Thursday 27 April 2023

Watering beer in 1959 (part two)

We're going to start looking at the individual culprits in this large watering case. It seems it wasn't just Customs officials who had identified the wrongdoers.

Mr W S Hill, prosecuting for the Customs and Excise, told the magistrate (Mr F. Bancroft Turner): “The brewers are Particularly concerned by these proceedings. There are four breweries.

“They are concerned as a result of the investigations which were conducted during ten days in November of last year.”

Mr. Hill said since the investigations the breweries had tightened up their systems.

"A considerable number of cases apart from these to-day will come before this court either as a result of offences alleged to have been discovered by breweries themselves or by Customs officers." he added.
Manchester Evening News - Friday 23 October 1959, page 1.

It makes sense that brewers wouldn't be keen on their landlords watering their beer. Their reputation was likely to be damaged to no profit of their own. It's a shame that the article didn't name the breweries involved.

Let's get on with the first case.

JOHN LINDLEY, of the Wagon and Horses Hotel, Sale was summoned for an offence at the Gorton Brook Hotel, Gorton.

He was defended by Mr Kenneth Burke.

Mr. Hill said that Mr. Ward, a Customs officer, took a sample of beer at Lindley's premises. It was found to have an original gravity of 31.3 degrees.

A sample from the brewer showed an original gravity of 34.3. Of 36 gallons in a barre! it was established that there had been a dilution of 2.3 gallons.

Mr Hill said that It was an absolute offence on the part of any licensee to have possession of diluted beer, although he might not be personally responsible for the dilution and if it had been done by someone else.

"In this particular type of case there is no fraud on the revenue, but on the public because the brewer pays the duty before the beer leaves his premises." said Mr Hill.

In this case the dilution represented 20 pints. "This means that a publican puts in his pocket money represented by 20 pints." said Mr Hill.
Manchester Evening News - Friday 23 October 1959, pages 1 and 21.

Not sure how they came to that figure of 2.3 gallons or 20 pints. By my calculations, you'd need to add 3.1 gallons to reduce the gravity from 1034.3º to 1031.3º. Which is close on 25 pints. With a pint averaging 6p in 1959*, that's £1.50 extra per barrel that the landlord was pocketing.

To modern ears, that might not sound like a lot of money. But remember that's per barrel. For a pub getting through ten barrels a week, that would add up to £750 over a year. Enough to buy a terraced house. Remember these numbers when we get to Mr. Lindley's fine.

So what was his defence? Another boy did it.

Mr. Kenneth Burke (defending) said: ‘Not necessarily the pubiican, but someone eise." Mr Hill said he agreed with that and he would qualify his remarks.

The magistrate asked: “Is there any possibility of this dilution taking place before it gets to the public houses?”

Mr. Hill said the beer was put in casks at the original gravity and then delivered to licensed premises. "We have evidence in every case that the beer was not tampered with before being delivered to licensed premises.”

Mr Hill said the total dilution in Lindley's case was 6.3.

Mr. Burke, defending, said Lindley had been a licensee for 3.5 years. He had been licensee of three premises under the same brewery and. said Mr. Burke, it was uncommon in such a case for the Licensee to lay the blame elsewhere.
Manchester Evening News - Friday 23 October 1959, page 21.

In the days of tied houses, supply lines were very short. The brewery loaded the beer onto its own drays and delivered it directly to the pub. The only people who could have diluted the beer on its journey were the draymen. Who were usually too drunk to perform any such complicated act.

Do who could the phantom waterer have been?

The excise officer visited the premises an November 20. Lindley was confined to bed from November 8 until November 29 suffering from pleurisy and pneumonia and he had doctor's notes which said he was incapable of work.

Mr. Burke said: “During that Period he was not personally responsible for the stocks of beer."

Lindley had employed a man in his bar during that time and he believed the man did something to the beer.

Mr Burke added: "The breweries are particularly concerned with their duties to the public and their own business interests and when a man commits such an offence he is in danger of losing his livelihood and home."

Mr. Burke added: “Lindley had no control over what was taking place.” Asked by the magistrate when the tested barrel came into operation. Lindley said it was on Nov. 17.
Manchester Evening News - Friday 23 October 1959, pages 1 and 21.

OK, Mr. Lindley was ill and an unnamed man had fiddled with his beer.

Just because Mr. Lindley was ill in bed doesn't mean that he didn't request his substitute to water the beer in the usual way. If he hadn't, it was likely the customers would notice the beer was different and wonder what Mr. Lindley had been up to. All this was irrelevant, as merely having diluted beer in his possession was an offence, whether he or someone else had watered it.

Let's see what the magistrate decided.

Mr Burke — This is a serious matter for Lindley.

Magistrate — It is a serious matter all round. It means 1-14th of a glass is unnecessary water.

Answering the magistrate. Mr. Burke said the licensee could not check the gravity of his beer because he did not know the gravity when it left the brewery.

The stipendiary magistrate said: “It is difficult to know what penalty to impose because the licensee does guarantee the quality of wares and the reputation of the brewery is entirely in his hands, and so is the public.

“There is no suggestion that the licensee was in any way personally responsible for the adulteration: in fact everything points the other way.”

Lindley was fined £15 and ordered to pay £5 5s costs.
Manchester Evening News - Friday 23 October 1959, page 21.

Despite the magistrate being convinced Mr. Lindley wasn't directly responsible, he was still fined. Fair enough, as he had committed an offence. Whether he was aware of the watering or not.

I said to pay attention to the fine. Just £15 and £5 5s costs. As we saw earlier, the level of dilution quoted a pub shifting ten barrels a week would have earned that in less than a fortnight. A fine at that level was hardly much of a disincentive to watering. Which is probably why the practice was so widespread.

* Statistical Handbook of the British Beer & Pub Association 2003, p. 44.


Anonymous said...

Is it known how beers were watered? A few tablespoons of water in a glass would be about the amount needed for that amount of dilution, and it seems like it would be easy in a dark place to "accidentally" fail to fully drain all of the rinse water after washing.

But I don't know if drinkers would be savvy to such an obvious trick.

Ron Pattinson said...


they opened the bung hole of the cask and poured water in. It wasn't very complicated.

Jeff Renner said...

“they opened the bung hole of the cask and poured water in.”

But they couldn’t do that until some had been taken out, right? I assume a cask was filled up pretty full.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jeff Renner,

with the amount some landlords were adding, yes, they'd have to draw some beer off to make room.

Anonymous said...

Do you think they'd keep an empty keg to draw off the top of the keg(s)? Otherwise the first draws from the kegs would be full strength, and the regulars would notice. The only way I think they could keep a consistent watered taste would be a barrel to draw off the first few pints; water the beer; once the 'reserve' barrel was sufficiently full, water that and push it out to the public. Repeat.

Ron Pattinson said...


I think they just added the water then shook up the cask to mix it through evenly.