Friday, 5 March 2021

Barclay Perkins XLK material costs in WW II

I was intrigued by a question asked in response to an earlier post. Why did the price of beer increase so much during WW I. My immediate response was - tax. I decided to investigate a bit more, just to be sure.

Let’s take a look at one particular beer, Barclay Perkins XLK, to see what was behind those price increase. Rather handily, Barclay’s brewing records list the price of the ingredients.

I’d best tell you the units I’m using in the tables first. The grains are in quarters – 336 lbs. The sugars and hops in hundredweights – 112 lbs.

In 1939, the raw materials accounted for much less of the cost than tax.

Tax, at a rate of 80 shillings per standard barrel , came to 2.77d per pint of XLK. The ingredients were less than half that, at just 1.27d. Most of that coming from the fermentables. It’s fascinating to see just how insignificant the cost of the hops was.

29th May 1939 Barclay Perkins XLK material costs (217 barrels)
ingredient quantity price (shillings) cost cost per pint (d) % of total
Californian pale malt 7.98 47 375.06    
PA malt Gripper 9.24 55 508.20    
PA malt HA & DT 9.24 59 545.16    
flaked maize 4.2 36 151.20    
No. 3 invert sugar 9.66 38.5 371.91    
total malt/adjunct     1951.53 1.13 16.16%
MK Fuggles 1938 0.90 196 73.70    
Kent W 1938 0.84 213 74.11    
MK Goldings 1937 0.96 236 94.26    
total hops     242.08 0.15 2.09%
total ingredients       1.28 18.25%
tax       2.77 39.57%
retail price       7.00  
Barclay Perkins brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/01/623.

If you’re wondering why the quantities look so weird, it’s because this example was parti-gyled. I’ve adjusted the amounts to reflect XLK’s share of the materials.

By 1942, in the middle of the war, things had changed quite a bit. There’s been a big increase in the price of malt – four or five times its pre-war level.

8th May 1942 Barclay Perkins XLK material costs (225 barrels)
ingredient quantity price (shillings) cost cost per pint (d) % of total
crystal malt 1.25 230 287.5    
PA malt Taylor 13 178 2314    
PA malt Dereham 12.75 195 2486.25    
flaked barley 3 205 615    
sugar 3 100 300    
total malt/adjunct     6002.75 3.34 27.85%
MK Fuggles 1941 0.55 334 184.89    
Worcester Fuggles 1941 0.55 310 171.61    
MK Fuggles 1940 0.55 278 153.89    
total hops     510.39 0.29 2.42%
total ingredients       3.63 30.26%
tax       4.41 36.77%
retail price       12.00  
Barclay Perkins brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/01/624.

That’s left the ingredients costing almost the same as the tax, and three times the 1939 amount. Despite fewer of them being needed, due to a fall in OG from 1045.7º to 1035.3º.  The proportion of the retail price made up by the tax has even fallen a little. Even though the tax rate had more than doubled, up to 165 shillings a standard barrel.

On a side note, it’s strange to see flaked barley costing more than PA malt. Why would you use unmalted barley when malt was cheaper? Because the government told you to.

Just after war’s end, the situation had altered once more.

29th Aug 1946 Barclay Perkins XLK material costs (282 barrels)
ingredient quantity price (shillings) cost cost per pint (d) % of total
crystal malt 3 131 393    
PA malt Taylor 14 153 2142    
PA malt Dereham 14 142 1988    
flaked barley 3 205 615    
No. 3 invert sugar 5 99 495    
total malt/adjunct     5633.00 2.51 19.32%
MK Colgates 1945 0.71 452 322.86    
Worcester Fuggles 1945 0.72 451 326.17    
Worcester Goldings 1945 0.72 491 355.10    
EK Tolhursts 1945 0.72 476 344.25    
total hops     1004.13 0.45 3.48%
total ingredients       2.96 22.79%
tax       6.86 52.75%
retail price       13.00  
Barclay Perkins brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/01/627.

I’m sure brewers were happy to see the price of malt fall a bit, though there were still triple that of 1939. Hops, on the other hand, were around 50% more expensive than in 1942. As they were a relatively small part of the total, it still meant the cost of the ingredients was down from 3.63d to 2.96d. A reduction in OG to 1031.06º also helped to reduce this a little.

Obviously, the tax had increased and was, in 1946, 286 shillings 5.5d per standard barrel.  Making it just over 50% of the retail price at just shy of 7d per pint. Which, coincidentally, had been the retail price in 1939.


Anonymous said...

Maybe this is stating the obvious, but you've previously written about the government-mandated rationalization of beer distribution (for instance, your previous post discusses "beer zoning"). To the extent this limited competition by preventing entry into a region from an outside brewer, it might have given brewers more pricing power, which in turn would allow them to raise prices. It would basically give them little regional mini-monopolies (or duopolies or whatever). So reduced competition would be one possible explanation for price increases. This might also help explain your previous observation that breweries actually prospered during WWI relative to the pre-war situation.

It's interesting to consider whether this occurred to the government planners and, if so, whether they thought of it as an upside or a downside of the policy (an upside, perhaps, because higher prices would discourage drinking, but a downside because other things equal you would rather just tax the beer to accomplish the same end).

Clark said...

It probably doesn't show in the logs, but I'd be curious whether brewers had to pay more for labor to keep workers from chasing high wages in the war manufacturing businesses. I'd also wonder whether high fuel prices or fuel rationing kept them from brewing as much as they might have. Or for that matter if there were any other bottlenecks in production, such as transportation restrictions.

Ron Pattinson said...


beer zoning didn't really affect local competition as it only involved a few scattered pubs far from the brewery which owned them. Also beer prices were pretty standard across the country.

Ron Pattinson said...


brewers brewed the amount they were allowed to. They would have brewed more, had they been able to get the ingredients.

And workers weren't necessarily free to change jobs when they wanted. There were all sorts of restrictions.

Yes, fuel was short and expensive. Bur "beer zoning" - distant tied houses being supplied by another, closer brewery - was introduced to reduce the amount of transport needed to deliver beer.

Clark said...

kThanks for the detail. I guess another thing that comes to mind is whether theyhad a lot of workers join the services -- I don't know how many young men they employed. If so, what effect that might have on production, and what they might do to compensate, such as even hire women.

Ron Pattinson said...


yews brewers lost a lot of men to the services and more women were employed. Only in certain jobs, though. I can remember hearing of any women becoming brewers.

The area where they seem to have had real labour problems was malting. The extensive use of flaked barley in the later war years was because of this. There was plenty of barley, just noy the manpower to malt it.

qq said...

Wasn't that partly down to maltings getting bombed? Which was a particular problem because they were big prominent buildings on the East Anglian landscape, with good rail etc access which meant they often had bits requisitioned for war work so were legitimate targets.

Ron Pattinson said...


all the references I've seen to malting specifically say that shortage of labour was the problem. No mention of any bomb damage.