Tuesday 3 December 2019

Sugar during WW I

After the Free Mash Tun Act of 1880, sugar became an important ingredient. The use of sugar had been legal since 1847, but a special duty had to be paid on it which seems to have put brewers off.

After 1880, the use of sugar became increasingly sophisticated. First, through the use of different grades of invert sugar, Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4, with 1 being the palest and 4 the darkest. Nos. 1 and 2 were mostly used in Pales, no. 3 in Mild Ales and Nos. 3 and 4 in Porter and Stout.

Later, proprietary sugars gained in popularity. These were mixtures of invert sugars and caramel, often formulated for specific styles of beer, such as Mild Ale or Oatmeal Stout.

In 1914, on average 13% of a beer grist consisted of sugar. That included both sugar added during the boil and priming sugars added at racking time.

The biggest problem with sugar, was that it was readily usable in food products. Whereas barley had limited use as a human food and hops none at all. Which meant that brewers were competing with other food industries for the limited supplies of sugar.

Brewers became obsessed with prices during the war, which is handy because it means that the price of every ingredient is listed in the brewing logs. People often assume that sugar was only used in brewing because it was cheaper than malt. During the war, this wasn’t necessarily true. And, of course, there were other reasons for brewers to employ sugar. For colour and flavour in Mild, for example.

Here's are examples where the sugar was more expensive than the malt. This is a PA brewed by Whitbread on February 2nd 1917:

72 quarters malt total cost 4,574/-, cost per quarter 65.34/-
20 quarters No. 1 invert sugar cost 1,496/-, cost per quarter  68/-

This Mild brewed June 7th 1918 is more extreme:

140 quarters malt total cost 12,250/-, cost per quarter 87.5/-
33 quarters No. 3 invert sugar cost 4,059/-, cost per quarter 123/-

As with malt, there were large increases in the price of sugar during the war. In fact, they were even more extreme than in the case of malt, rising from 25s a quarter in 1914 to around 130s, in 1920.

Price of sugar used by Barclay Perkins 1914 - 1917 (in shillings per quarter)
1914 1915 1916 1917
Mar Oct Jun Oct Jan Apr Oct Jan  Apr
Garton No.2 26.5 26 28 42 49 55 67 67 82
Garton No.3 24.5 24 26 40 40 50 65 65 80
Martineau No.3 23.5 23.5 46.5 52.5 65
Glucose 25 58 64
 Barclay Perkins brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives

Price of sugar used by Barclay Perkins 1917 - 1920 (in shillings per quarter) 
1917 1918 1919 1920
Oct Jan Apr Oct Jan Apr Oct Jan Apr
Garton No.2 86 125 130 140
Garton No.3 84 94 98 151 151 113 123 128
Martineau No.3 151 151 120 123 128 138
Glucose 151 151
Barclay Perkins brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives


Mark said...

In terms of the amount of fermentables you get out of a quarter of barley versus sugar, their cost is actually pretty similar even in your final case. You usually get 46 points of SG (per pound per gallon) from sugar and you get up to 36 points from barley but only if you get 100% efficiency. With 90% efficiency you get 32.4 points. So you get 42% more gravity points from a pound of sugar than malt. In your 1918 example sugar cost 41% more than malt (123 / 87.5 = 1.41). So even at its worse sugar cost about the same as malt. Earlied, it would have been cheaper in terms of gravity contribution, even if it was the same bulk cost.

Ron Pattinson said...


that would be true, except a quarter of sugar isn't the same weight as a quarter of malt. Malt is 336 lbs, sugar 224 lbs.

Mark said...

Ah, very useful. Thanks!

Mike in NSW said...

Australia was - and still is - an extreme example of cane sugar usage. Of course sugar cane is grown over huge areas of the North, including Northern New South Wales. However during most of the 20th century the advantage of sugar - generally 30% of the OG, but often up to 50% in the early part of the century - was not just a cost saving measure.

A lot of it was to do with obtaining far bigger brew lengths from scarce brewing hardware, most of which had to be imported. In my own brews of former Aussie ales from 1900 up to the 1950s ("Bronzed Brews" by Peter Symons which Ron is well acquainted with) I can get a very drinkable ale from my 20 litre mash tun / kettle set whereas most modern beers require my 40 litre set.

Would enhanced brew lengths from existing plant have been a factor in the use of sugar in the UK?

Ron Pattinson said...

Mike in NSW,

extending the brew length may well have been a factor at the big London breweries who were brewing massive batches. But flavour - especially in the case of darker beers - was also important.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the popularity of sugar also had to do with predictability -- you know what kind of results you're getting from a set weight of sugar and you can scale up and down easily. That might have been harder to do with malt, especially with wartime messing up your supply chain.