Friday, 7 April 2017

Bass in 1871

I got all excited when I saw the title of this article. Was it another early reference to Bass’s Barley Wine? Not really, unfortunately. It’s just using Barley Wine as a general – and rather poetic – term for beer.

Though Bass already were already using the term for a specific beer – No. 1 Burton Ale – at the time the article was written. A search of the newspaper archive reveals that “Barley Wine” reveals that it really was a poetic term for beer, as it mostly appears in poems or songs.

Here’s an example:

(From a New Volume of Poems, by J. C. Prince.)
October, a blithe and benevolent fellow,
Is here with his tresses enwreathed with the vine;
His broad visage glowing with purple and yellow,
As if he had quaffed of his own barley-wine.”
Kendal Mercury - Saturday 23 October 1847, page 4.

But I digress. On with the article, which has loads of handy Bass-related numbers. First some general guff and a bit about Burton water.

The North of England Farmer gives a long and very interesting account of the Burton Brewery of Messrs. Bass. It appears the Burton ales are not made from the water of the river Trent, as is commonly supposed, but from springs of the Trent valley, in and around Burton. This “liquor” is obtained by means of wells, which have been sunk deeper and deeper as brewery after brewery has sprung up. It became celebrated about 1710, when one Benjamin Printon established a small brewery at Burton. From the quality of the ale produced by this pioneer in the national wine of this country, the water of the Burton Valley became known as the most celebrated “liquor” in Great Britain for the production of fine and light ales. Whatever saccharine may be put into this water appears to remain there for any length of time without being chemically injured by the mineral combinations which are generally found in spring and river waters. The name of Bass first appeared in connection with brewing at Burton about 90 years ago, when the grandfather of the present head of the firm started a small brewery. The gradual expansion of the trade of Mr. Wm. Bass, the founder of the firm, we need not relate. Nor need we dwell on the rapidity with which the business grew under the youthful activity, geniality, and liberality of Mr. M. T. Bass, M.P. But we may say that this gentleman was greatly assisted by the development of the railway system between 1835 and 1850.”
"Brewers' Guardian, vol. 1, 1869", June 1871, page 192.

It then start getting down to specifics, first about the malt Bass made and used:

“The writer goes on to describe the three large breweries belonging to the firm, and adds, “Malt and hops are, of course, the starting points in the production of “barley wine.” The former is largely made at Burton, by Messrs. Bass and Co., there being as many as 32 malt-houses of the largest possible size and most approved construction for working with economy. At Retford and Lincoln they also have malt-houses. The quantity of malt they make and consume per annum is nearly 190,000 quarters, which, at the accredited average of 49 quarters per acre, would require 42,222 acres of land to grow the barley. The barley harvests of the years 1869 and 1870 were not favourable, but during the year ending April 1, 1871, the quantity of malt brewed by Messrs. Bass and Co. was 183,375 quarters, the duty on which at 21s. 8d. per quarter would be £198,656 5s.”
"Brewers' Guardian, vol. 1, 1869", June 1871, page 192.

Using the rough standard of four barrels per quarter of malt, that puts Bass’s total output at around 750,000 barrels. Though that might be a sight overestimate as Bass’s beer was quite strong, on average.

We can use the four barrels per quarter rule to also work out the tax per barrel that they were paying. Remember that at this point the malt tax was the tax on beer, effectively.  It works out a little over 5 shillings per barrel, which seems pretty cheap. The final Excise duty of strong beer before it was abolished in 1830 was 10 shillings per barrel*.

Though in the 1870’s brewers also had to pay 1 shilling per quarter of malt used for their brewing licence, adding another 6d per barrel to the tax bill. Allowing for that, the total tax was no more than 6 shillings a barrel, still considerably less than in 1830. Because of the amount Bass brewed, they still had a large tax bill. Adding on the £9,000 or so they paid for their licence, the total is around £207,000. A huge amount in the 1870’s.

Next time we'll be looking at Bass's hop usage.

* The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830 Peter Mathias p. 546.

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