Monday, 5 November 2012

Beer Scarcity in Austria

You can tell when things are getting bad when governments start cutting beer production. And putting up the price. Why? Because it's a great way of pissing the public off. Something governments rarely do deliberately.

The more observant among you might have noticed that I've started writing about Germany and Austria in WW I. There's a good reason for that. One that I'm not going to tell you quite yet. It is very revealing, though, to look at the war from the other side. The food and booze situation at home for the Central Powers made Britain look like the promised land, overflowing with milk and honey, Or at least bread and beer.

Of course, the German U-boat campaign against British shipping didn't really kick off until 1917. Which is when Britain began to experience grain shortages, though at never anything like the same level as Germany or Austria.
"Beer Scarcity in Austria
Berne, September 1.
Owing to the poorness of the barley harvest in Austria the production of beer will be reduced from October by fully 50 per cent. The brewers, who hitherto had old stocks of barley, have now received from the Government only 30 per cent. of the habitual quantity. This will entail a heavy loss of revenue to both the Government and the municipalities of Austria, where the taxes on beer formerly yielded 220 million kronen annually. A further rise in the price of beer is therefore announced for October. Austrian beer prices have already risen six kronen per hectolitre, Hungarian fourteen kronen, and German ten marks per hectolitre since the beginning of the war.

Owing to the limited quantity of beer allowed in Germany the beer halls are often obliged to close at 8 p.m., all their beer having been already consumed."
Western Times - Saturday 04 September 1915, page 4.
Output to be reduced 50% but only 30% of the normal amount of barley available. That means there must have been a gravity cut as well. I make that a 40% reduction in gravity. So if average gravity had been 1048º, it would have dropped to 1028º. Austrian beer had been quite strong before the war, so my guess is that average gravity was higher, probably in the low 1050's. Which would still have meant it dropping to about 1030º. The sort the depth not reached until 1918 in Britain.
Fewer Cigarettes and Weaker Beer for the Enemy.
Zurich, Monday.—The recent medical examinations of recruits have shown that the growing habit of cigarette smoking is exercising the most deleterious effect on the health of the future Bavarian soldiers. The authorities have imposed rigid restrictions with a view to preventing cigarette smoking among boys and youths.

In Austria a Ministerial decree has just been issued restricting the production of beer from December to next March inclusive to 55 per of the normal quality. This measure is taken to protect the stocks of barley in the country. Not a single transaction was reported the Buda Pest Corn Exchange on Saturday.

The grain trade in Hungary entirely a standstill. A large number flour mills are being shut down unable to obtain supplies wheat. The millers' only hope is in the Government requisitioning large stocks which are being kept back by landowners and farmers in the hope obtaining still higher prices. - Reuter."
Manchester Evening News - Tuesday 07 December 1915, page 4.
This appears to contradict the first report, allowing 55% of the normal level of beer output as opposed to 50%. Did they permit slightly more beer to be produced or was that 55% of the 50%?
According to a telegram from Rotterdam says an Exchange Amsterdam telegram today, it is reported that serious riots have taken place in cafes in Vienna owing to the announcement of an increase of five kroner per hectolitre of beer.

A number of cafes have been attacked by an infuriated mob, who destroyed everything inside.

The police have ordered the closing of all cafes after 8 p.m., unless under special licence. The inhabitants of Vienna are very excited about the raising of the price of beer, and trouble is expected over the whole of Austria."
Liverpool Echo - Tuesday 18 January 1916, page 8.
I can't condone smashing up pubs, but drinkers must have been pretty upset to go on the rampage like that. There were angry reactions in Britain to beer price rises, too, but they don't seem to have ever spilled over into violence.


Pivní Filosof said...

I've read that Czech brewers couldn't brew anything stronger than 4ºP beers, though now I'm not quite sure if that was in the WWI, II or both.

There's also one passage in Švejk where a hop merchant laments how the war had ruined his business. He exported to the Balkans before the conflict.

Ron Pattinson said...

Pivni Filosof, I imagine that by the end of both wars they had pretty much totally stopped brewing.

I'd like to get more details of restrictions on brewing in the Austro-Hungarian empire. I wonder if there's an Austrian nespapaer archive I can get access to?