Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part V (Final).

Oddly perhaps for a man whose second name was blasé, Alan Tomkins comes down to brass tacks with beer in 1941.

He is examining the impact of falling strengths resulting from duty increases and other constaints of wartime.

As beer historians have noted, over the war years, as in the First World War, strengths fell with rising tax burdens and imposition of quotas for raw materials.

For World War II Ron Pattinson has explained the picture well, in part through tables at 217-222 of his 2013 book War!

Against this background, we can consider Tomkins’ article in the Sunday Dispatch on March 23, 1941 (via British Newspaper Archive).

His editor tells him he has heard beer strengths have gone down. He asks Tomkins to investigate the impact of possible future decreases, by adding 10% water to beer as a test.

So off Tomkins goes to his beer “stockist”, an odd-sounding term to North Americans, used in Britain into the 1990s at least, not sure about today.

The shopkeeper is aghast anyone would add water to beer, which inclines with Tomkins’ intuition, viz:

…watering is almost as bad as high treason and much more criminal than many kinds of crimes passionels.

The shopkeeper conducts the experiment nonetheless, to “show him”.  And in truth Tomkins finds the watering:

…[caused] an unpleasant, separate, secondary taste, as persistent as though copper coins had been soaked in it.

The stockist explains the result is “mawkish” as the added water was not boiled or subjected to fermentation, and has no “natural gas”.*

The stockist then explains that the price of pints has risen regularly, so to get the same strength as before, you either pay more, or, if you don’t wish that, you get a weaker beer.

He states gravities did fall since start of the war (September 1, 1939), by six points, he estimates.

This seems too high, see Ron Pattinson again, but the drift of his explanation is brewers raise the price or make weaker beer by starting from a lower gravity, but don’t water the final result.

He tries to prove this by showing Tomkins could not tell the difference between (undiluted) higher and lower gravity beers, but Tomkins proves him wrong. This hazardous exercise apart, he understood the situation better than Tomkins walked in with, which Tomkins conveyed in his fashion to harried wartime readers.

Although from a later period, this London brewery label, actually a beermat, should resonate in light of above (via Brewery History Wiki):



I might add, I add water all the time, not always carbonated, to strong beers to get them to about 5% abv. The result is usually just fine, if I served them even to experienced beer drinkers they would never suspect the beer is off in some way.

It can matter though what water is used. The wrong water will sometimes produce a “flat” result. Only experiment can tell, but in general there is nothing wrong with the practice.

You can use non-fizzy water if the carbonation level of the beer is high to start with. The 1941 stockist clearly had limited knowledge himself, but knew more than Tomkins, clearly.

*It is not clear whether fizzy or plain water was used in their experiment. Perhaps an aerated (fizzy) water was used, but if so, evidently still stockist was wedded to gas produced by natural fermentation, as he bruits the advantage of “natural gas”. Today in so-called high-gravity brewing, high-strength beer is brewed, then diluted with oxygen-free carbonated water to marketable strength, e.g. 5% abv. This was not done in the period, though.







5 thoughts on “Alan Tomkins Tipples. Part V (Final).”

  1. The English Ale label was certainly still in use in the 1980s as I rec all seeing bottles of it behind the bar in many Whitbread pubs. To my regret I never tried it.

  2. Hi Gary ,
    Interesting that Whitbread were still using the Fremlins Stock Bitter Ale style label
    Cheers 🍻

    • Hi Edd:

      Thanks, and I was wondering on exact period for this, late 60s probably. I thought the display of original gravities, or a range, was interesting, as this did not feature in mid-century labels, generally (afaik).

      I did find press stories mid-century where licensees and others interested called on brewers to make this display, but of course it only tells part of the picture as we know.

      Also see my comment just below please, which clarifies something in the original post that wasn’t quite right. Thanks for reading.

  3. I had an asterisked note in the original post, now removed as I did not make clear what I intended. I will restate it here. On page 224 of his book referenced (not 222), Ron has a table showing Whitbread pale ale between 1939 and 1945. Generally the abv’s drift down with the starting gravities with a blip or so as I stated earlier.

    Attenuations are between 70% and nearing 77%, with one year, 1943, 78%. I didn’t do an average attenuation, maybe 75%. But nothing at >78% as higher abv would produce too lean a body.

    To be sure this is one brewery and one brand, but significant as far as it goes.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: