Friday, 7 February 2020

Brewing in Belgium

The last set of bosts about 19th-century Belgian brewing went down well. So here's another, rather smaller, article.

Though this one isn't quite as snide, it does point out the ridiculous nature of the Belgian tax system
"Brewing in Belgium.
Brewing is one of the most important branches of Belgian industry, and the average annual quantity of beer manufactured in the country amounts to about 105,668,000 gallons. Notwithstanding such a relatively large production, Belgium exports a very small quantity of beer. The introduction into France of the light and cheap beer produced in Belgium is prevented by the French customs tariff laws, which do not establish any distinction for any particular quality of beer imported, but prescribe a fixed rate of duty of four cents. per gallon. Besides this, the Belgian excise duties hinder the manufacture of strong and well-fermented beer. The Revenue tax being levied according to the size of the mashing tubs employed, the brewers are interested in getting the most they can from the mash, and they neglect the quality in order to obtain the quantity; yet, considering the advantages placed at its disposal, it is believed that Belgium would be able to compete with any other nation, if there was a thorough fiscal reform. From England beer is exported to the amount of two millions sterling. Brewing is an industry which in Belgium contributes a good deal to the advancement of the national fortune and to the physical development of the working community. Throughout the country there are about 2,700 breweries, which produce annually 214,821,687 gallons of beer. "
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Friday 01 April 1881, page 9.
This is something modern drinkers might be surprised by: "Belgian excise duties hinder the manufacture of strong and well-fermented beer". Nowadays Belgium is associated with strong beers, but that wan't the case in the past. Almost all Belgian beer was pretty weak in the 19th century.

The numbers for Belgian beer production don't seem to match up. First it lists 105,668,000 gallons, then later 214,821,687. The later number, which is the ewquivalent of 5,967,269 barrels looks like the correct figure. As a very similar number is confirmed by another source.

To put that Belgin beer production figure into context, here are the numbers for some neighbouring countries:

Beer production in 1880 (barrels)
UK 30,742,649
Belgium 5,635,790
France 5,048,970
Germany 23,638,720
Brewers' Almanack 1928, page 109.
European Statistics 1750-1970 by B. R. Mitchell, 1978, page 283.

It's amazing that Belgium, a tiny country, produced more beer than France. And most of that French beer was produced jsut south of the Belgian border.

1 comment:

Roel Mulder said...

Hi Ron, thanks for posting this.
Beer production in Belgium in 1880 was 9,309,564 hectolitres, which is 14% more than mentioned in this source. (Or thereabouts, other sources put it as 9.2 or 9,5 million hl)
Otherwise, this article is correct in stating that Belgian beer was relatively weak and that the legislation was a major reason for this.
The Belgian beer tax law would change in 1885, which led to the first bottom-fermenting, Bavarian-style breweries being established in Belgium. The small, old-fashioned top-fermenting breweries continued to be of significance for quite a while, though.