Friday, 26 August 2011


I'm just going through a handy little notebook I'd completely forgotten about. It's from the Scottish Brewing Archive. One of the items in the Thomas Usher archive.

It appears to be the notebook of a lab technician. I grabbed it becuase it contains analyses of competitors' beers. I love that sort of thing. But they aren't the only contents. There are analyses of batches of malt and different brands of invert sugar, too. And something else. Something that initially puzzled me. Why would they have done these anlyses? Then it clicked: they didn't trust publicans.

Some of the most freqent entries are analyses of returned beer. Its FG and calculated OG. They were checking that the returned beer - for which the publican would be paid - was what it said it was. And hadn't been messed with. It many cases, it clearly had been tampered with.

Take a look at the examples in the table below. For purposes of comparison, I've included the details of a 60/- PA, as brewed.

Thomas Usher returns
Date Beer FG OG
26th Jan 1925 60/- PA 1003 1037
2nd Feb 1925 60/- PA 1006 1025
17th Feb 1925 1010 1020
23rd Apr 1925 60/- PA 1006 1040
12th May 1925 60/- PA 1000 1040
4th Jan 1926 1003 1015
24th Sep 1926 1004 1027
Beer as brewed
3rd Jan 1928 60/- PA 1014 1041
Document TU/6/11 held at the Scottish Brewing Archive.

Admittedly, I'm not sure which exact beer some of the returns were. But, Usher's weakest beer had an OG of 1035º. There are many returns to weak even to be that. There's obviously been quite a lot of water added. Let's take the second example with an OG of 1025. To get to that from the real OG of 1041, you'd need to add 14 gallons of water to a 36 gallon barrel.

What does this tell us? That publicans were a shifty bunch. And that breweries weren't daft enough to trust them.

1 comment:

StringersBeer said...

Were brewers able to claim back duty paid on returned beer in those days?

Nowadays, brewers have to be assured that the returns aren't watered or adulterated before we can make such a claim. Which is why (subject to Health and Safety considerations) we would need the spoiled beer, in its original container, returned and measured.

I wonder if it's not so much that the Brewers didn't trust the Publicans (although they probably didn't), but rather that the Excise trusts no-one.