Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Price of Beer in Scotland

This is brilliant. I've managed to combine three of my favourite obsessions: Scotland, WW I and British Lager. I think I'll have to go and lie down for a while, I'm so excited.

Below are a series of reports about the price increases agreed by publicans in response to the increased beer duty in the Finance Bill, introduced in November 1917. It increased beer tax from 7s 9d per standard barrel (36 imperial gallons of beer with an OG of 1055) to 17s 3d. The figure for the new duty wasn't random. The intention was to increase the price of a pint by 1d. Unlike later war measures concerning beer, the intention wasn't to reduce consumption but to raise more money.

The figures given below confuse. Especially given the lower average gravity of beer in Scotland on the eve of the war. You can see all the details in this table:

Beer output and average OG by UK country 1913 - 1920
England Scotland Ireland United Kingdom
Year bulk barrels average OG bulk barrels average OG bulk barrels average OG bulk barrels average OG
1913 30,758,800 1051.52 2,119,666 1047.85 3,417,851 1065.73 36,296,317 1052.64
1914 31,737,384 1051.69 2,288,481 1047.67 3,532,902 1065.93 37,558,767 1052.80
1915 29,310,783 1051.16 2,042,477 1046.85 3,412,520 1065.93 34,765,780 1052.35
1916 26,914,428 1050.49 1,917,148 1046.45 3,279,032 1066.43 32,110,608 1051.88
1917 25,497,825 1047.01 1,816,003 1043.16 2,850,170 1065.69 30,163,998 1048.54
1918 16,340,250 1038.25 1,141,114 1036.74 1,603,679 1057.89 19,085,043 1039.81
1919 20,133,048 1029.35 1,325,439 1029.77 1,806,046 1044.43 23,264,533 1030.55
1920 29,891,845 1038.57 2,186,604 1038.83 2,969,498 1043.35 35,047,947 1039.41
Brewers' Journal 1921, page 246.

Average gravity in Scotland was four points lower than in England. I'd love to know the reason why. It makes something I noticed about the prices quoted particularly odd: a pint was dearer in Scotland than in London. Below the price of a pint of draught beer before the tax increase is given as 3d. In London a pint of Mild was 2d a pint before the increase. I'm confused.

I can only think of one explanation: the standard draught beer in Scotland wasn't Mild. But if that's true, why was the average gravity lower?

Here are the articles about price increases:

At a meeting of the licensed traders in the Cupar district held yesterday in the Station Hotel, Cupar, the retail beer and stout prices were fixed follows: —Schooners, 2.5d; draught pints, 4d; bottled beer or stout supplied off the premises, 3s per doz.; bottled beer stout consumed on the premises, 4d per pint; table beer, 2.5d per bottle or 2s 3d per doz,; three guinea ale, 2s 9d per dozen."
Dundee Courier - Friday 20 November 1914, page 4.

What size was a schooner? Somewhere between a half pint and a pint, obviously. As a draught beer measure, I've only come across it in Australia. Table beer is something that doesn't turn up in English price-fixing agreements because it didn't exist any more south of the border.

The price of beer will be increased in Dundee on Monday. A meeting of the members of the Dundee Wine, Spirit, and Beer Trade Protection Association was held yesterday to adjust the prices view of the increased duty on beer. Mr Alfred Neave presided over a large attendance. The prices were fixed as follows: — Glass, 2d, increase 0.5d; schooner, 3d, increase 1d; pint, 4d, increase 1d; pint-bottled beers, 4d, increase 1d; and small bottled ales, 3d, increase 1d. The practice of giving small quantities of beer gratuitously with spirits was condemned, and it was decided that steps should be taken to stop the system."
Dundee Courier - Saturday 21 November 1914, page 6.

Note that a schooner, whatever its size, was a halfpenny dearer in Dundee than in Cupar. Giving away free beer with spirits seems very civilised. Why would they stop it? I'm surprised that bottled beer cost the same as draught. Logic would demand it be more expensive.

Perth and District Licensed Trade Defence. Association have fixed the prices o£ beer follows: — Glass, 2d —increase of 0.5d; "schooner," 3d, and pint, 4d — increase of 1d: bottled beer, 4d for consumption on, premises, and 3.5d carrying away — increase, of 1d.

The increases come into operation on Monday."
Dundee Courier - Saturday 21 November 1914, page 6.
So carry-out bottled beer was cheaper. Cheaper even than draught beer. It's the world turned upside down.

At a largely-attended meeting of Arbroath license-holders held in the Masonic Hall, Hill Street, yesterday —Mr D. Darroch presiding— the following "off" prices were fixed in regard to beers: —Draught beer, 4d per pint; table beer, 3s per dozen; Burton ales and lager beers, 3s 6d per dozen; small lagers, 2s 9d per dozen; No. 1 Bass, 4s 6d per dozen; London stouts — No. 3 3s 6d and imperial 4s per dozen; Whitbread's large 3s 6d and small 2s 6d per dozen; Ballingall's imperial pints 3s, small 2s 6d, and Ballingall's double stout 3s per dozen. Increased prices to take effect immediately.

A committee of grocers and publicans was appointed to investigate cases of underselling, and to take whatever steps might be considered necessary to have the practice discontinued."
Dundee Courier - Wednesday 25 November 1914, page 2.
I particularly like this one because it lists specific brands and types of beer. Bass No. 1, of course, is the original Barley Wine. At 4.5d a pop, that's probably a nip bottle. There's a beer that wouldn't be around by the end of the war. Way too strong.

It's interesting that of all the brewers named, only one is Scottish: Ballingall of Dundee. And that so many Stouts get a mention. What was No. 3 Stout? I've not seen numbered Stouts except at Bass. Assuming the bottle was a half pint, it must have been quite strong.

I'm please to see Lager making an appearance. At 3.5d a pint it seems too cheap. Unless that's a half pint bottle and the small bottle is a nip. That would make more sense. Otherwise a pint of bottled Lager would have been cheaper than a pint of draught beer.

Such price-fixing by a trade organisation would be highly illegal today.


Barm said...

Your page says that duty was raised from 7s. 9d. to 23s. in November 1914, to 24s. in April 1916 and again to 25s. in April 1917. Here you have it only going up to 17s. 3d. in 1917. Which is right?

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, that's a good point. I must check that. just not tonight.

Barm said...

I’ve got it, Hansard says your original listing was right.

I have a bit of paper which suggests one Scottish brewer’s big sellers in 1916 were XP and XXP, so presumably Pale Ale. I will post on that tomorrow.