Saturday, 20 December 2014

Pilsener and WW I (part four)

Silly me. I’d forgotten I’d collected more on Pilsener in WW I. Blame all my recent travelling.

A couple of times recently someone has made a remark about my post that day. I have to confess that I hadn’t the foggiest idea what the post was about. Once, even when the subject was mentioned, I could recall no details. Am I that forgetful?

No. The explanation is simple. I line my posts up well in advance. I try to be always at least three days ahead. But when I know I’ll be travelling, I bump that up to a week or two. Or, in extreme cases like my near back-to-back US trips in November, as much as three or four weeks. Back to the real topic.

An article I read recently – or was it on TV? – made a really good point about attacks on merchant shipping in WW I. While German U-boats might have sunk a considerable amount of Allied shipping in 1917 and briefly threatened Britain’s food supply, the situation for Germany was far, far worse. By 1915 its merchant fleet had disappeared from the seas completely.

The supply of beer and its constituent raw materials might have been bad in Britain in 1917 and 1918, but the situation was much worse, and sooner, in Germany.

All the North German associations of hotelkeepers, licensed victuallers, owners of concert and dancing rooms, and so on, have addressed to the Food Dictator, Herr von Batocki, an urgent appeal against further restrictions, which are now imminent, of the production of beer. It is understood that the authorised supply of barley to the breweries, which has already been reduced one-half, is now to reduced to one-fourth of the peace figures.

The petitioners make the interesting statement that the Prussian Army takes 11 per cent of the peace-time consumption, so that there would remain for the Prussian public only 14 per cent of the peace-time consumption. It is complained that in Bavaria beer is privileged as "an article of food," and that such differentiation will cause great bitterness in North Germany. It is declared that the petitioners have suffered more than any other class owing partly to the various restrictions on amusements, but still more to the fact that "meat, eggs, butter, fats, coffee, milk, tea and now spirits can hardly be obtained.

The "Berliner Tageblatt" observes that there are 16,000 restaurants Berlin alone, and that a great part them are already hardly able to exist. It is expected that the supply of Munich beer for North Germany will cease and Pilsen beer is very scarce.”
Manchester Evening News - Friday 17 November 1916, page 4.

That’s a massive drop in beer output. Though it’s safe to assume that the decline in the amount of beer brewed was smaller because, as in Britain, gravities were lowered. Meaning a greater quantity of beer was brewed from the same amount of materials.

I’ll recap an earlier table for comparison purposes:

Drop in UK beer output
period standard barrels bulk barrels
1914 to 1916 15.99% 14.51%
1914 to 1917 26.16% 19.69%
1914 to 1918 67.20% 53.18%
1914 to 1919 76.37% 44.52%
The Brewers' Almanack 1928 pages 100 and 110.

Standard barrels is what you need to look at as that relates directly to the quantity of materials being used. Even by 1917, that had fallen by just over 25%, compared to a 75% drop in Germany by 1916.

As you can see, the reduction in raw materials did eventually hit German levels, but not until 1919. Though drastic gravity cuts meant that bulk beer production only fell to a little under 50% of the pre-war level.

Food Dictator sounds like a pretty crazy office, though effectively the Food Controller, filled the same role. His Thomas the Tank Engine name is somehow less frightening.

I can understand why the publicans were complaining in Berlin. Their livelihoods were under direct threat. In Britain the situation was more complex. On the one hand, they had less beer to sell. On the other, price increases meant that by keeping the same margin of profit, their income could increase. And restrictions on pub opening hours drastically reduced their working day and the amount they paid bar staff. Only in areas where the men had all been called away by the war did publicans really suffer.

Considering beer as food is a very Bavarian attitude. Presumably that meant there was some sort of priority given to its supply. Meaning there was none left over to send North to the thirsty Prussians.

I’m sure I’m not done with this theme yet. As long as I remember I’m not done.


BryanB said...

Did they still try to enforce the Reinheitsgebot in wartime?

Ron Pattinson said...


I don't know about WW I. In WW II they suspended the Reinheitsgebot around 1941, then later reinstated it in Bavaria.