Friday, 6 November 2020

Sugar in WW II

Sugar had been a standard ingredient in British beer for almost 100 years when WW II erupted. Ever since it was first allowed in 1847, sugar has been used as a source of fermentable material, to colour, to prime and to flavour beer. It was an essential ingredient in some styles, such as Dark Mild, whose typical character couldn’t be achieved with malts alone.

 Unfortunately, unlike some other beer ingredients, such as hops, sugar was also useful as a human food. Which meant supplies to brewers were limited. A bad harvest in the West Indies in 1940 didn't help.   This prompted a cut in both the domestic sugar ration and the quantities allocated for industrial use. 

In 1940, the UK had 1.25 million tons of sugar of imported sugar to play with. It came from all over the British Empire. Wonder how much of that was used in brewing? Of course, you do. And what better way to convey the information than a nice table. 

Brewing sugar (tons)
year sugar
1938 94,739
1939 99,324
1940 76,639
1941 69,882
1942 70,571
1943 70,029
1944 72,932
1945 89,203
1946 89,501
1955 Brewers'Almanack, page 62

Around 70,000 tons of sugar were used in brewing in 1940 and 1941. That was about 25% less than in 1939. And about 5 or 6% of all that sugar coming in from the West Indies, South Africa and the Pacific. Not that big a proportion, really. Then again, there were all those cakes, biscuits and cups of tea that needed sugar.

It’s worth noting that the 1.25 million tons wasn’t the total sugar supply. That’s just cane sugar. There was also UK-produced sugar from sugar beet.

The average amount of sugar used in beer fell during the war. From around 15% in the late 1930s to 10 or 11% after 1940. What the hell. Here's another table showing that:

Proportion of sugar in grists 1938 - 1946
year sugar
1938 15.82%
1939 15.75%
1940 13.03%
1941 11.05%
1942 11.06%
1943 10.80%
1944 10.83%
1945 12.93%
1946 13.73%
my calculation from figures in 1955 Brewers' Almanack, page 62

No comments: