Friday, 31 October 2014

Brewing in WW II (part eight)

We're finished with raw materials and have got to brewing itself.

Brewers in WW II faced a whole host difficulties, which weren't limited to difficulties in obtaining raw materials. There was plenty else to contend with.

"Reviewing the actual operations carried out in the brewery and considering the innumerable difficulties with which the brewer was faced, with limited supplies; the very variable and often extremely poor quality of his principal materials; reduction of gravities; increased beer duty; regulations of all kinds which necessitated the filling up of countless forms; vexation of the black-out and in many cases endurance of continuous air raids of every kind; shortage of transport; the almost insuperable difficulty of obtaining new plant; with shortage of labour becoming ever more serious, his lot has not been a happy one. There were never any signs, however, that he was defeated, and, formidable as these handicaps were, he was not subjected to quite the same restrictions as he was during the war of 1914-1918, but there was an ever-increasing demand for more and more beer, which created its own difficulties, although it was perhaps not without certain advantages.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, pages  123 - 124.

The war lasted six years and in the normal course events plenty of things would need to be replaced. Not just obvious things like crates, barrels and bottles, but bits of machinery that broke or wore out. I assume that with new equipment impossible to come by that the only alternative was to patch things up.

One of the reasons there were so many mergers in the 1950's and 1960's was that many family-owned breweries were worn out, with decades-old equipment and often whole brewhouses that needed to be replaced. The war was partly to blame for this lack of investment. Though falling beer volumes couldn't have helped either. Both world wars cast a long shadow over British brewing. It wasn't until the 1990's that Britain escaped from the wars' grip.

But remember that, no matter how bad things were for brewers in WW II, it was way better than WW I:

"He was certainly in a more favourable situation than his forbears, and even his predecessors who were brewing during the first world war, as from an art brewing has gradually been developed into a science, and from the intelligent application of results obtained by the old method of trial and error, scientific research has solved some of the mysteries of the early days and has made it possible to diagnose the troubles experienced in brewing to-day and to apply the necessary remedy. Notwithstanding the many alterations in his normal practice that he has been called upon to make or the improvisations he has been forced to carry out which perhaps he would have hesitated to apply in normal times, a more comprehensive knowledge of the fundamentals of brewing has given him confidence in carrying these out with a certain measure of success. From the very beginning not only shortage of labour in the brewery but depletions of the brewing room staff made it impossible to maintain the necessary efficiency which was reflected in the beers produced. This was especially pronounced in those years when the malts were of poor quality and the years succeeding 1940 when the hops were so short in amount. Difficulty in maintaining the brewing plant in a state of cleanliness, and more especially the cask plant, a state of affairs which got worse towards the end of the war when the quality of the labour available reached a very low level, took its toll, with its natural consequence on the quality of the output. After the first two years of the war the high wages earned by munition workers and the gradual concentration of troops caused an increasing demand for beer, and when the American troops arrived the demand far exceeded the supply and there was a shortage of beer throughout the country. Dr. Oliver, in reviewing the 1941 season, stated that the outstanding feature was undoubtedly the poor bacterial stability of the beers, but what might have been something short of disaster was avoided by a demand which exceeded supply and with acceptance of beer which in normal times would have been returned."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 124.

I'm not totally convinced that brewing had become dramatically more scientific between 1918 and 1939.

Interesting to see where the demand for beer came from: well-paid munitions workers and American troops. There were certainly plenty of the latter - 1.5 million by the time of D-Day. That's a lot of extra throats to slate. And most of them would have drunk beer.

The author seems to be saying that of all the wartime problems, it was labour shortages which damaged the beer produced most. I can understand that a skilled brewer - especially in the days before automated brewhouses - couldn't be trained up in an afternoon. but keeping the cask plant clean? That's not rocket science. Labour is something I've not really considered, because it doesn't show up nicely in brewing records or statistics.

I'm not sure I'd call poor bacterial stability an "outstanding feature". In layman's terms, he's saying lots of the beer was off or on the turn. Reminds me of Eisenacher Helles in the DDR days. You had to run back from the shop if you wanted to drink it before it turned bad.

I feel like a table coming on. One that summarises the war years:

UK beer production, average OG, imports and exports 1938 - 1948
Year Production (bulk barrels) Production (standard barrels) Consumption (bulk barrels) Exports (bulk barrels) Imports (bulk barrels) Average OG Net excise receipts (pounds)
1938 24,205,631 18,055,539 25,087,393 281,284 1,163,046 1041.02 61,241,404
1939 24,674,992 18,364,156 25,229,287 283,974 838,269 1040.93 62,370,034
1940 25,366,782 18,738,619 25,922,694 266,766 822,678 1040.62 75,157,022
1941 26,203,803 18,351,113 26,768,038 225,552 789,787 1038.51 133,450,205
1942 29,860,796 19,294,605 30,813,374 94,796 1,047,374 1035.53 157,254,430
1943 29,296,672 18,293,919 30,027,441 107,019 837,788 1034.34 209,584,343
1944 30,478,289 19,193,773 30,973,081 77,597 572,389 1034.63 263,170,703
1945 31,332,852 19,678,449 31,968,011 130,443 765,602 1034.54 278,876,870
1946 32,650,200 20,612,225 33,391,810 187,418 929,028 1034.72 295,305,369
1947 29,261,398 17,343,690 30,011,879 109,680 860,161 1032.59 250,350,829
1948 30,408,634 18,061,390 31,067,391 205,098 863,855 1032.66 264,112,043
Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 50 and 57.

You can see how gravity fell 7 points during the war and another 2 after it had finished. But it never got quite as low as in WW I. You might be surprised at the amount of beer being imported in the war years. A single word explain it: Guinness. 99% of that figure will be Guinness Extra Stout from the Irish Republic. Not sure about the exports, but my guess would be that it was for British servicemen abroad. note just how much money beer tax brought in for the government. The figure more than quadrupled between 1939 and 1945.

"That was the year when the supply of hops was so short and so many brewers were forced to reduce their hop rates to far below the safe limit. There is no doubt that quick consumption and the fact that the public was prepared to accept anything in the shape of beer rather than go without saved many brewers from what in normal times might have been disaster. As already stated, the difficulty in maintaining a healthy and vigorous yeast had a deleterious effect on the beer, which suffered from "yeast bite" in varying degrees or possessed an unclean flavour. There is no doubt that there would have been considerable trouble with cask frets if the beer had not been consumed so quickly and the public had been more discriminating, while the under modification and poor quality of many of the malts used, especially in 1942 and during the past year, produced fining difficulties and hazy beers which often went unnoticed. Fortunately there was no hot spell of weather to make things really difficult."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 52, Issue 3, May-June, 1946, page 124.

Let's get this straight, underhopping and weak yeast from crappy malt meant lots of beer wasn't of acceptable quality, but people drank it anyway because there wasn't anything else. It often wasn't clear and would have become over-lively in the cask if it hadn't been drunk immediately Not exactly a ringing endorsement of wartime brewing. Having seen how little beer was properly clear in London in the 1920's - probably half at most - if things got worse during the war pretty much all beer must have been hazy.

Coal, boiling and Isinglass next time.


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