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Did I mention that the bottling trade was really pissed off with "A Medical Man"? The bottling trade was really possed off with "A Medical Man". I probably have already said that, but it bears repeating.

The letters page two days after "A Medical Man's" letter was full of angry, indignant and defensive replies. The Standard's editor must have been delighted. Nothing like a bit of controversy to stir up interest and sell more newspapers.

Let's take a look at some of the letters from bottlers.

Sir,- — We have read with the greatest surprise the letter in to-day's paper, signed "A Medical Man." It is so utterly at variance with the truth that we think he must either have been made the victim of a cruel hoax or else it is the advertisement of some new company, who will presently advertise themselves as the only bottlers of pure beer. So far as regards the brewers having two descriptions of beer and sending out the worst for bottling, we may mention that one of our partners was for many years in one of the largest breweries in London, and during the whole of the time he never heard of returnable and unreturnable beer; indeed, great care was always taken to select the newest and best brewings if there was any difference. Anyone with knowledge of bottled beer will tell you that the worthless stuff "A Medical Man" speaks of would not pay the cost of bottling, and certainly nothing will spoil bottled beer so soon as a damp cellar. Then, he says, there are people who use bottles which have the label of some respectable firm attached. All we can say is, that if "A Medical Man" will kindly suggest some method whereby bottlesd may be washed without removing the label he will confer a great benefit upon the trade: and perhaps he will also kindly inform the trade where private people may be found who will not object to pay 3s. per gallon, or 108s. a barrel, for beer; we should like to be introduced to some of them. Dismissing altogether the Quixotic notion of taxing beer labels, and regretting that a medical man should have written a letter showing such ignorance of the trade, we remain your obedient servants,
E. R. MORRISON and Co.
16, Mark-lane, Jan. 29."
London Standard - Wednesday 31 January 1872, page 3.
Did "returnable" and "unreturnable" beer exist? It was - and still is - industry practice to refund publicans for beer unfit for sale if returned to the brewery. I used to think that the brewery just got a refund of beer duty from the Excise and disposed of the beer. But I've learned that some brewers re-used returns. For example, Wilson's in Manchester pasteurised returns, threw in a load of caramel and sugar and called it Watney's Cream Stout.

I happen to have a photo of one of the forms that accompanied returned beer:

Document RY/6/1/3 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive

Between the wars Usher's in Edinburgh tested the gravity of returned beer, presumably to check that the landlord hadn't added water to increase the amount he could claim back. These are some entries from 1928. The second sample has clearly been watered - the calculated OG comes to just 1016:

Document TU/6/11 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive

I'm pretty sure that a respectable brewery wouldn't have sent out something like "unreturnable" beer. But there were plenty of less scrupulous ones, especially at the smaller end of the trade.

I can understand the difficulties of washing bottles without removing the label, but I have come across too many stories of retailers insisting in intact labels on retunrd bottles to discount it. I know what I'd do: stick the bottles in hot water and carefully remove the labels before washing the bottles. Easy enough to stick them back on after the bottles have been cleaned and filled with dodgy beer.
Sir, — Permit me to say a word or two in reply to the letter signed "A Medical Man" in to-day's Standard. Your correspondent evidently has spent so much time amongst drugs of various classes that he appears to have lost the power of discriminating between what is bona fide and what is not. Will your correspondent favour me with the name, of "the parties engaged in the trade" from whom he gained his information, and also his own ? I shall then be very glad to take him to our stores, No. 3, Philpot-lane, E.C., when (if I mistake not) he will discover how grievously he has been hoaxed. I have no doubt that spurious "Bass and Allsopp" are vended at railway stations and elsewhere, but no respectable bottler would condescend to sell for Bass or Allsopp what was not genuine — in fact, we have not in our cellars any other beer than theirs. — Your obedient servant,
3, Philpot-lane, E.C., Jan. 29. "
London Standard - Wednesday 31 January 1872, page 3.
I like the gently mocking tone of this letter accusing "A Medical Man" of being a drug addict. There is one new allegation: that fake Bass and Allsopp - presumably Pale Ale - was sold in railway stations. Presumably this was sold by third parties rather than the railway company itself.

The next letter is much less polite, calling "A Medical Man" "an itinerant quack":

Sir, — I have read the letter in your impression of to-day signed by "A Medical Man," and I wish to state in reply that I have been intimately connected with bottled beer in all its branches for nearly twenty years. I have personally superintended during that period the bottling of sufficient beer to float a parish. I have also inspected the bottling and ripening processes in many of the most respectable houses in the trade, and I must say that the practices deposed to by your correspondent are entirely new to me. The experience he publishes was unquestionably gained in an establishment of very doubtful respectability, for it would be fully as pertinent to judge of the medical talent of the country by the inflated self-conceit of an itinerant quack as to suppose that one in a thousand of the beer-drinkers of the kingdom is imposed on by the disguised rubbish which "A Medical Man" calls unreturnable beer.— Yours obediently,
B. C. G."
London Standard - Wednesday 31 January 1872, page 3.
This letter eschews personal attack, but picks apart one by one the claims of "A Medical Man":

Sir -.Seeing a letter in your paper of this date from "A Medical Man " upon the subject of bottled beer, and as the writer has been greatly misinformed upon the matter, we (as bottlers of many years' standing) cannot allow the matter without correcting him.

In the first place, he states that "the beer used for bottling is made, as a rule, from the cheapest and worst kinds." Here he is decidedly wrong, as the beers must be brewed expressly for bottling, and the kinds usually bottled are supplied only from the largest brewers, such as Messrs. Bass and Co., Allsopp and Co., Guinness and Co., Reid and Co., Truman and Co., and other large firms. The best and selected beers only are sent out for bottling.

Then the writer goes on to state that "he then went to the bottler, and was shown over the process of bottling. Before an 18-gallon barrel sat a man, engaged putting corks into bottles." This must have been quite an amateur bottler that "A Medical Man" went to see, and who must have had a very limited business to have been bottling from so small a cask. No regular bottler would think of bottling from anything smaller than a hogshead (54 gallons), and of these they have in from 10 to 100 at a time.

Your correspondent further states that "the beer when bottled was arranged on shelves, and all the bottles were surrounded with chopped hay and straw, which was made to heat by sprinkling water over it now and then." This may appear very ingenious, but we think we are safe in asserting that there is not a single bottler in the trade who ever heard of this novel process of ripening beer.

Then the writer goes on again to state that "the beer before it was bottled was thick, muddy, and undrinkable." This again proves that the "bottler" in question must have been very "green" at his business to think of putting thick beer into bottles. It is of the utmost, importance that all beer should be perfectly bright before bottling, and this any "regular" bottler will confirm.

We think it is a pity that "A Medical Man" did pay a visit to a "regular bottler" before giving his statement to the public, as he would then, perhaps, have been convinced that bottled beer is not so deleterious an article as be imagines.

The public may rest assured that there are very few bottlers of the class that "A Medical Man" describes; and they should see that they purchase their "bottled beer" of a "regular bottler" or his agents, and that the name of the bottler is on the label.

We enclose our card, and remain, Sir, yours faithfully,
London Standard - Wednesday 31 January 1872, page 3.
I told you it was odd to bottle from a kilderkin, a hogshead being the standard barrel size for bottling beer. He also discredits wet straw as a forcing agent and bottling beer that was cloudy.

I hope this doesn't drive you to too much despair: there's still more of this to come.