This part mostly covers the adulteration of beer. The year is significant: 1870. Because in the 1870’s health inspectors employed by local councils were increasingly checking food for adulteration, including beer. The result was a big improvement in the quality of foodstuffs for human consumption. Which seem to have brought about an end to widespread adulteration of beer (though not necessarily simple watering down.
“BEER, SCIENTIFICALLY AND SOCIALLY CONSIDERED.
The following extracts are taken from an article Mr. James Samaelson in the current number of the Quarterly Journal of Science :—During a visit which I paid last year to Germany, the Tyrol, and Switzerland, I was greatly struck with the fact that in countries where beer is the national beverage, the humbler classes are comparatively sober ; whilst in those parts where wine, even the thin wine of the country, and ardent spirits, usurp the place of the milder beverage, there is a nearer approximation to the habits of our own people — in other words, there is large amount of drunkenness. In publishing elsewhere a short account of my observations,* I ventured to express the opinion that the man who should succeed in introducing into Britain and bringing into general consumption a mild, brisk, sparkling beverage such as one gets abroad, it would be a greater benefactor than the most self-denying devoted advocate of teetotalism; and some of the most influential organs in the country, and notably three**, have more or less emphatically endorsed this view in their criticisms. What is still more satisfactory, I have received inquiries concerning the difference between the processes of manufacture of the English and German beer, from persons who have the will and ability to carry out my suggestion, whilst German beer is daily more sought after and in our large towns, such as London, Manchester, and Liverpool, may readily be procured, though the cost is rather high owing to the limited consumption. Instead, therefore, of having overestimated the importance of the beer question, I find that it is far more deserving of consideration than I had imagined ; and after having directed attention to it, and inquired further into its scientific and social aspects, I have arrived the conclusion that there are few subjects of greater national importance us as Englishmen.”
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
It’s weird how many believed in the 19th century that Lager was almost a temperance drink. And that the health of the poor would improve if it were more widely drunk. Whereas today Lager has exactly the opposite image: as the cause of drunken binges.
German beer was expensive not because of the limited demand for it, but because it was expensive to brew and transport – it needed to be kept cold – and it was taxed on arrival in the UK. Right up until today, Lager is still more expensive than top-fermenting beer.
”One of the journals to which reference has been made***,has gone so far as to say that "wholesome beer and wholesome recreation are, for the most part, beyond the reach of our working men;" and although much the blame rests with the operatives themselves, who prefer to give 6d per quart for bad beer at a public-house, rather than the same price for the best Burton ale, which they could easily procure by combination, yet it is perfectly true that a large proportion of the beer now sold the masses is totally unfit for consumption. If any of my readers are disposed to doubt this, let them read the following paragraph, which I have extracted from the proceedings of the Liverpool Select Vestry, reported in the Liverpool Daily Post of January last :— "Poisonous Beer and Lunacy; A Brewer’s Testimony.—A conversation as to the cost of pauper lunatics arose, and Mr. Glover, addressing the committee, said he thought that, with regard to lunacy, they began at the wrong end. He had visited the lunatic asylums in Lancashire within the last three four months, and he had asked the masters of the institutions what was the cause the increase in pauper lunatics. The answer was drunkenness, and he (Mr. Glover) believed that that was the case. He thought the health committee ought to be asked to appoint some sort of inspector to look after the quality of the drink sold. They appointed inspectors of meat and fish, and they condemned bad fruit, but bad drink was ten times worse than all of them. There was law which, if put in force, punished people for using poisonous ingredients in the making of beer — preventing them from using grains of paradise, nux-vomica, oil of vitriol, ammonia, and other things that were used in making beer. That was in addition to malt and hops, but if only malt and hops were used there would no lunatics from drink. His impression was that all a working man could spend in honestly brewed beer would not kill him or drive him mad, if the beer were good. There were some dishonest publicans as well as dishonest brewers ; and there were some publicans who rode handsome chargers, and their wives were driven about in splendid equipages, and they were doing great injury to people and filling the workhouses. He believed the drink they sold was not honest drink, but contained some of the things he had described. When a brewer had beer that would not keep long, he said to his customer, when it got a little sour, that he would change it. It was taken back to the brewery when sour, and then the dishonest publican bought it for 10s or £1 a barrel. He then went to the druggist's shop, and got something that neutralised the acid; and, was not the poor creature who afterwards drank the beer likely to go mad. The health committee ought to attend to the matter, and see that good beer was given to the people.”
* “The German Working Man.” Longmans.
** "The Illustrated London News.” January 1 ; The Pall Mall Gazette” January 8: “The Gardener's Chronicle” March 12
*** "The Pall Mall Gazette"
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
Was adulterated beer really driving the working classes insane? We’ll probably never know, but it would be interesting to find out if the number of lunatic paupers fell in the 1880’s when adulteration was less rife.
It’s worth remembering that, as this is before 1880, only water, malt, hops, yeast and sugar could legally be used in beer. Anything else could get a brewer fined if caught, whether it was poisonous or not.
To put that 10s or £1 a barrel into context, a standard-strength Mild cost 36s a barrel. Making the dodgy and doctored beer incredibly good value for an unscrupulous publican. The stronger and more expensive the beer, the more he stood to profit.
Next time we’ll look in more detail at what crap was being put into beer.