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After the Free Mash Tun Act of 1880, sugar became an important ingredient. The use of sugar had been legal since 1847, but a special duty had to be paid on it which seems to have put brewers off.

After 1880, the use of sugar became increasingly sophisticated. First, through the use of different grades of invert sugar, Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4, with 1 being the palest and 4 the darkest. Nos. 1 and 2 were mostly used in Pales, no. 3 in Mild Ales and Nos. 3 and 4 in Porter and Stout.

Later, proprietary sugars gained in popularity. These were mixtures of invert sugars and caramel, often formulated for specific styles of beer, such as Mild Ale or Oatmeal Stout.

In 1914, on average 13% of a beer grist consisted of sugar. That included both sugar added during the boil and priming sugars added at racking time.

The biggest problem with sugar, was that it was readily usable in food products. Whereas barley had limited use as a human food and hops none at all. Which meant that brewers were competing with other food industries for the limited supplies of sugar.

Brewers became obsessed with prices during the war, which is handy because it means that the price of every ingredient is listed in the brewing logs. People often assume that sugar was only used in brewing because it was cheaper than malt. During the war, this wasn’t necessarily true. And, of course, there were other reasons for brewers to employ sugar. For colour and flavour in Mild, for example.

Here's are examples where the sugar was more expensive than the malt. This is a PA brewed by Whitbread on February 2nd 1917:

72 quarters malt total cost 4,574/-, cost per quarter 65.34/-
20 quarters No. 1 invert sugar cost 1,496/-, cost per quarter 68/-
This Mild brewed June 7th 1918 is more extreme:

140 quarters malt total cost 12,250/-, cost per quarter 87.5/-
33 quarters No. 3 invert sugar cost 4,059/-, cost per quarter 123/-
As with malt, there were large increases in the price of sugar during the war. In fact, they were even more extreme than in the case of malt, rising from 25s a quarter in 1914 to around 130s, in 1920.

Price of sugar used by Barclay Perkins 1914 - 1917 (in shillings per quarter)
1914 1915 1916 1917
Mar Oct Jun Oct Jan Apr Oct Jan Apr
Garton No.2 26.5 26 28 42 49 55 67 67 82
Garton No.3 24.5 24 26 40 40 50 65 65 80
Martineau No.3 23.5 23.5 46.5 52.5 65
Glucose 25 58 64
Barclay Perkins brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives

Price of sugar used by Barclay Perkins 1917 - 1920 (in shillings per quarter)
1917 1918 1919 1920
Oct Jan Apr Oct Jan Apr Oct Jan Apr
Garton No.2 86 125 130 140
Garton No.3 84 94 98 151 151 113 123 128
Martineau No.3 151 151 120 123 128 138
Glucose 151 151
Barclay Perkins brewing records held at the London Metropolitan Archives