Thursday, 29 November 2012

Home brewing in WW I

Though I don't mean the type of home brewing in the modern sense. Domestic brewing is probably a better description of it. Where farmers or other large households brewed for their own consumption and those of their workers.

It had been very widespread in the 18th century, but gradually declined in the 19th century, due to a number of factors. The greatest probably that between 1830 and 1880 private brewers had to pay the full tax, as duty was levied on the raw materials. The only real economic advantage the domestic brewer had was being able to use ingredients banned in commercial brewing, such as raw grain.

The increasing gap between the quality of home-brewed and commercial beer was another important factor. There had been little difference in the equipment and techniques employed in a domestic brewery and a commercial one in the early 18th century. Technological advances, which had mostly passed the private brewer by, had given commercial brewers much greater control of the brewing process. Put simply, home-brewed beer could seldom match commercially-brewed beer in quality.

Commercially-brewed beer had also been relatively cheap before the outbreak of war. The increased excise duty changed that.

The "haapenny the haupint bexter" has filled the Essex and other East Coast peasantry with economic ideas, as how to circumvent such an outlay, to wash the hayseeds and the wheat and barley "hiles" from their throats. And this has taken the form of reverting to the old practice of brewing their ales, an excellent practice that the farmers will not condemn. The average home-brewed is made from malt and hops only, but that malt and hops are not so easily obtainable as they were a few years ago. I wonder how many calls would have to be made to Bristol a sack of malt and seven pounds of hops could be obtained. And then the smell and taste of sweet wort, the aromatic perfume of the hops in the old farmhouse copper, or as the liquor is set out to cool. The nine gallons of "stingo" that would prevent frostbite on a winter's morning, and the big barrel of small ale that got harder and harder as the summer drew on, until it veritably made one's eyes strike fire to drink it. A quart of West Countree "crab vergis" was mild as compared with it. Of late years this home-brewing has been a very declining industry. The popular taste has tended towards the lighter, more palatable non-deposit beers being produced by our modern brewers; but to have to pay eightpence duty on what has hitherto been sixpence per gallon harvest ale will certainly turn many a farmer's thought in the direction of his own mash-tub in non-cider-making counties. Happily, the practice of giving drinks at harvestide to agricultural workers is being replaced by extra money, a gain alike to the farmer and the labourer. And bearing this in mind, we shall not see the Excise increased to deal with the issue of licenses for brewing on the premises for home consumption only."
Western Daily Press - Thursday 31 December 1914, page 3.

The author points out the one big problem of starting to home brew again: getting hold of the materials. Difficult as it might have been in 1914, it would be completely impossible later in the war as brewing materials were rationed and allocated to brewers.

Note that this only applies to "non-cider-making counties". For the obvious reason that in cider-making counties cider still played the same role that beer once had in other parts of the country. And apples, unlike malt and hops, would always be obtainable.


Oblivious said...

" and the big barrel of small ale that got harder and harder as the summer drew on, until it veritably made one's eyes strike fire to drink it"

I presume that are taking about the beer souring?

Ron Pattinson said...

Oblivious, yes. That's what is usually meant by "hard". Great description, isn't it?

Martyn Cornell said...

That's a late use of 'hard' to mean acidic: common enough in the early 19th century, but by 1898 the OED was calling it "Now dial[ect] or slang." The full definition was "Of liquor: Harsh or sharp to the taste; acid; sour from being stale," and it was an admired property in the late 18th and early 19th century in aged porter, so much so that, allegedly, unscrupulous brewers added sulphuric acid to "harden" it:

"Sulphuric acid is very frequently added to bring beer forward or make it hard, giving new beer instantly the taste of what is 18 months old." - Andrew Ure, A Dictionary of Chemistry, 1824

I doubt that was true, actually: the big brewers were much more likely to add stale, acidic old beer to fresh porter to give it that important 'aged' flavour than H2SO4.

Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, adding stale beer seems to be what North American brewers did to their Stouts. Both Amsdell and Labatt did it.

I still don't know what to believe about adulteration. I've yet to see a proven case, for example, of opium being added to beer.

Gary Gillman said...

The term hard in broadly the sense mentioned has lived on in the States, in the form of the term hard cider. Hard cider is apple juice left long enough to ferment, so is used in contradistinction to sweet cider, meaning apple juice whose sugars are intact. However, any decent hard cider I ever had was acidic and some (e.g. scrumpy in England) frankly sourish, so the older meaning of the term in England surely has some resonance in America in this sense.

In other words, the term hard cider doesn't simply mean alcoholic apple juice (a la hard liquor), it has some of the old English meaning of being "stale".


Gary Gillman said...

By the way crag vergis is verjuice made, in this case, from crab apples or scrumps. Verjuice is a Middle Ages survival, a vinegar-like substance used in cookery and sometimes as a drink, just as strawberry vinegar and similar fruit-based vinegars were sometimes drunk in the summer in some counties.

If the small beer that went hard was more sour than verjuice, it was purty sour in that countree, Squire! Then too the Bristol taste in beer was said to be in that direction, so this account accords with that although the date seems somewhat late to observe the practice.


Oblivious said...

Oblivious, yes. That's what is usually meant by "hard". Great description, isn't it?

It sure is :)

Chris said...

Ron, after reading about the state of taxing ingredients back then I have a question for you. Why were certain ingredients taxed and not others? For example, I know roasted barley would've been considered illegal as it was unmalted, and no tax was paid on it. But why not just include roast barley among the taxed ingredients? Was it a concern over quality or something else?

Ron Pattinson said...

Chris, it's probably because of the way the tax on malt was collected, which was from maltsters. There weere complicated rules about how malt was made and exactly when the volume was measured to determine the amount of tax. Excise officials visited maltsters to make sure they were sticking to the rules and paying the right amount of duty.

Unmalted barley you could just get from a farmer and consequently avoid the whole taxation process at the maltster.

It wasn't just illegal to use unmalted barley in brewing. It was illegal to have any type of unmalted grain in a brewery, except for oats as feed for dray horses.