View Full Version : Shut up about Barclay Perkins - Beer, scientifically and socially considered (part fi

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28-05-2015, 07:21
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We’re still looking at the muck put into beer in the 1870’s.

Not just that: we’ll also be finding out why beer was so full of crap and why the British were drunkards.

The author seems to be a big fan of Allsopp. I suspect he would have been enraged by the way Watney used returned beer in the 1950’s:

“The necessity for all this doctoring has already been touched upon, but it may well explain its cause more fully. At Allsopps’ and other large Burton breweries (and no doubt in many smaller respectable country breweries) the capital embarked in the trade is large enough to admit of the beer being perfectly fermented and freed from impurities or substances likely to cause acetification ; the beautiful system employed by Messrs. Allsopp for that purpose has been described. But many brewers really sell their beer, not at the brewery, but in their own public-houses, and they have not sufficient capital (or it may be they are too anxious to make money) to give their products sufficient time become fit for consumption. The beer is sometimes drawn off from the fermenting vats into the barrels in which it is to be sent out, with the bung holes open for the escape of superfluous yeast; as little time as possible is given for it to “fine,” and it is sent out to the public-house with orders to return any that is unconsumed when it begins to turn sour. I do not pretend to be initiated into the mysteries of “brewers’ druggists' laboratories,” nor the secrets of those who employ their fraudulent compounds ; but certain it is, that carbonate of soda is used to neutralise the acidity of the spoiled beer, and various drugs and chemicals are then added to impart to it artificial flavour and counteract the alkaline taste, until, Mr. Tate remarks, it is “difficult to imagine how any persons can be found to drink such vile stuff.” But when we remember that three-fourths of the persons who do drink it are drunk already, the mystery is solved. Not only are the lower kinds of beer thus doctored, but they are often mixed with Allsopps’, Bass's, and other fine ales, so that it is in the interest of those firms not only to suppress adulteration, but to do their best to assist in providing the humbler classes with a cheap pure beverage, which it will not pay the vendors to sophisticate. So far, repressive legislation has been a dead letter; we hear now and then of the Act of Victoria 23 and 24 c. 84, being put in force to prevent the sale of grossly adulterated food, or tea; but although brewers will tell us that the Excise would punish adulteration severely, I do not recollect ever having noticed a prosecution. Public analysts may be appointed under this Act and it is to hoped that the time is not far distant when this course will be adopted, and the doctoring of what is really the staple beverage of our people may be reduced to a minimum, if not entirely prevented.”
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
Sounds like breweries were sending out beer without properly cleansing it. Did that really go on? And if it did, how common was it? The author implies breweries like Allsopp were the exception rather than the rule. Though what I’ve seen in London brewing records tells me the large brewers in the capital were finishing their fermentations properly.

Taking back beer that was going off, then doctoring up for sale again – isn’t that exactly what Watney did with all the returns they used in their bottled beer? Seems like they were continuing a long and ignoble tradition.

That’s a great explanation of why people would drink vile doctored beer: they were already drunk. Does that mean that they started off on decent beer and switched to crap after a gallon or so?

I’ve seen details of prosecutions for adulteration from earlier in the century, so prosecutions did occur. Though admittedly the prosecutions were motivated by the excise worrying about brewers and publicans dodging tax rather than poisoning their customers. I believe public analysts were eventually appointed who working wonders in cleaning up food in the last couple of decades of the 19th century.

There’s a very simple explanation for why the British were pissheads: their beer was stronger than elsewhere:

“But we have another question consider in connection with the effects of beer upon our population, and that is its real or reputed strength. For this purpose I have compiled the following table, partly from the Dictionary articles referred to, and partly from analyses made for me by chemical friends ;

percentage of

Name of Beer
Malt Extract
Carbonic Acid.

Strong Scotch Ale

Burton Ale

Barclay's London Porter

Dreher’s Vienna Beer***

Low Brussels Beer (Faro)

Bavarian Draught Beer

Sweet Bohemian Beer (Prague)

Liverpool Doctored Beer (Mr. Tate’s test)

Berlin White Beer

Sweet Brunswick Beer (Mum)

A glance this table and moment's reflection will show why English beer-drinkers are often drunkards, whilst Germans, who indulge in a similar beverage to the same extent, are comparatively sober. It may be safely said that the percentage of alcohol in German beer is on the average half as great as in the English, so that where an Englishman drinks a pint, a German may partake of a quart; but when we look at the character of the beer drunk by the intemperate classes in England, and compare it with that of the poorer people abroad, we may unhesitatingly assert that less injury would arise from drinking half a-gallon of German beer than from a pint of English ale. And again, when we compare the Berlin “Weissbier,” which contains 1.9 per cent. of alcohol, with the lowest Liverpool beer, which Mr. Tate found to contain only 2.2 per cent., and consider that whilst the Prussian artisan may imbibe his beverage all day long from quart tankards with impunity, an English labourer will succumb to a few glasses of the public-house trash ; what other inference can be drawn than that it is not the beer but the drugs it contains which affect the brain? I have been told that English labourers will not take kindly to German beer; it is not strong enough for them. This is quite true of the present generation ; how should it be otherwise, when their taste has been corrupted by cocculus indicus, tobacco, and salt? But unless the advocates of temperance strenuously support the introduction of mild, pure, cheap drink (for the Englishman not alone buys bad beer, but pays three or four, aye some cases five or six times as much for it as the German does for his unadulterated beverage), unless, I say, vigorous effort is made to change the taste of the next generation as it grows up, the same difficulty will still remain to be overcome by posterity.
*** For this test I am indebted, through the kindness of Dr. Frankland, to Mr. W. Valentin, of the Royal College of Chemistry. ”
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.

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My big question is this: is that ABW or ABV? From the Continental beers I’d guess ABW. But I have Barclay Perkins brewing records from the late 1860’s and they show their Porter as being around 5.4% ABV. What the author forgets to mention is that the Weissbier drinker of Berlin may well have been knocking back spirits along with his beer.

But the main point is certainly true: British beer was on average a good bit stronger than that brewed elsewhere.

The author’s answer to Britain’s drunkenness? Drink Mild! (Sort of.)

“Couple this experience with the fact that the Germans drink certainly as much, if not more beer than we do, and are sober, whilst we are, perhaps, the most drunken nation on the earth, and I conceive no one will dispute the proposition so often advanced by me, that claret and light Continental wines are slowly reforming our middle classes, so will it be necessary to introduce mild, pure beer as staple drink, in order to attain the same end amongst the labouring population. Until that is done, I am convinced that not all the efforts of temperance advocates (whose self-denial every one must admire and respect), neither lectures, tea-meetings, denunciation, nor repressive legislation, will avail anything beyond saving here and there a drowning wretch from the flood poisoned liquor with which our large towns are deluged ; but such change as I have suggested being accomplished, I believe that, with the spread of education, and the introduction of more rational amusements than those now offered to the humbler classes, repressive legislation will be no longer needed ; the ranks of our criminals, paupers, and lunatics will be thinned, and is to be hoped the foulest blot will in time be removed from our national escutcheon.”
Liverpool Daily Post - Tuesday 05 July 1870, page 6.
Rational amusements. What would they be? Footie? Criminals, paupers, and lunatics – which of those groups is the most aspirational, do you think? I’d go for criminal, I reckon. Lunacy and poverty don’t look that attractive.

And with that we’re finally done. Now there’s a relief.

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