Monday, 1 December 2014

Pilsener and WW I (part three)

A really fascinating article to start with. It's discussing the run-up to the draconian legislation to regulate the drinks trade.

It looks at the views of the opposition Unionist party (the Conservatives today). It sounds as if there was some hope that they might moderate the proposals of the governing Liberal party, many of whose leading members were teetotallers. Notably Lloyd George, who as chancellor a few years previously had heaped extra taxation on brewers. He wasn't a very popular man in the brewing trade.

LONDON, Tuesday Night.
Unionist Leaders and the Drink Question.
Some surprise has expressed that the Opposition leaders have given no sign while the drink problem has been much discussed. They are in close consultation with the Government as to the measures be taken, and doubtless pending a decision they do not feel it necessary to give the country any indication as to their attitude. They are not ready, it may be surmised, to go quite so far as many Ministers, and it will be remembered that Mr. Austen Chamberlain separated himself from Mr. Lloyd George in regard to the measure of relief to be given to the trade in connection with the increase in the beer duty, but they are certainly prepared to assent to measures more drastic than the most revolutionary Government would have dreamed of before the war. The question of compensation is a difficult problem, which may give rise to a divergence of view between Ministers and the Opposition, but there is agreement on the essential point that matters cannot remain they are and that further measures are required. Mr. Bonar Law’s personal sympathies are, I fancy, in favour of strong measures. He himself is practical if not a theoretical teetotaler. His beverage at dinners is ginger beer or ginger ale, and he has sometimes caused embarrassment. When he became leader of the party in the House Commons and dined out more than had been his wont, his hosts on several occasions forgot his partiality for these harmless drinks, and servants had be sent out hurriedly at the last minute to buy bottles of ginger beer at the nearest shop in a back street.

Mr. Balfour and Light Ales.
Mr. Balfour’s views would be of particular interest at this moment, and although we have heard nothing from him he has doubtless been consulted. He would certainly in the abstract be in favour of severe measures against whisky and the lenient treatment of light ales. He has always urged that on these lines, rather than by restrictive legislation, would be found the best solution of the drink problem, and he is getting support now for that opinion. He has frequently deplored the growing taste in Scotland and Ireland for whisky in preference to beer, and he will now have an opportunity of helping to correct that unfortunate tendency. It may be some consolation to the Germans in the hour of their defeat to learn that one of their conquerors is considering the adoption of their beer drink as the national beverage. We cannot adopt lager beer altogether. The climatic differences must be taken into account, and in the colder atmosphere of the north Pilsener or Munich would be an insipid drink ; but there are plenty of light ales brewed in England and Scotland which would satisfy the taste for alcohol in some form, and would have no bad effects."
Liverpool Daily Post - Wednesday 14 April 1915, page 6.

OK, they didn't go for total Prohibition, but there were still huge restrictions, for example in the form of drastically reduced opening hours and limits on the strength and quantity of beer produced.

You can see once again that Pilsener is trotted out as near-temperance beverage. Britain's climate too cold for Lager? What about North Germany? Hamburg doesn't have a better climate than London or Manchester. I've mentioned before the light bottles beers that appeared towards the end of the 19th century. At around 4.5% ABV, these were comparable to Pilsener in strength.

Though this writer disagrees with me:

It has frequently been matter of commonplace comment to remark, "Why cannot we brew light beer similar to lager?" German lager beer, either Pilsener or Munich, despite popular notions to the contrary, contains to 3.5 to 4.5 per cent. of alcohol. Our own beers are equally low in alcohol. The majority of light bottled beers — dinner ales or stout — come within the range 3.5 to 4 per cent. of alcohol.

If any measures are to taken in dealing with the drink question full consideration should be given to the low alcohol contents of beer and its claim to regarded as national beverage.

The "Lancet." discussing the alcohol strength of beverages, points out that a total prohibition order would, strictly speaking, include ginger beer, which may reach an alcohol strength 2 to 3 per cent. by volume. The brewing industry, especially if it be confined to brewing light beers, is much less likely to do harm than the distilling industry, which is bound by statute to keep up its product to a very high alcoholic strength."
Liverpool Echo - Friday 09 April 1915, page 5.

In the set of German Pilsners I have from 1878 to 1900 the weakest is just over 4% ABV, the strongest 5.38% ABV. They average 4.89% ABV. If those figures are ABV, the strength he quotes for light bottled beers I'm sure are wrong. I can't remember seeing anything other than Table Beer that was under 4% ABV before WW I.

Finally, what was happening in Asia:

"The Germans have many smart well as shameful things to their credit. In the former is the success with which have been able to capture a considerable portion of the Indian market with their beer. The most famous of all English beers — pale ale — which is known and appreciated all over the world, originated with the demand by Anglo-Indians, and, according to tradition, the reputation and fortune of one of our greatest brewing firms owes its origin to the wreckage of a cargo off the British Isles, when the virtues "East India Pale Ale" first became known to stay-at-homes. The explanation of the present esteem of the German article lies in a preference for a lighter drink. At the moment Japanese brews are replacing those of Munich and Pilsen. But surely England will come into its own again."
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Monday 25 January 1915, page 3.

Lager had made substantial inroads in India after artificial refrigeration and improved bottling techniques made it possible to ship Lager long distances. British beer was far tougher, but not so much to the taste of those living in the tropics. Japanese beer also replaced European Lager in the Dutch East Indies. It made sense. Japan was closer and there was no threat of German U-Boats.

British beer never made a comeback in India as the author hoped.

I've lots more of this stuff.

1 comment:

Doug Warren said...

My dad spent 5 years in India in the British Army (King's Own Scottish Borderers)1933-1938. As a Scot, he was partial to lager in hot weather and I remember him mentioning that they got Asahi Lager, how much or how often, I don't know. The only other beer he mentioned by brand was McEwan's, presumably IPA. There appears to be no question of a Scottish regiment accepting English beer.

One exception to the widely held disdain for English beer was bottled Bass. He worked in Glasgow pubs before enlisting, and I remember him telling me that bottled Bass was considered something of a treat by punters with a bit of extra spending money.