"BREWERS AND BEER TAX.
The Executive Committee of the Allied Brewery Traders' Association has passed resolution to the effect that they view with alarm the operation of the increased beer duty which, is estimated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will reduce consumption of beer by 35 per cent., and will create widespread unemployment."
Western Gazette - Friday 04 December 1914, page 8.
A few months later this had been magically reduced to 23%. Though that turned out to be no more accurate.
"CONSUMPTION OF BEER
Rise After a Fall Due to the War Tax
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer put his extra tax on beer to help to pay for the war he calculated that the fall in consumption on account of the increased price would be about 23 per cent. He thought, however, the brewer and the publican stood to gain rather than lose by charging an additional penny a pint, which was more than the extra tax itself warranted. The price of a pint of "four ale" - ale sold at fourpence the quart - went from twopence to threepence, and of beer from threepence to fourpence. The immediate effect was a drop in consumption close on 60 per cent. Many of the brewers forthwith reduced their production.
The latest reports from the country show a notable rise in the consumption. It varies considerably, of course, according to the nature the place and the density of the population. In rural districts it still remains low. The war has carried away many of the agricultural labourers. To those who remain it seems as if it has also carried away their beer, now that their customary "four ale" is no longer obtainable at the inn. But in manufacturing centres the attachment of the average working man to his "pint" has overcome the fit of economy which seized him when the price went up, and there is almost as much beer being consumed as ever."
Western Times - Friday 01 January 1915, page 12.
There's a reason why the increase in price didn't put off drinkers for long. The war also pushed up wages, especially in munitions producing areas. Though it's understandable that there was initially resistance to the price of beer increasing. It had been stable for around 50 years. Most beer drinkers would never have experienced a price increase before. Weird thought that, isn't it? Very different from my own experience. The price of a pint must have gone up half a dozen times in my first legal year of drinking, 1974.
I'm not sure why four ale should suddenly have disappeared in rural districts as early as 1915. London brewers only replaced their X Ale with Government Ale in 1917. Until then there was plenty of Mild around.
How much did beer output fall in 1915? 7.4%, in terms of bulk barrels, 8.2% in terms of bulk barrels. As you can see in the table below, the big fall was between 1917 and 1918. In terms of bulk barrels (which also takes into account the fall in gravity) the drop was almost 50%.
|Beer output and tax raised 1914 - 1919|
|Total Tax £||Bulk Barrels||Std. Barrels||change bulk barrels||change std barrels||change tax raised|
|1928 Brewers' Almanack|
Note how the fall in beer production was so great that there was a considerable fall in the revenue raised from taxing it in 1918.