Thursday 13 February 2020

The Beer Trade of Belgium

More fun from Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette about Belgian brewing in the late 19th century.

First a little something about Belgian beer imports. I was surprised to see what the source of the majority of those imports was.

"The Beer Trade of Belgium
From statistics recently published concerning the commerce of Belgium it appears that the importation of beer into that country continues notably to increase. During the first half of the present year, that is to say, from January 1 to June 30, the total amount of beer imported from Germany was 35,983 hect., as against 29,651 hect. in the corresponding period of 1880, and 24,162 hect. in the corresponding period of 1879. The importation in 1880 for the whole year was 71,890 hect.; in 1879, 47,457 hect.; and in 1878, 52,082 hect. The largest quantity of beer imported into Belgium is drawn from Prussia, the imports of such beer having latterly largely increased. Whilst the importation of English beer remains almost stationary, beers of German origin continue to increase in popularity, and their consumption is very large. At the same time it must be mentioned, that in spite of this constant augmentation the importation of foreign beers into Belgium compared with the general consumption of the country, is insignificant, and does not represent anything like a formidable total."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Tuesday 01 November 1881, page 7.

Surprising to see Prussia listed for two reasons. First, because it wasn't a big beer exporter. But more importantly, because Prussia no longer existed as a country.What they probably mean is that the imports came from the Brausteuergebied - basically the North of Germany. I wonder when this trade dried up? Before WW I or as a result of it?

Belgian brewing in 1880
Output (hl) 9,239,000
imports (hl) 71,890
% imports 0.78%
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Tuesday 01 November 1881, page 7.
European Statistics 1750-1970 by B. R. Mitchell, 1978, page 283.

I assume that these imports were principally, if not exclusevely, bottom-fermenting beer. While imports of UK beer were definitely 100% top fermenting. The UK's export trade with Belgium was more extensive in the 20th century, espewcially after WW II, peaking at 215,874 barrels in 1965.* Which amounted to over 50% of all UK beer exports.

Next we move on to hops and barley.

"With regard to the importation of hops, statistics show that during the present year a decreased quantity of hops has been imported into Belgium In the first half of 1881, 349,673 kilogs. of hops were imported into that country, while in the corresponding period of 1880 the total was 525,785 kilogs., and in the same period of 1879, 503,675 kilogs. According to official statistics Prussia sends by far the largest quantity of hops into that country although the total this year is, so far, much less than that in the two previous years. The imports of hops from England into Belgium also show a notable falling off this year as compared with the first half of last year. With reference to the exportation of hops from Belgium the figures do not denote any remarkable fluctuations. This exportation in the first half of 1881 amounted to 588,485 kilogs., as against 675,04O in the same period of 1880, and 633,171 kilogs. in the same period of 1879. France receives the largest quantity of hops from Belgium and a considerable quantity are also sent to this country. The imports of barley into Belgium in the first half of this year amounted to 50,317,263 kilogs., as compared with 60,977,203 in the same period of 1880, and 73,270,864 in the same period of 1879, It will thus be noted that for the first half of this year these figures show a diminution. The exports of barley from Belgium have also decreased in the half-year ending June last, the total being 8,437,158 kilogs., as against 18,096,090 in the corresponding period of 1880."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Tuesday 01 November 1881, page 7

Belgian hops were popular in the UK. Not because anyone thought they were any good, but because they were dirt cheap. Overall, Belgium was a small next exporter of hops, by about 100,000 kg.

On the other hand, Belgium was a big net importer of barley, bringing 41 million kg more than it sent out.

* “1971 Brewers' Almanack”, pages 53-54.

1 comment:

Roel Mulder said...

Hi Ron, nice find.
In fact, beer imports to Belgium continued to increase to about 2% of total consumption on the eve of WWI. It's one of the reasons they invented the 'Spéciale belge' beer style in 1905: in an effort to improve domestic beer to be able to compete with the imports.
In fact, Belgian beer exports only exceeded imports from 1966 onwards.