Thursday, 20 December 2012

1916 War Beer in Britain and Germany

Here's a question. Where was a beer-drinker better off in WW I: Britain or Germany? I've always been sure that the former was the answer, but I'm starting to assemble some facts to back that up.

Thanks to Mike who pointed me in the direction of online scans of the Bayerisches Brauer-Journal. It's just what I'd been looking for. Wartime beer fun from the other side of no-man's-land.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that raw material shortages were worse in Germany than in Britain. That war-winning force, the Royal Navy, had the Central Powers isolated from the rest of the world. The little that did get through, the military had first dibs on. Brewers were towards the back of the queue.

Let's look at Britain first. You can see from this table that beer was still almost at its pre-war strength in 1916. Gravity only started to be slashed in 1917, when Germany's U-boat campaign began to bite.

Average UK gravity 1916 - 1919
1916 1917 1918 1919
1051.88 1048.54 1039.81 1030.55
Brewers' Almanack 1928, p. 110

In Bavaria, average beer gravity was far lower by 1916, as you can see from the next two tables. 8.56º Plato is about 1034º, and 8.35º Plato about 1033º. Only half way through the war Bavarian beer gravity was already almost as low as British beer gravity would get.

Urban Bavarian breweries 1916 (767 samples)
highest lowest average
Extract 6.56 0.4 3.95
Alcohol (ABW) 3.6 0.42 2.35
OG 13.48 1.24 8.56
attenuation 69.96 34.73 54.1
Bayerisches Brauer-Journal 1919, page 249.

Rural Bavarian breweries 1916 (138 samples)
highest lowest average
Extract 5.6 2.3 3.74
Alcohol (ABW) 3.93 1.49 2.33
OG 12.06 5.87 8.35
attenuation 66.03 40.45 55.08
Bayerisches Brauer-Journal 1919, page 249.

Look at the lowest gravities: 5.87 and 1.24. 1.24º Plato? That's just 1005º. Even in the darkest times, beer had to have a minimum gravity of 1010º in Britain.

You can see that, while some proper-strength beer was still brewing brewed in Bavaria in 1916, it was still on average pretty thin stuff. Wait until you see what happened in 1917 and 1918.

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