As we’ve already heard, the revision to the Beer Orders in July 1917 introduced the first restriction on gravity. The next set three months later introduced price controls.
"July 1 1917: Statutory output for quarter increased by 33 1/3 per cent. to rate of 15,043,000 standard barrels, half the beer to be brewed at a gravity not exceeding 1036º, 20 per cent. offered to all brewers on those terms, the balance of 13 1/2 per cent. being brewed under special licence for consumption in munition areas.
Oct. 1 1917: Rate and conditions of previous quarter continued but gravity for one-half of the output raised to 1042º. Prices also fixed at 4d. per pint under 1036º, 5d. per pint under 1042º."
"The Brewers' Almanack 1928" pages 100 - 101.
The sub 1036º beer was generally referred to as Government Ale. Something which soon became the butt of jokes because of its low strength.
Here was the reaction of the trade to the new regulations:
“THE NEW BEER ORDERS
WILL MORE HEAVY BEER BE BREWED?
In view of the coming into operation at the end of the month of the new Beer Order, a meeting of brewers is to be held in Edinburgh to-day, and the retailers in the trade are to consider matters, as they affect them, to-morrow. What will occupy their attention chiefly will be the general question of the price of beer, and the procedure to be adopted regarding the 4d. and 5d. per imperial pint classes. In regard to the matter of any changes in the quality of beer to be brewed, that, it is understood, will not be under consideration at to-day's meeting. That will be left to the individual brewer to deal with as he thinks fit. It has been thought that one result of the Order will be to decrease the amount brewed of beer of a lighter gravity. That, it is stated, is not likely to be the case, not at least to any marked extent, seeing that 20 per cent. increase in production has been allowed the brewers under the Order and as one brewer put it, "Why, when our output has been so restricted of late, should we lose the opportunity of taking full advantage of that concession or allowance." It is a matter that must be left to the individual brewers themselves whether or not they will make more beer of a heavier gravity and less of a lighter and in view of the small margin of profit to be allowed on the lighter beers — the 4d. and 5d. per pint sorts — there may be a tendency to do that in certain quarters. But such a course will certainly not be general, and there is a feeling that the class of beer to be brewed under the new Order will, taking it all over, hot be very different from that now being produced. If the retailers show a preference for heavier beer, in regard to which there is no limitation in price, that may have its influence on the manufacturers, though, of course, there is a limit, fixed by Government, in regard to the production of such beers. Brewers are bound down in that connection.”
The Scotsman - Wednesday 24 October 1917, page 6.
Retailers – publicans, really – were interested in selling non-price controlled beer because they made more profit. One of the problems with the system of price controls was that it only applied to the retail price, not the wholesale price. Publicans complained that the wholesale price demanded by brewers didn’t leave them a sufficient margin to make a living.
Why was the brewer quoted not keen on brewing more stronger beer? Because he wanted to brew as much beer as possible. The general consensus seems to be that nothing was going to change very much. Radical change would happen a few months later in 1918. When things started to get really bad for brewers and drinkers.