Thursday, 19 May 2016

Mine's a Bitter

Here’s some cheering news – a report that sales of Mild are increasing. Just a shame it was almost 80 years ago.

There are a couple of intriguing bits in this tiny article:

"Mine's a Bitter "
According to Mr. C. E. T. Rogers, F.A.I., the well-known authority on the management and valuation of licensed premises, fewer people are using the phrase, "Mine's a bitter!"

Giving evidence before the East Area Assessment Committee at Hastings on Wednesday, said that sales of bitter beer throughout the country were declining and sales of mild ale were rising.

"It is an unexpected result the great 'Beer is Best' campaign," he explained. "The brewers meant that all beer is best, but the public appear to have taken them literally. Mild ale generally known simply as 'beer,' and customers who ask for 'a beer' get served with mild ale. Hence the increase."
Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 19 November 1938, page 4.

It certainly wasn’t true in London that Beer = Mild. The differentiation in London had been Beer = Porter, Ale = Mild. But did anyone by the late 1930’s just ask for “beer” in a pub? I can’t remember anyone ever ordering that way in a British pub, other than foreign tourists.

Beer is Best was a brilliant campaign, with some lovely posters. I have one on my living room wall. But I can’t believe it really prompted drinkers to start ordering just beer.

Was Mild increasing sales at the expense of Bitter in the late 1930’s. If only we had some numbers. Obviously, I do have some numbers. Only for Whitbread, but better than nothing.

Whitbread Bitter and Mild output 1935 - 1939
1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
beer barrels % barrels % barrels % barrels % barrels %
LA 3,225 0.61% 2,852 0.53% 3,251 0.58% 4,237 0.74% 5,747 0.97%
X 187,212 35.43% 199,812 36.93% 210,551 37.25% 216,200 37.96% 232,453 39.35%
PA 49,644 9.40% 49,773 9.20% 52,301 9.25% 51,643 9.07% 50,740 8.59%
IPA 131,729 24.93% 132,339 24.46% 141,373 25.01% 142,476 25.02% 147,177 24.92%
Total 528,370 70.37% 540,995 71.12% 565,230 72.09% 569,532 72.79% 590,695 73.83%
Whitbread brewing records

This isn’t all of Whitbread’s beers, just their Milds and Bitters. Sure enough, sales of X, their main Mild, were increasing in both absolute and percentage terms. While PA, their draught Bitter, was flat in absolute terms, but declining percentage-wise.

I included IPA, which was exclusively a bottled beer, because its sales were so unusually high. You can see that it outsold their draught Bitter by almost three to one and wasn’t that far behind X Ale.

LA, the final beer in the table, was a low-gravity draught Mild. It’s a strange beer. Whitbread never brewed huge amounts of it, almost 22,000 barrels in 1924, the year it was introduced, was the best it ever managed. I assume that it was limited to a small subset of Whitbread’s pubs, where there was demand for a really cheap beer.

To put those total output figures into context, Whitbread brewed just shy of a million barrels in 1912.

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