Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Brewing restrictions in Denmark during WW I

I’m making a brief detour back to WW I. Just because I happened upon a fascinating article mentioning the effect of WW I on Danish brewing.

Which you might find surprising, seeing as Denmark was neutral. But the activities of British and German naval forces severely affected world shipping, for both participants and non-participants alike.

“Restrictions on brewing were also imposed as national necessity demanded, the following regulations being successively brought into force:—

April 3rd. 1917.—Restriction of brewing material to not more than 80 per cent, of the normal consumption.

Nov. 9th, 1917.—Prohibition of the use of Danish barley for malting.

Nov. 24th, 1917.—Prohibition of export of beers and yeast. This regulation is not yet withdrawn, but it is possible to obtain permits for export. the restrictions on the use of brewing materials and on the employment of Danish barley for malting have, on the other hand, been recently withdrawn, but economies are still enforced by the prohibition since Feb. 6th, 1920, of the sale in Denmark of beer containing more than 3 per cent, by weight of absolute alcohol.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, page 26.

That date of April 1917 for the first restrictions isn’t random. And is exactly when the first drastic cuts in beer production started in the UK. Because it’s just when the German unrestricted U-boat  campaign started to bite.

Just like in the UK, taxes went up, too:

“In addition to these restrictions the taxes on beer have been greatly increased. Up till Nov. 10th, 1917, beers containing less than 2.25 per cent, by weight of absolute alcohol were duty free. Those with over 2.25 per cent, being taxed at Kr. 9.50 per hectolitre (equivalent to about 15s. 6d. per barrel). But now all beers are taxed, being divided into "Skatteklasse I" and "Skatteklasse II" (Taxclasses I and II), the former containing more than 2.25 percent, by weight of absolute alcohol bearing a tax of Kr. 18 per hectolitre (about 29s. 6d. per barrel) and the latter so-called temperance beers with less than 2.25 per cent, alcohol at Kr. 5.70 per hectolitre (9s. 4d. per barrel).”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, page 26.

To put that into context, here’s the tax on beer in the UK for the same period:

UK Excise tax 1914 - 1920
Year Tax per standard barrel Average OG
1914 7s 9d 1052.8
1915 23s 1052.35
1916 23s 1051.88
1917 24s 1048.54
1918 25s 1039.81
1919 50s 1030.55
1920 70s 1039.41
Brewers' Almanack

It’s difficult to make a direct comparison, because of the different systems used, but Danish tax was higher before the start of the war, but lower by the end of it, than in the UK.

No surprise, then, that the price of beer increased:

“These and greatly increased expenses in every other direction have raised the prices of "Pilsener" beer from 11 ore (about 1d.) to 26 ore (2.5d.) per bottle of 330 c.cm. and in cask from Kr. 26 to Kr. 72 per hectolitre (about 42s. 6d. to 117s. 6d. per barrel). The beers with less than 2.25 per cent alcohol show an even greater increase. The new Pilsener for instance increasing from Kr. 7.5 to 24.25 are per bottle (about 0.75d. to 2.5d.) and from Kr. 16 to Kr. 60 per hectolitre in cask (or 26s. 3d. to 98s. 6d. per barrel).”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, pages 26 - 27.

Price increases were even more extreme in the UK. A pint of Mild in the low 1050’s cost 2d in 1914. In 1920 a beer of tat strength had a controlled price of 8d per pint*.

“The brewing  of the stronger "Lager beer" was stopped in Feb., 1918, and export trade brought to a complete standstill, and despite the renewed freedom of the seas, freights still prevent more than a partial resumption.

The accompanying table will show how gravities have been affected, and indicate the stoppage of the stronger beers in 1918. Table I

Average Original Gravities of Beers.
October 1st 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919
September 30th 1915 1916 1917 1916 1919 1920
Lager beer 52 51 48 45 0 0
Pilsener beer 44 44 41.5 32 38 38
Stout, taxclass I 76 76 72 0 0 0
Stout, taxclaas II 68 68 65 58 55 56
Munich beer 56 56 55 0 0 0
Export beer 52 50 49.5 0 0 0
New Pilsener, taxclass II 32 32 32 30 31 31

Again, the war drove down gravities in Denmark, though not as drastically as in the UK. Nor was it permanent, as in the UK. Looking in the Carlsberg records I have from 1928, I can see that their Pilsner was brewed to 10.6º Plato, or 1042.5º.**

I’m glad for this explanation of Lager. I’d suspected it was darker, but it’s nice to have that confirmed:

“Bottled beers during recent years have been mainly of two types "Pilsener," a pale beer, and "Lager," a darker and rather stronger beer. The Lager is no longer brewed on account of the restrictions on gravity, and alcohol, and with the exception of old stocks which at the time of writing are approaching exhaustion, the only bottled beer in consumption in Denmark is of a gravity of 1038 or less. At the Carlsberg and Tuborg breweries the 1038 beers are of the Pilsener type, sparkling and palatable light beers, but not equal in point of flavour or character to their pre-war prototypes of 11° Balling or 1044º. At the smaller breweries at other places darker beers of the same maximum gravity are brewed. The old top fermentation beers peculiar to the country are being gradually displaced by these finer bottom fermentation beers, and of late the national beverage Schnapps is also being ousted by bottled Pilsener on account of its greatly enhanced price.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 1921, page 27.

I can believe that almost exclusively Pilsner was brewed. There’s page after page of just Pilsner in the 1928 Carlsberg brewing records.

* The Brewers' Almanack 1928 pages 100 - 101.
** Calrsberg brewing record held at the brewery in Copenhagen, document number Serie 000013560 000056839.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. If you ever come across it, it would be interesting to see the parallels with other neutral countries, such as Switzerland or Sweden.

Or for that matter, have you ever looked at the effect of WW II on Irish brewing?