Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Restrictions on wine and spirits in WW I

It wasn’t just beer that had to endure the interference of the Food Controller. Other drinks had similar problems.

I’ve just been moving my books into my new study. For the first time in years my books are reasonably well sorted and accessible. It’s reminded me of many books I’d forgotten I had. One being the snappily titled British Food Control.

Someone asked me the other day about spirits during WW II and I realised that, while I knew loads about what happened with beer during the wars, I was much sketchier on other alcoholic drinks.

“Under the Output of Beer Restriction Acts, described in detail in an earlier chapter, a small reduction, estimated to save 150,000 tons of imported material in each year, had been effected. The tightening of this very mild restriction had been one of the measures contemplated by the Board of Trade officials in November 1916; in a memorandum submitted to the new Food Controller in the last days of that year, it was pointed out that while in this country brewing was allowed up to 70 per cent. and more of the pre-war level, the corresponding percentage in Northern Germany had just been reduced From 35 to 25, of which 14 was required for the Army. Proposals for a further reduction of brewing were made to the War Cabinet by Lord Devonport in January, but not till the end of March was a definite order ready for issue. On 29th March 1917 the Food Controller made the first of the Intoxicating Liquor (Output and Delivery) Orders, by which, as from 1st April, each brewer's production was reduced to 28 per cent, of his pre-war number or 33.33 per cent. of his 1915-16 number of standard barrels, plus an uncertain addition for military canteens; to avoid turning the public from beer to stronger liquors, the issues of wine and spirits from bond were at the same time limited to 50 per cent, of the 1916 issue.”
Beveridge, Sir William H. (1928), Control of cereals in British Food Control, Humphry Milord, London, pp 100 - 101.

April 1917 was when the really strict restrictions on brewing kicked in. It’s clear something similar happened with wine and spirits, with the amount available being cut to 50% of the 1916 figure.

There had already been massive restrictions on distilling, but not to conserve food:

“The distilling of fresh spirit without a permit by the Minister of Munitions had been prohibited by a Defence of the Realm Regulation; the Minister of Munitions, however, was interested in the production of acetone rather than in the conservation of food, and pot stills which were not suited for making acetone had been permitted to continue distilling. These permits were now, at the instance of the Food Controller, withdrawn, and the distilling of raw spirits was stopped entirely.”
Beveridge, Sir William H. (1928), Control of cereals in British Food Control, Humphry Milord, London, pp 101.

Acetone was used in the production of cordite, which was a propellant for shells and bullets. Obviously pretty important during WW I. So it seems that there had been limited distilling in the early war years and none after April 1917.

Later in 1917 the restrictions of beer production were loosened, but on wine they were removed altogether:

“The restrictions on the issue of wine from bond were also relaxed; issues being allowed at double the 1916 rate by an order of 28th November and being allowed without limit by an order of 3rd June 1918. The restrictions on spirits remained, the line taken by the Government being that people might change from beer to spirits and should not be encouraged to do so by being able to get spirits easily. Those who could afford to drink wine should be encouraged to do so and leave beer for the poorer consumers.”
Beveridge, Sir William H. (1928), Control of cereals in British Food Control, Humphry Milord, London, pp 102.

Odd, isn’t it, how there were no restrictions on the drink of the better off, wine? Especially as wine was all imported, unlike beer.

It seems that people did notice the special treatment given to wine:

“In conserving cereals the Ministry of Food found itself dragged Into the thickest of the temperance controversy. Hardly any other subject produced for Mr. Clynes so thorny a crop of questions in Parliament, or called for more agility in picking his way between those who pressed him in vain to regard all brewing as an avoidable waste of food-stuffs, and those who demanded more beer for munitions workers or for agricultural labourers at harvest time, or for the general public at all times. Reduction in the output of beer meant not infrequently that supplies in particular houses became exhausted and, when replenished, were drunk up again in a few days by patrons eager not to miss their share. Fixing of the retail price of beer without control of the wholesale price led to complaints that the publican could not get a sufficient margin on which to live. The different and varying treatment of spirits and of wine had to be justified again and again.”
Beveridge, Sir William H. (1928), Control of cereals in British Food Control, Humphry Milord, London, pp 103.

It must have been fun trying to find a pub with beer. At least they’d probably have wine. If you could afford it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the followup. You would assume there would be widespread sets of shortages during wartime, but it's interesting to get a deeper background. The need for cordite is something I would never have expected.