Thursday 7 July 2022

A brewer writes

This is a follow up to the post a few days back on an adulteration case.  A brewer politely points out what bollocks Mr. Wanklyn was talking.

I'm still baffled as to how Wanklyn could say that he had never come across a beer with a gravity below 1060º. All I can say, is that he can't have analysed many beers. Even in London, where beers tended to be stronger, the majority of what was brewed was below 1060º.

Sir, —My attention has been directed to certain prosecutions of an extraordinary character, and, so far as I am aware, the first of the on record, which have lately been instituted by the Buckinghamshire Police Authorities against numerous publicans throughout that county for selling beer containing, as it is alleged, water added to it after and therefore, it is contended, " not being of the nature, substance, and quality of the article demanded by the purchaser." And as this is a question seriously affecting the reputation and interests of the whole trade, I venture to call public attention to the subject. The beers, in respect of which these charges have been made are, as I understand, such as are usually sold at a wholesale price of from 34 to 36 shillings per barrel, and at retail price of fourpence per quart. In two of the cases tried last week before different benches of magistrates Mr. Wanklyn, the County Analyst, on whose report these prosecutions were founded, admitted in cross-examination that, with a view to determine whether water had been added to the beer after fermentation, he had set for himself and assumed an arbitrary standard of original specific gravity, namely 1060 degrees, below which he declared it to be his opinion that no genuine beer can be brewed, and he stated that by calculations founded on that basis he came to the conclusion that the beers in question were not genuine beers. But, considering that there is no fixed or recognised standard of strength which determines the limit at which beer ceases to be genuine, and below which it is illegal to brew or sell beer for the consumption of the public (unless indeed the Excise Tables issued by the Board of Inland Revenue, which go as low as 1025, be accepted as an authority), it certainly does seem somewhat presumptuous in Mr. Wanklyn to attempt to impose upon the brewers of this country a standard of his own invention, which shall determine the particular degree of specific gravity at which beers shall cease to be genuine, and consequently shall cease to be "of the nature, substance, and quality of the article demanded by the purchaser." In one of the cases tried last week the original specific gravity of the beer in question was, according to Mr. Wanklyn, 1044.8 degrees, and he himself acknowledged that he had omitted to make the usual allowance for acetic acid and for possible errors, which would have brought these figures up to at least 1047. For my present purpose, however, I will take no account of these, or any other errors in his analysis, and will assume that the actual original specific gravity was 1044.8 as he said. Now to show the incorrectness, and I may say absurdity, of his contention, that beer of original specific of 1044.8 is not genuine beer, and that genuine beer cannot be brewed under an original specific gravity of 1060 I need only state as a matter of fact (which can be confirmed by the Excise Department of the Inland Revenue at Somerset House) that plenty of ales brewed at Burton and elsewhere for exportation, whose quality is subjected to the severest tests, are of an original specific gravity of 1,045, and frequently considerably lower than this; and all of these ales are recognized as genuine beers, and the drawback of duty allowed upon them by the Board of Inland Revenue. I may also add that the mild and bitter ales of a large brewery firm (of which I am partner) the wholesale price of which are 34s. and 36s. per barrel, and the strength and quality similar to the ales sold in Buckinghamshire and the neighbouring counties, are of original specific gravities ranging from 1043 to 1048. Of course the strength of all ales varies somewhat from time to time, according to the prices of malt and hops ; for the requirements of the public and the severity of competition entirely prohibit rise in the price of ales; and at the present time, when the prices of the best hops are from £25 to even per cwt., instead of from £5 to £10 per cwt., as in ordinary years, it is difficult to see how 34s. and 36s. ales can be brewed at profit. But there is one other point to which I am anxious to refer. It has been assumed all along by the prosecution that in the manufacture of beer the intermixture of water with it after fermentation is illegal. Now it is not the practice of the brewer to add water after fermentation ; but he is perfectly at liberty to do so if he thinks proper, and there are occasions when it may be desirable, with view to the improvement of the fermentation and the yeasfc, for the brewer to ferment his beer at higher gravity than it is required to be when finished, and afterwards to reduce it to the strength at which he sends it out to his customers. With regard to Mr. Wanklyn, I think I have clearly shown the incorrectness of his assumption, and the untrustworthiness of the standard he has created for the purposes of his analyses. He cannot but admit that, given a sample of beer of which the actual original specific gravity is unknown, it is impossible to discover by any process of analysis whether it contains water added to it before or after fermentation. So far as I can see, the only fact which Mr. Wanklyn may possibly have established by his analyses of beer taken from so many different parts of Buckinghamshire, is that the fourpenny beers usually sold to the public throughout that county are all of them pretty much of the same original specific gravity as those which he condemns on account of their not coming up to an arbitrary standard of his own invention. It is fortunate for the ends of justice that, in a case which was tried last week at Great Marlow, the intelligence of the magistrates saw through the fallacies of the method by which the analyst arrived at an erroneous conclusion, and they dismissed the case, with costs.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
A Member of the Committee of the Country Brewers' Society.
Bucks Herald - Saturday 09 December 1882, page 3. 

I assume the 34 shilling and 36 shilling beers referred to are Ordinary Mild and Ordinary Bitter. The gravity of 1043º to 1048º seem perfectly reasonable, as the beers were being sold in rural district.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ron, I thought the part about gravity being affected by changing input prices interesting. Earlier when I did my posts on the history of Flower's in Stratford, I found, in the same source as this item, Flower's adverts in the 1800s stating beer strength was being restored due to favourable prices for barley.

Maybe the Analyst had examined beers that were stronger earlier, in a similar buoyant period. And probably he hadn't examined as many beers in his career as he let on in testimony.

Gary Gillman