Barley Prices and Beer Strength

The Case of Flower’s Brewery, Stratford-on-Avon, 1850

In a comment recently to a post by Ron Pattinson I noted that Flower’s of Stratford-on-Avon sometimes in the 19th century advertised that it was increasing the strength of its beer due to more favourable barley prices.*

This is an example, from the Leamington Advertiser, etc., January 19, 1850, via British News Archive:



RESPECTFULLY informs his Customers that in consequence of the present low price of Barley he has increased the Strength of his Ales and Beer, and finding that an Article of intermediate strength and price is frequently required, he has made arrangement to supply


In Barrels of 36 and Kilderkins of 18 Gallons, and the [?] Firkin of 9 Gallons.

Orders received at the Brewery, Stratford-upon-Avon; and in Leamington by Mr. W. S. BRETT, 27, Upper Parade.

Jan. 1850.

Taxation and temperance concerns sometimes spurred a reduction of strength by brewers, especially in later periods, but basics of the market could too.

Unless compelled by law, when input prices caused brewers to lower beer strength they were loathe understandably to advertise it. The reverse course was less objectionable.

Strength of course might be maintained by increasing price, which also frequently occurred, but unless the race to the bottom was complete, lowering strength was, if you will, more palatable.

This suggests that statements of brewing strength in textbooks, brewing records, brewing journals, excise records, and other sources, especially of a former time, sometimes did not record the full story, particularly for ephemeral changes driven by market forces.

Added to this was the problem of adulteration by publicans. While sometimes strength might be factitiously increased in this way, especially by adding sugar, molasses or honey for a quick re-fermentation, often it was reduced by a simple and widely-followed expedient: watering.

An old tavern lament, “Damn his eyes who waters the workman’s beer”, had a very real basis in reality.**


*I could not determine how to comment otherwise than as “Anonymous” but appended my name to the remarks.

**Cited in (1975) The Great Canadian Beer Book, Gerald Donaldson and Gerald Lampert, eds.

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