Beer and WW II
when beer and war collide

I admit it: I'm a numbers junkie. Statistics fascinate me because of the tales they tell. I would like to share one of those stories with you.

War has been the driving force behind most developments in British beer, since at least the Civil War. Cromwell introduced the first beer duty. Soaring taxes during the Napoleonic wars spurred brewers to innovate to cut costs. Patent malt was the result. The Boer War saw Britain become a high-tax nation for beer. Measures to conserve resources during WW I mortally wounded porter and slashed gravities forever.

So how come so little changed during WW II? The conflict came close to destroying Britain both militarily and economically. Why was the impact on the brewing industry so small?

I think I know the answer, but I'll present the facts first and let you decide for yourself.
World War 1

Let's first look at what happened in WW I:

Number of Bulk Barrels Produced and Average SG
Year UK production (barrels) Average SG Germany production (barrels)
1910 34,299,914 1053.20  
1914 37,558,767 1052.80 40,450,948*
1915 34,765,780 1052.35  
1916 32,110,608 1051.88  
1917 30,163,998 1048.54  
1918 19,085,043 1039.81  
1919 23,264,533 1030.55  
1920 35,047,947 1039.41  
1921 34,504,570 1042.61  
1925a 26,734,825 1043.12 23,310,623*
1927a 25,100,461 1043.28 29,538,969*
The Brewers' Almanack and Wine and Spirit Trade Annual, 1928
except * 100 Jahre Deutsche Brauer-Bund 1871-1971, p.128

The production statistics are in barrels, SG refers to the original specific gravity of the beer.
a Figures exclude the Irish Free State.
1 barrel = 163.656 litres.

The effect of the war was dramatic: production was almost halved, strengths dropped to near-beer levels. Postwar, beer gravities settled around 20% lower than their pre-war level.
World War 2

Here's what happened in the next war:

Year UK Germany
(barrels 1,000)
gravity production
(barrels 1,000)
1938 24,535 1041.02    
1939 25,532 1040.93 31,326 1041
1940 25,499 1040.62 29,774 1037
1941 29,101 1038.51 28,733 1034
1942 29,170 1035.53 25,976 1030
1943 29,956 1034.34 26,496  
1944 31,472 1034.63    
1945 32,667 1034.54    
1949 26,276 1033.43 8,648 1032
1951 25,087 1036.99 17,360  
The Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 56
100 Jahre Deutsche Brauer-Bund 1871-1971, p.202

UK gravities are an average of all beer brewed
German gravities are for the strongest beer allowed.

This time UK strengths only dropped by about 10% and output even increased. The UK was able to brew large quantities of reasonable-strength beer.

You'll note that the effects of the war - even in the period when things were going well - were much more pronounced in Germany. Production of serious-strength beer trickled to a halt about half way into the war in Germany.

The average German gravity would have been much lower than the maximum figure given. There were classes at 1012 even in the early war years. By 1945 some beers were as weak as 1008. If you reckon that German beer probably averaged at least 12 (1048) before the war, it's quite a big drop.
"Grenadier und Musketier
Marschieren auf der strasse
Denken an ein kühles Bier
In riesengrossem Glase"

German soldiers' song.

In reality, German soldiers mostly were just thinking about huge glasses of beer.
Worth noting
Britain's prime minister in WW I, Lloyd-George, was a teetotaller, as was Hitler. Churchill, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic drinker.

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© Ron Pattinson 2005 - 2006

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