Saturday, 11 April 2009

Styles by decree

I'm a bit slow sometimes. You'll have to excuse me. I've been really thick. This is a pattern I should have noticed long ago.

You must have noticed my thing about WW I. It's hard to miss. I keep going on about it. As part of my continuing research, I've been looking up all the beer-related Orders from the Food Controller. Some of the most interesting are from just after the war's end, in 1919 and 1920. These are the ones that regulate the price of beer according to the original gravity. This is a summary:

Fascinating stuff, eh? I've had some of these numbers for quite a long. The very last column. They are quoted in The Brewers' Almanack 1928. These were the last controlled prices that were in effect until August 1921.

I've a mass of data for the 1920's and 1030's. Courtesy of the Whitbread and Truman Gravity Books. So much that I still haven't got through it all. Funnily enough, the first entries in the Whitbread Gravity Book are for late 1921. Just when all the restrictions on gravity and prices were removed.

It isn't a coincidence. There was a reason for Whitbread's sudden interest in the gravity of their competitors' beer. To see what they were up to now government control had been removed.

Where does the me being thick part come in? I'd never thought to compare the price control table with the details gleaned from the Gravity Books. Why don't you give it a go? Look at the table below. Spot any similarities with the other table?

I've arrived at the gravities by averaging out dozens of examples from different breweries. I can see a clear pattern. Brewers were making beers that fitted into the old price control gravity bands. And charging the same price. So although there was officially, no price control in 1922 and 1923, there may as well have been.

Why do I have four columns in my second table? It's to match the changes in tax. Here's an overview:

Ignoring the blips caused by adjustments in the beer tax, the strength and price of beer brewed right up until the outbreak of WW II was effectively determined by the price control regulations at the end of WW I. Styles between the wars were, to a great extent, determined by government decree. Even though for the vast majority of the period brewers were thoeretically free to brew any strength beer and to sell it for whatever price they pleased.

1 comment:

jonbrazie said...

I hate to be the one to doubt the brewing industry...but do you think it had anything to do with inelasticity of demand for beer? Sorry if that's overtly technical, I've been taking economics. But really, if they knew they could sell the beer, even at lower gravities than pre-WWI, what incentive would they have to increase gravity?