Monday, 6 April 2020

American Beer In Great Britain (part two)

We conclude our look at Newcastle's US consul rather optimistic plan for importing American Lager into the UK.

He kicks off with a claim that US brewers could proiduce beer more cheaply than their UK colleagues.

"Mr. Jones states that it may fairly be assumed that the cost of production is less on the whole to American brewers than to those of the United Kingdom. While labour is more costly, both malt and hops are cheaper in Milwaukee than at Burton-upon-Trent, and the interest upon capital invested in American breweries must be less than in England, because of the extravagant price of real property in this country."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Saturday 01 October 1881, page 13.

I'm sure that whether or not hops were cheaper in Milwaukee depended on which type they were. I can't imagine European hops would be cheaper than in the UK. But it would have to be ridiculously cheaper to brew in Milwaukee to offset the transportation costs.

Mr. Jones identified bottles as the major problem:

"He concludes that lager beer is placed at a disadvantage in British markets, first by the cost of transportation, and second, by the cost of bottles. The question of freight he leaves to the exporter and carrier, who have a common interest in creating a new export trade. But concerning the bottles he has something to say, viz., the cost of each bottle, full of lager beer is enhanced and handicapped by the cost of the bottle itself — the empty bottle. This is different in form, size, and colour, from that used by brewers and dealers in this country, therefore, the American bottle cannot take the place of that made in England, and will not be taken in exchange for it. The American bottle is neat and well suited for its purpose at home, but it is comparatively useless in this market, where it can neither be sold nor exchanged. Assuming that lager beer bottles could be returned to the exporters as empties at reduced freight rates, even then the process is attended by extra cost and trouble."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Saturday 01 October 1881, page 13.

Exporting in bottles is about as inefficient as you can get. Which was why most beer exported from the UK was in barrels. The cost of the bottle was not an inconsiderable portion of the price of bottled beer. As this advertisemt from 1883 shows:

The beer itself cost, depending on its strength, between 2.5d and 4d. The bottle deposit - which probably refected its cost - was 1d. So between 25% and 40% of the retail price. Having to eat the cost of the bottle would have put American beer ay a distinct price disadvantage.

"As a remedy for this difficulty, Mr. Jones suggests that lager beer intended for the United Kingdom should be put into bottles, identical, or similar to those in general use by the beer trade of this country, in order that they may be taken in exchange for them, and that the price of tho contents may thereby be reduced. He is satisfied that no kind of objection would, or reasonably could, be raised by wholesale beer dealers, to taking American made bottles which originally contained lager beer, instead of, or as substitutes for, English bottles. In reference to this matter Mr. Jones further writes as follows: Let our beer once become generally known and it would naturally be imported in barrels in cool railway cars, and suitable compartments in steamers, that the profits of the importer might be increased. Under those conditions also, I think the commonalty or similarity of bottles would be found to lessen trouble, save time and labour, and facilitate trade."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Saturday 01 October 1881, page 13.

Sending the beer over in British-style bottles made sense. But not as much as doing the bottling in the UK, which Mr. Jones envisioned at a later stage.

"In order to establish this commerce, our lager beer exporters should appoint agents of well-known respectability in every large town in the United Kingdom. They should sell the beer at the lowest possible price until its superior quality became known. I am convinced that if once fairly introduced, American lager beer would command a very large sale in the United Kingdom, especially during the summer months: moreover, people who consider English beer too heavy as an ordinary beverage would buy lager beer for general family use."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Saturday 01 October 1881, page 13.

Though, of course, UK brewers had already started brewing Light Pale Ales which had a character not a million miles away from Lager. Im not sure that "its superior quality" was proved. Well-brewed British beer was of a qiality not often equalled elsewhere in the 1880s.

The author had a much more realistic view of the chances of US Lager in Britain:

"It will be gathered from the foregoing opinions of Mr. Jones that he regards this matter in a very sanguine spirit; but his hopes are not likely to be realized. Lager beer has been placed before English consumers, and, apart from the question of price, they do not seem to care about it. Besides, a public company was recently launched for the purpose of making lager beer in England, and the requisite capital, we believe, was not subscribed. The prospects of the lager beer trade in this country do not, therefore, seem to be very encouraging."
Holmes' Brewing Trade Gazette - Saturday 01 October 1881, page 13.

There's never been a significant quantity of US Lager imported into the UK. It just never made economic sense.

1 comment:

qq said...

Pricing hasn't changed much - if you were looking at getting 5-10bl contract bottled these days you'd probably be looking at 40-50p/500ml +VAT once you take all the bits and bobs into account.