Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Reducing beer gravity

Almost as soon as Holland had been occupied by the Germans, the Dutch brewers' organisation, the CBK, began to discuss reducing beer strengths to preserve barley and malt supplies. 


Mr Stikker recalled the discussion in the previous meeting about the gravity reduction in connection with the uncertain supply of raw materials and the plan itself to propose surcharges on the excise duty to levy in accordance with the gravity reduction in order to prevent too large an increase in excise duty. This last point was informally discussed with the Department of Finance, which considered the position of the breweries to be loyal and considered the reduction in gravity to be motivated. If the gravity reduction is effected by a C.B.K. regulation, i.e. a regulation under private law, this does not include imported beer; if their strength did not follow the Dutch strength, this would form a difficult competition. This has been discussed with the Department of Trade, N & S without a solution being found. Perhaps a settlement can be found, although the danger will not be so great. If necessary, contact can be made with the German brewery organizations."
Minutes of the management of the CBK on 21st June 1940, held at the Amsterdamse Stadsarchief, document number 31121-1, page 355.

Note that, umlike in the UK, this move wasn't being required by the government but by a voluntary agreement amongst the brewers. Which consequently had no force in law.

It's weird that they were worried about unfair competition from German imports. I think that shows how the reality of the new situation hadn't really sunk in. I'm not that discussions with German brewers would have yielded much. Their German colleagues had much more important concerns.

Representatives of the different breweries had varying opinions about when the gravity cut should come into effect.

"Mr. de Groen is not against a reduction in content, but thinks it would be better not to start this until January 1, 1941, among other things to gain time and to wait and see whether the situation changes in the meantime.

Mr. Berkemeier does not agree with this and advises that the reduction be made at a time when the beer sales are harmed as little as possible, which is the case in the summer season, when beer of a lower gravity tastes better than in winter.

Mr. Zylker says that Mr. de Groen is right when he believes that the situation can change quickly. The speaker noted that this could in fact lead to an order to suddenly very sharply reduce gravities.

Mr. A. Smits says that he originally had the same thought as Mr. de Groen, but that this has been changed by the explanation of Mr. Stikker. Nevertheless, for technical reasons, the Speaker proposes to set the date as September 1 instead of August 1.

Mr. Swinkels agrees with Mr. de Groen, and points out that the proposed reductions in the gravity of Lagerbier have a different character to that of the heavy beer. After all, the new Lagerbier will not be drunk by the public, so that consumption will pass to the beer of the higher grade, to the detriment of the breweries which mainly sell Lagerbier. The speaker therefore proposes to set the new gravity for Lagerbier at 8%. The Speaker also believes that it should also be taken into account that the smaller breweries will not comply with the regulations."
Minutes of the management of the CBK on 21st June 1940, held at the Amsterdam City Archives, document number 31121-1, page 355 - 356.

Some interesting arguments there. I suppose it is true that a lighter beer does down better in the winter than the summer. 

Were they right to fear drinkers switching up to Pils if Lagerbier was made too weak? I think so. It's what I would have done. If you remember the sales figures I published for Amstel, Lagerbier outsold Pils almost three to one in Amsterdam. While outside the capital, dark and pale Lagerbier combined just about matched that of Pils. Clearly Lagerbier was a very important segment for brewers.

When were gravities cut? We'll get to that next time.

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