Tuesday, 7 January 2020

2d per pint extra for high gravity beer

One of the unique features of tax rises in the first half of the 20th century is that they usually amounted to an increase in 1d per pint, retail.

At least that's what was usually claimed. But, as the tax was related to the gravity of the beer, the situation was, in reality, more complicated. The 1d was based on average strength beer. Obviously the increase would be greater for a beer of greater strength.

As a result of the new Budget tax, higher gravity beers will be increased 2d. a pint, and not 1d. per pint as had been generally understood.

At a meeting of Derby and District Bottlers' Association yesterday the chairman said that it was very necessary to make it clear to the public that the new tax was on a gravity basis and that gravity beers are affected to a much greater degree than 1d. a pint.

The meeting fixed prices as under for Guinness Extra Stout, Bass Pale Ale, Worthington I.P.A., and Younger's No. 3 Scotch Ale delivered for home consumption as from Monday next: Bass, Worthington and Younger's, 12s. 6d. per doz. pints, 6s. 6d. per doz. half pints, 5s. per doz. nips. Guinness E.S., 11s. 4d., 6s. 2d., and 4s. 10d. respectively.

Gravity of beer depends on the amount of alcohol, hops, malt, and barley contained. A higher gravity beer is essentially a brewed beer with a higher percentage of these ingredients than the cheaper and chemically treated kind. In most cases brewers use "X's" to indicate the strength of their ales and stouts, and those that will go up by only 1d. pint are, generally speaking, those denoted by one X." "
Derby Daily Telegraph - Saturday 27 April 1940, page 3.
I understand the basic principle. But were the beers mentioned really so strong that the tax increase was 2d per pint? Why don't we take a look?

The increase in April 1940 was from 104 shillings per standard barrel to 135 shillings. A standard barrel being 36 Imperial gallons at 1055º. Luckily, I know the gravity of all four beers mentioned. They were all well above average strength, but nothing like double as strong.

Looking at the table below, you'll see that the increase in tax for an average strength beer was about 1d per pint. For the four higher-gravity beers, it's more like 1.25d.

Effect of April 1940 tax increase
Beer Tax in shillings OG tax per barrel (shillings) tax per pint (d.)
Average OG beer 104 1041 77.53 3.23
Average OG beer 135 1041 100.64 4.19
Bass Pale Ale 104 1056 105.89 4.41
Bass Pale Ale 135 1056 137.45 5.73
Guinness Extra Stout 104 1054 102.11 4.25
Guinness Extra Stout 135 1054 132.55 5.52
Worthington IPA 104 1055 104.00 4.33
Worthington IPA 135 1055 135.00 5.63
Younger's No. 3 104 1052 98.33 4.10
Younger's No. 3 135 1052 127.64 5.32
1955 Brewers' Almanack, pages 50 & 80.
Truman Gravity Book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number B/THB/C/252.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.
William Younger brewing record held at the Scottish Brewing Archive, document number WY/6/1/2/76.

Looks like the bottlers were taking the piss.

Given that the four beers were of very similar gravities, I wonder why Guinness Extra Stout was cheaper? What do the beers have in common? They were all nationally available.


Jeff Renner said...

What was “chemically treated” beer?

Ron Pattinson said...


I've absolutely no idea what they mean by that.

Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble getting a good link, but Google Books has "The Mark Lane Express" from April 11 1898 which refers to bisulphate of lime used in "chemically treated" beer.

Searching around a bit, bisulphate of lime appears to be an antioxidizing additive, and some people objected to its taste and smell. Obviously there might be other additives that were considered chemical treatments too.

qq said...

Bisulph_i_te of lime was patented by Henry Medlock in 1861 as an early version of Camden tablets, and you can imagine that people would object if you overdid the sulphite addition.