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26-05-2015, 07:13
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I’ll admit it. I’d forgotten about this. Blame my travelling. This series started as some of the posts I queued up to cover my last trip to the USA. And I got distracted by other topics on my return. No matter. I’ll finish it off now if it kills me.
Which is probably what much of the beer sold in Liverpool 150 years ago would have done. Here a list of some of the crap unscrupulous characters threw in it:

“This report, it will be seen, affords experimental confirmation of what was said by Mr. Glover at the Liverpool Workhouse meeting, and it will therefore be interesting to inquire a little further into the matter. Our authorities tell us that the following substances are employed to adulterate beer. "Cocculus indicus multum (an extract of cocculus indicus), colouring, honey, hartshorn-shavings, Spanish juice, orange-powder, ginger, grains of paradise, quassia, liquorice, carraway seeds, copperas, capsicum, mixed drugs.” These, we are told, were seized at different breweries in London, and brewers’ druggists’ laboratories"* in addition, sulphuric acid, alum, salt, Datura stramonium, picric acid, and other substances, are mentioned by different writers.
* Report of Committee of the House of Commons. See Watts’s 'Dictionary of Chemistry.’ vol. i, p. 537.”
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
To be honest, not all of those are dangerous or even unpleasant. Honey, liquorice, carraway seeds and ginger weren’t going to do you any harm. The reason these are listed as adulterants is the strict law on what could be used in beer. A decade later, after the introduction of the Free Mash Tun Act, all of those would have been legal.

Hartshorn shavings turn up in a lot of recipes from the early 19th century aimed at private brewers, i.e. those brewing for their own household rather than for sale. In the early 1800’s these brewers produced a high percentage of the beer in some parts of the country. Being able to use ingredients commercial brewers couldn’t was one of the advantages they had and probably helped keep the tradition going.

Cocculus indicus was a bittering agent used as a hop substitute. But it’s also a stimulant sop presumably could also disguise watering down. Its active ingredient is picrotoxin, which doesn’t sound like something I’d like to ingest. Cocculus indicus is still used for medicinal purposes in Asia, but is no longer used in the USA and Europe because of fears about its safety. Though it is still used in quack, sorry homeopathic, medicine.

Pretty sure I don’t want sulphuric acid in my beer. Nor alum, which is used in pickling and tanning leather. I’ll let the article describe Datura stramonium:

“Of Datura stramonium Mr. Prescott says,** “It has been frequently used by desperate characters for hocussing or stupefying of the intended victim of a robbery by surreptitiously adding it to his beer in the public-house bar. It is the seed of the thorn-apple, a native of Greece, and belongs to the same family as the tobacco-plant.” The same author also describes very minutely the microscopical structure of the various seeds which ought, and which ought not, to be used in the preparation of beer, including barley, hops, cocculus indicus, grains of paradise, and Datura stramonium, his object being to facilitate the detection of fraud and crime ; and I would recommend my microscopical readers, who take interest in the question, to examine these various substances with the aid of a microscope and Mr. Prescott’s beautiful diagrams.”
** 'Strong Drink and Tobacco Smoke,’ p. 37.”
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-xorCCd-Y1CA/VV7gTBkMMII/AAAAAAAAXX4/rSXXPVJdfno/s400/Aitchison_Best_Cellar.JPG (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-xorCCd-Y1CA/VV7gTBkMMII/AAAAAAAAXX4/rSXXPVJdfno/s1600/Aitchison_Best_Cellar.JPG)Datura stramonium sounds really, really dangerous. It has medicinal uses as an analgesic, but is also a hallucinogen. The dangerous part, is that a fatal dose isn’t much higher than an effective one. Plus there’s huge variation in the amount of the active ingredients present from plant to plant, or even in different parts of the same plant. Unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re likely to kill yourself. Or in the case of a beer adulterer, your customers.

Here are the used of some of the other muck:

"Of the various adulterants named, sulphate of iron, alum, and salt are employed to give beer "head" or froth (salt stimulate the thirst as well); sulphuric acid is used to bring it forward,” or harden it, and impart to new beer the character of old ; carbonate of soda to neutralise acidity whilst cocculus indicus, quassia, wormwood, grains of paradise, and similar substances, are mixed with beer either to impart bitterness or pungency, and to disguise the true character of the drink."
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
Sulphate of iron is one of the adulterants people were most often prosecuted for. Nowadays its only use seems to be as a herbicide for killing moss in lawns. Would you really want that in your beer? I think not. Quassia and wormwood are also drugs and ones you wouldn’t want to ingest too much of.

It sounds like some beer was awash with drugs, more like a chemical soup.

We’ve still quite a way to go with this article. More about the how and why of adulteration next time.

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