Saturday, 31 July 2010

Adulterated Lager Beer

Time for a random quote from a random publication. Why? I don't need a reason. This is my blog and I'll do what I damn well like. I suppose it fits somewhere in my occasional series on British Lager. If you want to go all anal.

Vendors of lager beer should beware to secure themselves against dangers like the following:—At Barton Police-court, on the 2nd inst., William H. Ravenscroft, commercial traveller, and John Fearn, were charged with selling lager beer which was not of the quality demanded by the purchaser, and which contained salicylic acid, injurious to health. Mr. W. A. Willcock, of Wolverhampton, prosecuted ; and Mr. Stone (Derby) represented Mr. Ravenscroft. Mr. Jones, County Analyst, showed that the acid was injurious to health when taken with food, because it impeded the process of digestion. Ravenscroft was fined 20s. and 11s. costs in each of two cases, and £5 and costs in a third case. It was thought that Mr. Fearn was a victim, and he was ordered to pay the costs, 11s. 6d.

We have repeatedly pointed out how objectionable the admixture of powerful drugs, such as salicylic acid is in articles of food or drink. In this instance the percentage was enormous, being no less, we understand than 14 grains per gallon. Publicans who unwittingly or otherwise sell lager beer so heavily dosed with dangerous drugs, as appears to be the case in the present instance, run grave risks, and they would do well to obtain a warrant for the lager beers they use that they are free from preservatives. So far as we are aware, this is the first case in which a prosecution has been successfully sustained for the admixture of preservatives to food stuffs. The question cf the repression of this practice is one, however, that has for a considerable time engaged the attention of the medical profession and those concerned with the enforcement of the Food and Drugs Acts, and now that a conviction has been obtained, and magistrates hold the admixture of these powerful drugs to be adulteration, publicans should take care that they are not made the victims of the brewers and dealers using such chemicals."
"Food & Sanitation, Volume 4", 1894, page 43.

Food and Sanitation. It sounds like one of the magazines they include for a laugh in Have I Got News for You. Actually, it's much scarier. It's enough to put you off ever shopping in the 19th century again. Those rascally shopkeepers and publicans. And all the muck they put into food and drink. Almost enough to scare you off the beer. Almost.


Ed Carson said...

These gentlemen were fined for putting aspirin(before it was invented by Herr Bayer) in beer? A substance that was used, at the same time, here in the US as a preservative in Lager Beer.

Martyn Cornell said...

It's even weirder that that, Ed: salicylic acid was originally extracted from meadowsweet, a herb used for flavouring mead (though not, as far as I have ever been able to discover, ale), and the name aspirin, according to this site, is derived from the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria. So in mead = good, in lager = bad …

Thomas Barnes said...

@Martin: Salicylic acid is also found in willow bark (hence the conventional origin of the name, Latin Salix = willow).

Given all the damnable things used for bittering beer before hops were invented, it wouldn't surprise me if willow bark wasn't used in gruit, just like meadowsweet was.

Anyhow, people knew what salicylic acid was (by about 1855), before Bayer trademarked the name Aspirin (1899). Bayer's big contribution was identifying acetylsalicylic acid as a less irritating form of salicylate and aggressively marketing their product as aspirin.

Thomas Barnes said...

Talk about getting painless!

14 grains = ~910 mg, so about 1 gram per gallon. For comparison, a typical tablet of aspirin contains about 5 grains. Not exactly the cup of death, but not something you'd want at lot of in your beer.

The salicylic acid sure would have "impeded digestion", though, since it can cause upset stomach and prolonged usage can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.