

It is customary for maltsters to begin the malting season with Californian barleys and continue malting these until November, when it is held that the English barleys are in a condition to steep. During the war period it has been necessary to start the malting season with English barleys and to steep early in September. If these barleys are held over from the previous season they will of course malt quite satisfactorily, but there have been some seasons when the quantity available was insufficient or the quality was too poor to enable the malting of these to be carried on long enough to ensure satisfactory growth from the new barleys when they were steeped, and the quality of the malt has consequently suffered. Past experience has shown that after kiln drying, barleys require a rest before they will grow evenly and modify satisfactorily. This is due to a state of dormancy in the grain from which it only recovers after kiln drying or sweating and a period of storage. Dormancy is much more pronounced in barley which has not been kiln-dried, and it consequently requires a much longer period of storage to recover and become fit for malting. The very poor results obtained with many of the early made malts can be explained in this way."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, pages 117 - 118.

It makes sense that barley from the Mediterranean and Central Europe would be unavailable - these were areas under enemy control but California? It was all about shipping capacity. As this was limited, certain goods got priority. It was the British government, not the Germans, who stopped the importation of Californian barley

It's news to me that Californian barley was the first to be malted each season. Was it just because it was harvested earlier than British-grown barley? I also hadn't realise the quality problems of tyhe malting industry during the war.

"Such being the circumstances it was unfortunate that out of the six years under review there were only two in which the barleys were of good quality, and even these were not considered exceptional. The 1939 crop was one, but while the nitrogen content was on the low side, the grain was not well ripened, it was variable and was only considered to be of medium quality. The other was the 1943 crop, which was harvested in good weather conditions and was of good medium quality. It gave a high yield and the nitrogen content was low, and it made up into sound malts. The quality of the 1940 crop varied considerably, over 80 per cent, was tough and steely, the amount of good quality being comparatively small. The yield was low and the nitrogen was on the high side. It was rather difficult to modify and the bulk of the malts were of indifferent quality."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 118.

Only two good barley crops? That's pretty bad. And it must have put all sorts of pressure on both the brewing and malting industries. In peacetime, I assume the solution to a poor harvest would have been to import more malt. Of course, that wasn't an option during the war.

So even the good years weren't great. Then there were the bad years:

"In 1941 the harvest was persistently wet and the condition of the barley crop was pronounced to be the worst on record. The yield was poor and the nitrogen high. There were a number of combine harvesters in use that year, and owing to the high moisture content, many of the barleys harvested in this way suffered damage in the sack or by unskilful drying on farm dryers. Malts were generally poor in quality, showing variable modification, the majority being no better than second grade mild ale quality. Owing to the poor yield an appreciable bulk of very low grade barleys were made up, and as malting operations were carried on well into the summer that also had its effect on quality, generally resulting in inefficient modification."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 118.

You know what's odd? 1941 was a disastrous year both for the barley crop and for malting. And remember that it wasn't possible to import barley and Britain never imported malt. But the amount of barley produced increased:

UK barley production 1930 - 1950 (cwt)
Year ended Dec. 31. Acreage. production (cwt.) yield per acre (cwt.) Average Price per Quarter.  Barley. Imports. (cwt.) % imported
1930 1,129,000 16,680,000 14.77 7 11 15,208,000 47.69%
1931 1,119,000 16,960,000 15.16 7 11 15,243,000 47.33%
1932 1,031,000 16,680,000 16.18 7 7 10,178,000 37.90%
1933 813,000 13,780,000 16.95 7 11 15,985,000 53.70%
1934 959,000 16,400,000 17.10 8 8 15,476,000 48.55%
1935 871,000 14,700,000 16.88 7 11 17,097,000 53.77%
1936 894,000 14,640,000 16.38 8 3 18,294,000 55.55%
1937 906,000 13,160,000 14.53 10 11 18,176,000 58.00%
1938 988,000 18,080,000 18.30 10 2 19,876,000 52.37%
1939 1,013,000 17,840,000 17.61 8 10 13,740,000 43.51%
1940 1,339,000 22,080,000 16.49 18 2 9,146,000 29.29%
1941 1,475,000 22,880,000 15.51 24 0 1,277,000 5.29%
1942 1,528,000 28,920,000 18.93 45 8 0 0.00%
1943 1,786,000 32,900,000 18.42 31 5 0 0.00%
1944 1,973,000 35,040,000 17.76 26 5 0 0.00%
1945 2,215,000 42,160,000 19.03 24 5 2,037,000 4.61%
1946 2,211,000 39,260,000 17.76 24 3 2,195,000 5.29%
1947 2,060,000 32,380,000 15.72 24 0 2,257,000 6.52%
1948 2,082,000 40,540,000 19.47 26 10 15,618,000 27.81%
1949 2,060,000 42,580,000 20.67 25 10 9,223,000 17.80%
1950 1,778,000 34,220,000 19.25 27 11 15,289,000 30.88%
1971 Brewers' Almanack, page 61.

The answer is simple: the acreage dedicated to barley had increased dramatically. You can see how the amount of land dedicated to barley doubled between 1939 and 1945. If that hadn't happened British brewing would have been buggered.

Because in the second half of the 1930's around 50% of barley had been imported. When imports dwindled to nothing growing more barley domestically was the only option. It seems to have worked pretty well, with barley production more than doubling during the war years. It's interesting that the yield per acre also rose, with the exception of 1941 and 1944.

Clearly the war years were good for British barley growers. Output continued to rise through the 18950's and 1960's and by 1969 had reached 170,540,000 cwt - about 10 times the 1939 level. Imports never again reached their pre-war level.

Also remarkable is how stable the price of barley was during the war years, actually falling in 1943, 1944 and 1945. Only 1942 seems to have been a problem year. This price stability is a good indication that barley supplies were sufficient.

Not quite done with barley and malting yet.


Ed said...

The longer barley is stored the more dormancy is decreased meaning it will malt better.

Jeremy Drew said...

Hi Ron,

Were there price controls on barley at some point? Also, whilst overall barley production may have been sufficient, were there restrictions on the amounts released for malting? I think that some barley flour was used to make up the national loaf.

Ron Pattinson said...


I've not seen mention of price control of barley. Yes, there waas a certain amount released for malting and yes there was barley in the national loaf.