What a wonderful insight into the workings of 18th-century trade. I love the polite way the writer tells the customer he'll have to pay his own transport costs. 17d a gallon seems a pretty reasonable price for beer with an OG of 1100.
Here follows a letter from Mr. Benjamin Wilson, addressed to a St. Petersburg house, Oct. 23, 1775, quoted literally and in full, since it distinctly states the method in which the foreign trade was conducted.
"To Mr. John Daniel Newman and Co., Petersbg.
" Gentlemen,—We reed, in Course your much-esteemed Favor, dated the 28th July, and Contents noted. We confess ourselves concerned that some little Difficulty attending ye first Interpretation of yr. Letter has protracted in some degree the Dispatch of our Reply, and in consequence subjected us to the probable imputation of Inattention wch. we ever wish and shall endeavour to stand exempt from; but as that Inconvenience is in some Measure removed, any future letter we may have ye Pleasure to receive, we can be informed of with the greater Facility. To people who have the Credit of their own Manufacture and ye inseparable Interest of their Friends at Heart, we cannot but feel an accumulated Satisfaction at every additional Instance of our Ale proving fine and distinguishing itself, wch. in Justice to its Character we have ye happiness to say our Friends have universally confirmed. To ye several Queries of yr. Letter, we beg leave to acquaint you that tho' many merchants in St. Petersburg are supplied with Burton Ale from our House, yet there are many that we are not immediately connected with, their orders being principally transmitted thro' ye Houses of Hull and London, which may be called their Representatives, and from whom we receive the greatest share of our orders; but, as a foreign Connexion wd. be equally acceptable when satisfactorily established, we shd. consider it with equal Attention and Respect. The Price of Ale last Year at Burton, from ye extravagant Price of Grain, sold for 17d. per Gallon: what may be ye price for ye present Season is as yet undetermined, the value of wch. is generally regulated by the Average Cost of Grain, wch. so early in ye Season wd. be premature to say.
"You desire to know at what price we can undertake to ship you the Ale pr. Gallon, free on Board, which is a mode we are never accustomed to observe, as our Friends always pay us for ye ale 17d. at Burton, and defray the Consequent Expenses of Fret, and Shippg. themselves ; and as we ourselves wish to reap no Benefit therefrom, take this opportunity of subjoining for yr. own Satisfaction an acct. of the Fret, to Hull, and other Expenses, by way of specimen, on thirty Hhds. of Ale shipped the last Season, which, with very little or no Variation, may be proportioned for a larger or lesser qty.
"B. Wilson & Co."
"Noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I" by Alfred Barnard, 1889, pages 123 - 125.
It's significant that the price of the beer depended on the grain price and, indirectly, the quality of the barley harvest. This is when beer was still brewed from local grain. In the 19th century, improved transport and large-scale agriculture in the USA and other regions reduced the dependency of brewers on supplies of British barley. Brewers would have been unable to produce the amount of beer they did in the second half of the 19th century without grain imports. Britain itself simply could not produce enough barley. As was demonstrated during WW I and WW II. During the Napoleonic Wars it was tax on malt, not a shortage of it, that caused brewers problems.
Those casks are weird sizes. I've never come across 40 and 80 barrel-sized ones before. As the letter says, these were specifically for the Russian market. I wonder why they were that size? Maybe it matched some Russian measure.