Sunday, 1 January 2017

Allowance beer

British breweries all used to be “wet”. Meaning that beer was drunk during the working day.

This beer was provided free by the employer. Various systems were employed. Sometimes it was: there’s a barrel, help yourself. At other breweries it was more regulated. With workers getting a certain allowance per day. Hence the term Allowance Beer.

“The cellar was an important department for all those who worked in the brewery, for it was here that the beer allowance was issued. Men came down at the allotted time and filled their glasses, jugs, cans or whatever from a tap in the wall. Some drank it there and then, sitting on the benches provided. Others took it back to be enjoyed in the warmth of their own departments. It is all supervised by the cellar foreman. A few men did not take any allowance; they preferred a can of tea, while others somehow managed to scrounge an extra pint. I took the view that a man doing heavy physical work would soon assimilate a few pints. During my time in the Sheffield brewery, there was quite a turnover of cellar foremen. Some people became superstitious about it, particularly as they all had names beginning with the letter 'H' - Arthur Hunter, Eddie Hardy, Bill Hopkinson and Brian Helliwell.
"The Brewer's Tale" by Frank Priestley, 2010, page 39.

It doesn’t say, annoyingly, how much the allowance was. It sounds like more than one pint. If you remember earlier quotes from Frank Priestley, there was loads of illicit Gold Label being drunk in the brewery, as well as the allowance.

I can vouch for hard physical labour working off pints quickly. Especially the watery Mild they’d have been given as their allowance. I once had 5 pints of Fuller’s Hock at lunchtime. After 2 hours back at work, I couldn’t feel it at all.

The only brewery I’ve worked in, the former Hols brewery in Newark. It was the take as much as you like from these barrels approach. The old hands could knock back 5 pints in a 15-minute “tea” break. It was pretty bleak. A dingy cellar with a barrel each of Mild and AK in one corner.

The next bit relates to the bottling stores of Ind Coope & Allsopp in Burton-on-Trent.

“On the other side of the Upper Hall are the canteen and mess rooms together with the women's cloakroom and locker room; the men have the same facilities nearby. On wet days, employees' outer clothing is dried by means of steam-pipes beneath the lockers. Each male employee over 18 years of age is given two numbered checks or metal dues every morning as he commences work; these he may exchange at the "allowance bar" for two pints of draught beer during the course of the day. There is no stipulated time—the bar is open during all normal working hours—and a man may take his allowance beer home if he brings his own clean bottle or other container.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 57, Issue 6, November-December 1951, page 434

Note that only the men got free beer. Despite the fact that, this being a bottling operation, there were quite a few women working at the site. And that, although the allowance was only two pints, the bar was open all day. Sounds like a dream job, in some ways. Especially if you saved some tokens for Friday.

I’ve only worked one place with its own bar: Legal & General in Surrey. It was very civilised. You could have a pint of cask Bitter with your lunch. And a few more at the bridge club after work.


Ed said...

My first brewing boss had worked at Marstons previously and the allowance there was two pints a day.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, I do so enjoy reading your blog.

As a visiting tradesman to Guinness Park Royal in the 1970s we set up in the carpenter's shop and were told to help ourselves from the pile of crates to one or two bottles of Guinness or Harp Lager per day (officially, like the staff could) but unofficially we could drink more but on no account to take any off the premises.

I revisted site maybe 25 years later and when I asked about a free beer nobody would even believe my story or that the policy had ever existed.

FWIW I also spent the odd day visiting sites at Truman's, Charringtons, Whitbread, Courage, Carlsberg (Cannon) and never offered a wet.

Ron Pattinson said...


that's interesting. I assume that was the Guinness brewery in London.

I'm pretty sure Truman was wet for the employees.

Chas said...

Ron. Yes, Guinness Park Royal in London, think it was the biggest brewery in the world at that time, they still had train tracks, and maybe even trains!?

Truman's East End, I was working in the management offices so didn't get a look in but remember a very old victorian atrium type interior.

Whitbread's Chigwell St, I was doing the doors to the garage where they stored the Lord Mayor's carriage.

Cannon's brewery, I think was a Courage plant then (late 70s)?! as we were doing the bar at the St John of Jerusalem pub, just at the Gates and the draught Directors was exeptionally good, actually we did get a free pint from the landord which is unusual.

Marquis said...

My father was the Excise Officer dealing with Shipstone's in Nottingham and he had to supervise every brew. When he had finished gauging the vessels he was taken to the hospitality room where 4 pints had been drawn off for him.Dad drank a pint and the brewer dealt with the other three!
Nowadays I understand that breweries are self regulating and Excise officers no longer have to be present. But Dad enjoyed his work!

Anonymous said...

Five pints in 15 minutes? That is a lot of liquid to be dealt with twice.