Wednesday, 22 June 2016


I once scribbled 30 pages of notes on the way beers styles evolve. A lot of it bollocks. I've had access to brewing records since. But one assertion I still in a steely grip around the throat: beer and beer styles evolve in reaction to their environment. Just like living creatures.

Tax is the apex preadator of the brewing environment. It's mostly responsible for the difference in strength between modern American and British versions of the same style. The US flat-rate tax makes high-ABV beers much more economical than in most European countries, where the tax is higher on stronger beers.

With a similar tax system, I'm sure the modern US marscape would look very different. That's why lower-strength beers are such bad value in the US. The difference in the cost of ingredients in brewing a 4% compared to a 7% one are minimal, compared to other costs.

A flat rate tax per barrel was a British thing in the 18th century. Up until 1830. When the tax was shifted to malt and hops alone. An important date for the divergence of the British styles brewed in the US from the originals.

It wasn't just in tax alone that the brewing traditions grew apart. But money screams.

Tracking the transformation of British styles transplanted elsewhere would be my thesis. If I had the arsing in me. But I'm all belly and no backside. Peter Symon's Bronzed Brews does the job for Australia. I can't recommend it enough. Properly researched from brewing records.

Did the US stick with the colonial system of taxing beer after independence?  I don't know. Sounds plausible, but I prefer facts. It's probably more complicated.

My belly outbulging my buttocks, can someone save me arseache?


Anonymous said...

Any idea if there was a similar method of taxing liquor, sherry or wine? Did higher proofs result in higher taxes?

Curmudgeon said...

But ordinary US beers are no stronger than European ones, albeit somewhat stronger than British and Irish ones.

Ron Pattinson said...


American versions of British styles were much stronger than the originals after WW II. Beers like Porter and IPA. New American beers are generally much stronger than those in Europe. Without the flat-rate tax system, I don't think that would be the case.

Ron Pattinson said...


spirits were taxed on degrees proof. Fortified wines like port and sherry were in their own tax class, separate from table wines.

J. Karanka said...

To be fair, a side effect of this are some really good low abv beers in the UK. I've had two British hoppy proper session IPAs clocking at 3% abv in the last month. Weaker and tastier than many milds. With the added benefit that mates that are driving can drink about two pints while you hit the stronger stuff and not feel deceived.

Btw, seeing how car dependent the US seems to be I'm surprised they don't have low abv beers too.