Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Retail prices follow-up

In reaction to my last post, a reader enquired about the reason for increases in the price of beer. The simple answer is: tax.

A ridiculous percentage of the retail price of beer was the tax. As I will demonstrate in my usual way - with a table. Having lots and lots of numbers to hand, I can magic up how much of the money you handed over the bar was going straight into the chancellor's pocket.

A note about how I've come up with the figures. To calculate the average tax per pint, I've simply divided the total tax paid by the number of bulk barrels brewed that year. For the average price of a pint, I've used the price of Barclay Perkins Ordinary Bitter, XLK, which was about average gravity. Not totally precise, but close enough.

A standard barrel, in case you're wondering was a nominal unit for calculating tax, that is 36 Imperial gallons with an OG of 1055º. Bulk barrels are the actual volume of beer produced.

From an already high 30% of the retail price at the start of the war, by its end it was pushing double that. Truly eye-watering.

What effect did the high rate of tax have on the industry? It certainly couldn't have  done much for competition. Unless you were operating on a vast scale, any small economies in production or raw materials were going to be an insignificant part of the retail price.

It also incentivised getting beer tax-free. Either by reusing ullage (returned beer) or any grotty bits of beer left at the bottom of fermenters, etc. Brewers were allowed a 6% loss on the volume put into fermenting vessels. If you could cut your wastage to just 2%, you got 4% of your beer free of tax. This was the major advantage large brewers had over their smaller competitors.

UK tax and price per pint 1939 - 1949
Year Total Tax £ Bulk Barrels Tax/Std. Brl Av. OG price pint tax pint Tax (% retail price)
1939 62,370,034 24,674,992 80s 1040.93 7d 2.11d 30.09%
1940 75,157,022 25,366,782 80s / 104s 1040.62 8d 2.47d 30.86%
1941 133,450,205 26,203,803 135s / 165s 1038.51 10d 4.24d 42.44%
1942 157,254,430 29,860,798 165s /240s 7.5d 1035.53 12d 4.39d 36.57%
1943 209,584,343 29,296,672 240s 7.5d / 281s 10.5d 1034.34 13d 5.96d 45.86%
1944 263,170,703 30,478,289 281s 10.5d / 286s 5.5d 1034.63 13d 7.20d 55.35%
1945 278,876,870 31,332,852 286s 5.5d 1034.54 13d 7.42d 57.05%
1946 295,305,369 32,650,200 286s 5.5d 1034.72 13d 7.54d 57.98%
1947 250,350,829 29,261,398 286s 5.5d 1032.59 13d 7.13d 54.84%
1948 264,112,043 30,408,634 325s 5d 1032.66 15d 7.24d 48.25%
1949 294,678,035 26,990,144 364s 4.5d / 343s 4.5d 1033.43 16d 9.10d 56.86%
1955 Brewers' Almanack, pages 50 & 80.
1971 Brewers' Almanack, pages 45 & 75.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.


Rob Sterowski said...

Odd to think that nowadays the duty on a pint is only around 10% of the price and yet we hear more from brewers about the unbearable burden it is than ever before.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting stuff. It would be an education to see a history of taxation that compared beer taxes to liquor, tobacco, gambling and other things seen as vices (to some people at least). Likewise to get a sense of how industries organized against them and the alternatives they may have pushed (cutting spending, raising taxes in other ways,forcing the Royal Family to work odd jobbs on weekends). It would also be interesting to see how taxation drove decolonization debates. Maybe there is a good book out there somewhere.