Friday, 10 December 2010

The Indian beer market in the 1830's and 1840's

More from Tizard about the market for IPA. I say from Tizard, but he's actually quoting someone else. A quote of a quote. I hope that's not too complicated for you.

"Great Britain must always be the source whence British India is to be supplied with good wholesome malt liquor. Attempts have been made by the French, Americans, and Germans, to supply it, but it has proved to be quite unsuited to the Indian palate: in fact, very bad. There is nothing to be dreaded from them; and although it is not impossible to brew good table beer in Upper India, yet it is not likely to succeed permanently, for various reasons. No person of capital would run the risk of losing it, as it is only whilst prices are high that he could be handsomely repaid; and in that case, the English brewer would be in the market, and upon equal terms at least . The cost of apparatus, materials, labour, and interest on capital, added to the expense of transportation from Muttral, or any other of the colder stations, to the principal towns of the central and lower provinces of Bengal, would be much greater than the English brewer's charges to accomplish the same object.

Previous to the years 1816 and 1817, the demand for beer in India was nothing, compared with what it has become during the last seven or eight years. The pressing calls of 1821 for an increased supply, led Hodgson, of London, to enlarge his brewery, and induced some to enter into arrangements for monopolising the market: this, as usual in such cases, ended in severe losses to all concerned. Beer has for many years been an article of extensive consumption in Bengal, and it is highly probable that a greater increase would take place, were it not for the very high price to which it has frequently risen: this, however, could not be guarded against, as long as Hodgson exclusively had the supplying of the market; but now that other brewers can furnish equally good beer, there is no fear of a short supply, or of being subject to monopolies, such as were tried some few years ago. The great fluctuation in the price of this article has been caused entirely by the irregularity of the supply, and the plans laid down by Hodgson and some of his moneyed neighbours, to keep the others out of the market. So entirely dependent were the public upon this brewer, that he in-a great degree regulated the price and the quantity imported. Others who attempted to introduce their beer into the market were compelled to withdraw, having lost very considerably by their speculations; for Hodgson, when he knew that other brewers were shipping, sent out large quantities, and thereby reduced prices to such low rates as to frighten his rivals from making second shipments; and having effected this, the following years he had the market to himself, and the prices rose occasionally under the short supply to 180 Rs., and even 200 Rs., a hogshead. He thereby made up for the sacrifice of the previous year, and effectually deterred others from prosecuting their speculations in this market. Another thing in his favour, and which operated for a long time, was the high repute to which his name stood for beer; so much so, that no other, even of a good quality, was bought by the retailers, as they could not dispose of it. The commanders and officers were, up till 1824, Hodgson's best customers ; his beer formed one of the principal articles in their investments, and it was customary for him to give them credit for twelve or eighteen months, if not for the whole amount of their purchase, at least for one-half of it; but about this time he not only raised his price from £20 to £24-, but refused to sell on any terms except for cash, even to parties of unexceptionable credit. This naturally drove many of his best customers to other brewers, but Hodgson and Co., confident of the power they had in the market, sent the beer out for sale on their own account; and thus they in a short time became Brewers, Shippers or Merchants, and even Retailers. These proceedings naturally and justly excited hostile feelings in those engaged in the India trade at home, whilst the public here, seeing the complete control which Hodgson endeavoured to maintain over the market, turned their faces against him, and gave encouragement to other brewers, who fortunately sent out excellent beer.

In 1825 and 26, several brewers tried the market, and as the spell had been broken, met with liberal and fair encouragement. The most successful of them were Alsop and Son, Bass and Ratcliff, Ind and Smith, and Charrington, with a few others. It being therefore clear that England must furnish the supply, and it being the interest of the brewers to keep the market steadily supplied, we shall now give some data to guide the brewer or shipper.

It will be perceived that since 1830-31, (the 30th of April terminating the Indian Commercial Year,) the imports of Beer and Porter into Calcutta have increased nearly 100 per cent.: this in a great measure arises from the moderate rate and little fluctuation there has been in prices, whereby a taste for beer has been more generally diffused throughout the poorer classes of British inhabitants, which having once acquired, they will continue to indulge as long as prices continue moderate.


Imports of Beer and Porter into Calcutta
Year ending April 30th
Butts
Hogsheads
Dozens
1831
418
5,566
2,105
1832
111
5,946
1,167
1833
252
7,916
2,293
1834
322
7,193
2,028
1835
244
6,282
2,632
1836
140
4,519
1,392
1837
404
9,544
3,241
1838
841
11,356
2,102
1839
606
8,937
719
1840
391
10,779
671
1841
824
11,808
2,989
1842
669
11,035
6,457


The beers now most saleable, and which command the highest quotations, are those of Messrs. Alsop and Son, Bass and Co., and Ind and Smith, especially the former, on account of the superior lightness and brilliancy of their shipments: there is, however, a wide field for competition, and we have little doubt that by caution and care, one of the most lucrative and extensive businesses might be opened with the port. The first point for consideration is, quality, a few remarks on which may not, we trust, prove uninteresting. The ale adapted for this market should be a clear, light, bitter, pale ale, of a moderate strength, and by no means what is termed in Calcutta' heady;' it should be shipped in hogsheads, which we need scarcely observe should be most carefully coopered, and small shipments and frequent, in preference to consigning heavily at one time, as the natives, who frequently purchase on the invoice, (which by the by should always be made out at an advance of prime cost of 50%, as invoices are sold taking the rupee at 2s. 6d., and generally at a discount of from 5 to 10°/o) cannot often raise funds to take off the same. Another point is, that by frequent consignments you acquire a name, which, as you may be aware, is every thing in India."
"The theory and practice of brewing illustrated" by William Littell Tizard, 1846, pages 521 - 525.

Once again, Martyn Cornell's point is proved: how many struggle with the spelling of Allsopp. I'd never heard before of Charrington having an India trade. I must look into that further.

Of most note is how IPA is described "clear, light, bitter, pale ale, of a moderate strength". Of moderate strength. Let me say it once more for the hard of hearing: IPA was not a strong beer. Get that? No? One more time then: IPA was not a strong beer.

Oh yes, and how Bass's beer was valued for being pale and bright. I wonder what the colour was? It would be easy to assume that it had the amber colour of later years. But did it? This isn't the first mention of the particular paleness of Bass. Could it have been more of a golden yellow colour in the 19th century? Unless I stumble on an analysis that includes the colour, that may be difficult to discover.

The bit about the feasibility of beer brewed in India struck me, too. This is in the pre-railway days, remember. Where it says that it would cost more to supply central and southern India with beer from the north of the country than it would to ship it from Britain. That's quite remarkable. It's no surprise that production of beer in India took off  after the railway network had been built, presumably drastically reducing transport costs.

One last point: note that the figures are for Beer and Porter. It often gets forgotten that Pale Ale wasn't the only beer exported from Britain to India. Large quantities of Porter and Stout were shipped, too. I'll be returning to this theme soon. Once I've laid my hands on a few more numbers

2 comments:

Barm said...

If, as has been stated repeatedly, brewers were trying to attenuate the beer as much as possible to improve its shelf life, surely it would be counter-productive to use any darker, less fully fermentable malt? I think the circumstantial evidence is quite strong that IPA must have been golden in the 19th century. But you're right, we need a primary source stating the colour.

Martyn Cornell said...

On December 8 1842 The Times carried an advertisement for Saunders & Co of Horninglow Street, Burton upon Trent, and their "East India Pale and Golden Ales", which suggests (but doesn't prove), depending on how you want to interpet those words, that golden-coloured ales were certainly being brewed in Burton, but they were a different category to IPAs.