Friday, 31 May 2019

WW II - Lager imports dry up again

World War II, just like WW I, caused huge difficulties for the British brewing industry. There were shortages of raw materials and limits placed on output and on the strength of beer. One of the results was that most breweries trimmed down their ranges. A policy that led to Porter’s extinction in London, with Whitbread brewing their last Porter in September 1940.

So it’s interesting to see what happened to Barclay Perkins beers. Them being one of the big players in the Lager trade. They started the war with an enormous range of draught beers: Porter, Stout, five Mild Ales, two Bitters and two Burtons. In November 1940 two Milds and Best Bitter were discontinued. Porter didn’t last much longer.

A price list from 1943 shows that they were still brewing their full pre-war set of five Lagers: bottled Light and Dark Lager; draught Export, Light and Dark Lager. The draught Lager came in metric-sized barrels of 5.5 and 11 gallons. The brewery also supplied CO2 cylinders to serve the beer.

The fact that they retained all their Lagers while paring down the varieties of other styles demonstrates how important Lager was. You could say, oh well they brewed it in such small quantities discontinuing would have had little impact. Yet the beers that disappeared, such as Porter, were mostly ones that didn’t sell much.

Whitbread had bigger problems. Before the outbreak of war, they sold four types of Lager: Graham’s, Carlsberg, Tuborg and Artois, all bottled. In 1940, supplies of three of those were cut off by the German army. It caused their sales of Lager to drop more than 50% compared with 1939.

But we shouldn’t get too carried away about that drop. It looks enormous in percentage terms, however in absolute terms, it’s bugger all. Total Lager sales for 1940 were 115 barrels, down from 254 barrels in 1939. Especially when you compare it with bottled Ale sales: they were 204,098 in 1940.

I assume that it was difficulties in obtaining supplies of continental Lager that prompted Whitbread to do something very unusual in July 1940. They brewed a Lager in their Chiswell Street brewery in London. Though it wasn’t fermented with Lager yeast and it was brewed from pale rather than lager malt. It did use Saaz hops, at least. And the colour was nice and pale at just 7.5º Lovibond, compared to around 27º for their Pale Ales.

Whatever their reasons for brewing it, they didn’t make a regular habit of it. There was just a single batch.

Like this? Then you'll love the book it comes from, Lager! (UK):

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

No comments: