What a wonderful document it is. Well, pair of documents, as there are two volumes. The most valuable references for anyone wanting to take a close look at British beer in the 20th century. I don't know what I would have done without it.
Across thousands of entries, it records the vital statistics of the beers of Whitbread's rivals. OG, FG, price, colour. Sometimes even short descriptions of flavour, condition and clarity. There's an emphasis on the London area, which was Whitbread's main stomping ground. But plenty of beers from all parts of the UK.
Between them, the two volumes cover a span of almost 50 years: 1922 to 1968. Starting with the fallout of WW I and ending in the keg era, there were a lot of changes over those years. All of which you can see reflected in the Gravity Book's pages. For example, laying bare what bad value keg beer was in comparison to cask.
While writing the last-named book, I got a better idea of why Porter was in terminal decline between the wars. It was quite often in poor shape, described as "sour" or "going off". Sounds like cask beer that's been on for too long. Poor sales meaning beer gets too old, leading to even fewer sales. A vicious cycle, such as happened with Mild a few decades later.
When it becomes particularly useful is in relation to breweries whose records have been lost. Allowing us our only glimpse at what their beers were like.
I've transcribed every entry into a spreadsheet. Except for a couple of pages where my photos are too blurred to read. It took a lot of hours. Worth it, totally. Not sure I'd want to do it again.
|a Barclay Perkins page from volume 2|
For the moment, the Gravity Book volumes are in a safe place: London Metropolitan Archives. But you have to physically go there to access them. A pretty big limitation.
How could I forget my book Numbers!. Which has hundreds of analyses taken from the Whitbread Gravity Book. As well as other sources.