Thursday, 11 January 2018

Publicans and Bottled Beer Prices

Wartime restrictions and regulation of the brewing trade didn’t end with the Armistice. In particular, price control continued until 1921.

That the authorities took the regulations seriously is clear from this report of prosecutions for selling beer at too high a price.

Publicans and Bottled Beer Prices. — Three cases of overcharging for bottled beer were dealt with by Sheriff-Substitute Orr at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday. James Archibald, spirit merchant, 94 High Street, Fisherrow, pleaded guilty to selling to a Food Inspector a bottle of "Bass" of the original gravity of 1054 degrees containing 15 fluid ounces at 10d., which was in excess of the maximum price of 7.5d. and also that he had failed to post a notice in his shop showing the retail price of beer. Mr H. Millar, solicitor, stated that prior to 1st March last publicans were entitled to sell Bass and other bottled beer at 11d., and that the general practice was to charge 10d. Under the new Order the control charges were based on imperial measurement. The authorities, however, did not appear to be cognisant of the way beer was sold in Scotland — namely, by reputed pints. The imperial pint was defined as 20 fluid ounces, and the half-pint 10 fluid ounces, whereas the Scottish reputed pint came out to between 12 and 13 ounces. In Scotland the bottles were all of different sizes, and to comply with the regulations the publicans would require to measure every bottle to arrive at a correct price according to the schedule. The Procurator-Fiscal stated that the trouble arose out of the difficulty caused by the reputed pint bottle. But the Local Authorities had agreed with the trade that bottles containing 12.3 ounces could be sold at 8d., which left a slight margin in favour of the trader. Unfortunately certain publicans were selling at a higher figure. His Lordship imposed a fine of £1. Fred A. Lumley, Imperial Hotel, 143 Leith Street, Edinburgh, pleaded guilty through an agent to selling by the hands of a servant a bottle of stout of the original gravity of 1054 degrees containing 11.5 fluid ounces at 10d., the maximum price being 7d. The agent explained his client was unaware of the new Order. The licence-holders were disputing with the Food Controller the question of the new schedule. His Lordship observed that Scotland seemed to be, as usual, ignorant of the passing of the new Order. A fine of £3 was imposed. This fine was also imposed upon Malcolm Urquhart, Waterloo Bar, Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, who had sold through a servant two bottles of lager beer of 1046 degrees, each containing 13 fluid ounces, at the price of 10d., the maximum being 7d. He had also failed to exhibit a notice showing the retail price of beer.”
The Scotsman - Tuesday 27 April 1920, page 4.

I really don’t get the defence of not knowing about the new Orders, because they raised the maximum prices in April 1920.

The reputed pint defence is a more interesting one. Reputed pints and reputed quarts had been common bottle sizes in the 19th century, not just in Scotland but in England, too. And even further afield than that: the reputed pint was also in use in Australia and lives on in the Victorian schooner. By the time of WW I, Imperial measures seem to have been the norm in England.

Claiming that every bottle was a different size is also an interesting line to take. How the hell did they know how to price anything if that were the case?

The Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1973. In its later days it seems to have sold William Younger’s beers. Its site is now occupied by John Lewis. The Waterloo Bar is still going strong.

This is the final incarnation of the Beer Price Orders, which was in force when the offences were committed:

Sales of Beer by Retail in a Public Bar or for Consumption off the Premises.
Beer by gravity  Non-bottled Bottled Price per
price per pint half pint pint  quart
Under 1020º 3d. 3d. 6d. 10d.
1020º - 1027º 4d. 3.5d. 7d. 11d.
1027º - 1033º 5d. 4d. 7.5d. 1/1d
1033º - 1039º 6d. 4.5d. 8d. 1/3d
1039º - 1046º 7d. 5.5d. 9d. 1/5d
1046º 1054º 8d. 6.5d. 11d. 1/7d
above 1054º 9d. 7d. 1/1d 1/9d
 "The Brewers' Almanack 1928" pages 100 - 101. 

The maximum prices given in the article do seem to be taking into account the the bottle size was a reputed, rather than an Imperial, pint.


AussieAusborn said...

Hi Ron, native Victorian here - schooners (425ml) were not common in Victoria until the mid 2000s, when they started cropping up. They're more of a NSW thing.

In fact, until the proliferation of "Irish" pubs in the 90s, most Vic pubs didn't even use pint (568ml) measures.

Of course all the measures are topsy turvy in South Australia. Because they're weird. What they call a pint is a schooner in other states (425ml), and they call a pot (285ml) a schooner.

Ron Pattinson said...


I can remember drinking schooners in Melbourne in 1990 and 1991. I used to nip into the Canada in Carlton my way home from work for a schooner of Coopers Stout. Or two. It wasn't the standard glass size, but there were pubs that had them.

qq said...

OT - I don't know if you've seen the 1857 report of the Select Committee on Hop Duties, but it's answered several questions I've always wondered about :

At the time :
East Kent was growing roughly 1:1:1 Goldings:Jones:grapes; yield was roughly 5cwt/acre
Mid-Kent was Goldings and "a superior kind of grape hops called the Canterbury hop".6cwt/acre.
Weald was mostly grape with some Jones and Colegate ("a very bad class of hop" "powerful but a bad bitter" but double the yield). 8cwt/acre. 3-5% premium over Sussex.
Sussex was grape and Colegate, and was regarded as the bottom end but they got ~11.5cwt/acre at 60% of the price.
Worcestershire had Mathon white and Cooper's white. Some as good as anything from Kent, some no better than Sussex. 5% discount to Goldings. Grapes and Jones are grown, but Colegates not really.
Farnham - mostly white bine, some green bine. Generally inferior to Kent but some brewers prefer them.
Aalst - lot of red bine
Poperinge premium to Aalst, vast majority white bine

Farmers in general would not sell by variety, they would lump them together in one sack so their name became the brand. Some brewers cared about varieties, and greater awareness of how bad Colegate was had led to some being grubbed up.

Goldings were the premium hop and might sell for £5/cwt, Jones would sell at a 85-90% of that and grape at 75%. Although he tries to make out that year-old hops would sell for 90-94% of the new price, some brewers wouldn't touch them and he had bought some at 30% of the price., whilst "old olds" (>3 years) could sometimes be had for 20% of the new price. Grapes were being grubbed up.

Moaning about Goldings' disease susceptibility and how it wasn't as good as when I were a lad - blaming artifical fertilisers in the same way that people talk about Jersey Royals now.

Two big brewers lost a lot of money in 1854 on Bavarian hops that hadn't been dried properly.