Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Doubt and uncertainty in Glasgow

The further WW I progressed, the more regulated the brewing industry became.

Intially, the government simply limited the number of standard barrels which could be brewed. Which gave the brewer two options: brew a smaller quanitity of beer at the same strength or brew the same quantity of beer at a lower strength.

But in 1917 the government started to put controls on gravity. After 1st July brewers had to have half the beer they brewed of no higher gravity than 1036º. However, they didn't specify what the price of such beer should be. Which led to complaints of profiteering by publicans. Presumably that lay behind the thinking of new Beer Orders in October 1917. This fixed the retail price for the first time.

The new Order concerning the price of beer which has been issued by the Ministry of Food is regarded by certain retailers in Edinburgh as somewhat of a mystery, which requires further official explanation. Briefly, the Order decrees that draught beer of an original gravity of less than 1036 degrees must not be sold in a public bar at more than 4d. a pint. At a gravity not exceeding 1042 degrees and not less than 1036 degrees, the maximum price is 5d. per pint. These prices are to come into force on 28th October.

The suggestion has been made in some quarters that the Order is designed to check a certain amount of "profiteering" that has been going on in beer. Inducements were given to brewers some time ago to brew lighter beer. The inducement took the form of permission to brew increased quantities of beer of this class. It was understood, of course, that the lighter beer would be cheaper. In some places, it is alleged, this lighter beer was sold at the maximum prices, so that dealers were reaping a double profit. They were able to sell more, and their profit on any given quantity was higher than under the previous conditions. This placed those who were doing a more legitimate trade at a  disadvantage. In this view one effect of the Order will be that those consumers who have been supplied with light beer will either get it at a much reduced price, or have the strength of their beverage increased.

"I cannot see clearly the trend of the Order." said a prominent Edinburgh retailer and restaurateur yesterday. "Can it be that the Government, after the third year of war, are going to do what ought to have been done lowg ago - fix the price of beer, as the price of bread and sugar and meat is fixed? It is admitted that the price and supply of beer have led to much of the industrial unrest, and this new fiat appears on the first glance to be an attempt to remove the grievance. But, upon scrutiny, one fails to see what it is aiming at. It does not fix a maximum price for beer and the public will be deluded if they take it as doing so. The sting is not in tho tail; it is in  the very opening sentence. 'The maximum price of certain qualities of beer.' it runs . 'Certain qualities' — that is qualities under 1036 and 1042 gravvity must be sold at 5d. a pint. Beer of 1042 1.9 gravity may be sold at anything the public may care to pay.

"So, as far as the man at the counter is concerned, his pint of beer will cost him neither less; nor more. It will still be 8d. a pint for the kind of beer he pays 8d. a pint now for.

"The salient point is that the brewer has never told the retailer the gravity of the beer he delivers. He refuses to put it on the invoice, as the distiller does regarding whisky. The retailer pays his full duty on a 1055 standard barrel, and he has to base his charges to the public on that cost. He is ignorant of the gravity, and has nothing but his payments to the brewer to guide him in fixing the price per pint. Probably some of the beer is above 1042 gravity, and yet the same price is forced on the publican, and through him on the customer. Certlainly, under the new Order inspectors will be able to discover this. But who is to blamed if beer at 8d. a pint is shown to be only  1042 in gravity?

"It is set down that barrels and casks must be labelled 4d. and 5d., as the case may be. But ther is no guide to the customer. The customer rarely sees the cask. It is almost invariably in the cellar"

Another retailer expressed the opinion that this was another chapter in the history of confusion which surrounded the publican. "Brewers," he said, "ought to give us some assurance of quality which would justify our charges in the eyes of the public. The gravity ought to be disclosed. It is easy to ascertain it. The Exciseman makes sure of it in bulk at the brewery, but the gravity it has when it is sent out in barrels is a secret known only to the brewer. Perhaps the new Order is to catch the brewers. They will have to announce the gravity up to 1042, or run the risk of being prosecuted. But, generally speaking, the pint of beer at the ordinary house will remain at 8d. The new Order does not affect the trade generally. It only concerns cortain qualities of beer - namely, the lighter kinds."

One retailer welcomed the Order as preventing profiteering. "It will force the brewer," he said, "to put us right with the public. He will not tell us the gravity of the beer for which he charges us a price that fixes our price to the customer, but henceforth if a publican sells beer of 1042 degrees at 8d. a pint instead of 5d., he will be prosecuted. He will plead ignorance, as the brewer keeps the gravity a secret, but the prosecution will force the-fact into public knowledge, and the right culprit will be found out. The public will be able to have a light beer at 4d. or 5d., and if they pay more they will know they are getting a stronger beer. Althougn here again is an absurdity. You can have a pint of beer not exceeding 1042 gravity for 5d. Another fraction of a degree over that and the price may be anything, though it would need many degrees over to make any appreciable improvement in the quality or strength of the beverage."

An Edinburgh brewer, who was seen yesterday, said the effect of the Order was so complicated that it was impossible to state how it would work from the point of view of the manufacturers. The matter had been sprung upon them unexpectedly and it was causing them no end of trouble and worry. It was obvious, he thought, that as far as the man in the street was concerned, that the result was going to be good for him, if he were content with the beer that could be sold at 4d.  and 5d. per imperial pint. It was not expected that there would be a great deal of difference in the quality of the cheaper beer from that which was sold at the present time. Of course, the higher classes of beer were not affected, and they would be sold as formerly, and it was only at the "public bars" that the effect of the new Order would come into force. This, it was pointed put, was the first time that the Government had fixed a gravity of beer in relation to price, and the first time that retail prices had been dealt with in an Order. In their action as regards beer, the Government were simply carrying on  their policy in regard to bread and other food materials — that of lowering prices for the people.

An attempt to secure authoritative views as to the probable effect of the new orders upon the retail trade in Glasgow did not succeed, partly because leading officials of the Defence Association are at present in London, but more largely on account of the fact that retailers are not in a position to form definite opinions. The future lies with the brewers, they say, and until it has been ascertained what action the brewers decide upon, retailers cannot settle their attitude. "Certainly, it will involve a big turn up" declared a leading representative.

"Gravity is a thing, that the brewer has kept up his sleeve," remarked one licence-holder, "and sometimes even their customers don't know what is the gravity. For some time back brewers have been supplying various grades and lighter beers have been on sale in Scotland than we have hitherto been accustomed to. But then there have also been differences in price. So far as I am awan we have not been selling what is popularly known as English ale, because our customers have never taken kindly to such light liquor.

While the general attitude of the trade is one of doubt and uncertainty, one retailer declared that the step taken by the Food Controller has justification. His contention was that retailers had played into the hands of brewers by raising prices, as almost immediately the brewers advanced the wholesale prices, and the only section who suffered were the public. "I think Lord Rhondda and his advisers will have gone fully into the subject, and that they are allowing quite a reasonable return. We have been selling light beers, and the consumers have not stopped drinking them. I believe that if only the same thing was done in the matter of whisky, say, by fixing a maximum price of 6d. per glass, the present absurd prices would soon adjustthemselves to reasonable standards."
The Scotsman - Friday 19 October 1917, page 4.
 As the one retailer pointed out, the new regulations were full of holes. The prices onlt related to the public bar and anything over 1042º could be sold at whatever price you fancied. This situation continued until February 1919, when six different price bands were introduced. These covered beer of any gravity.

Price control 1917-1921
Oct 1917
Apr 1918
Feb 1919
Jul 1919
Apr 1920

<1019 span="">


<1022 span="">
<1019 span="">
<1036 span="">
<1030 span="">




The Brewers’ Almanack 1928 pages 100 – 101.
“The British Brewing Industry 1830-1980”

Two price schedules were introduced at the same time: one for the public bar and off sales, the other for anywhere else in the pub.

Price controls were finally abolished on 31st August 1921.

No comments: