Mixing of beer by publicans and other retailers has been a no-no for centuries in Britain and probably elsewhere. Yet, as late as 1887, they were still arguing the legal fine points, as this case, Crofts v. Taylor, shows, a decision of the English Queen’s Bench.
Here’s what happened. A public house in Brick Lane, London was shown to have mixed two beers. One from Barclay’s was – my calculation from gravity numbers in the case – 5.7% abv, the other, a “small beer” from a dealer, only 2.4% abv.*
The savvy publican mixed them in such a way to produce a blend of 4.6% abv, whose taste as well would be drier than the Barclay’s beer, 1010.4 FG vs. 1013 FG. It’s not clear how or if he had labeled or retailed the mixture, i.e., I think perhaps the revenue agent found the blend in the cellar before any tapping.
The mixing statute prohibited adulterating or diluting “beer” or adding anything to it except finings. The key issue was, did Crofts dilute beer by mixing a weaker beer with a stronger? The magistrate held yes; the appeal judges agreed, although not without some difficulty in the case of one judge.
He worried a bit over the habit to order “half and half” in the pub, and noted as did the other judge that the required revenue had been paid, so was it clear Crofts had really diluted “beer”? If he had added water, that would be different, but as each component in the mix was “beer” and only that, arguably nothing was being adulterated.
In the result though, these doubts were resolved in favour of upholding the trial decision. Both appeal judges considered that not just revenue collection was at play here, but also the need not to humbug the customer if I can put it that way.
I must say had I heard the case, I might have had trouble to convict, as proof in such matters must be beyond a reasonable doubt and I am not sure the statute, as drafted in that particular case, went quite so far as it might have to discharge that burden.
There is always I think a policy factor that plays into court decisions of this type, and the court didn’t want the pubs to mix and match the beers in bulk as commercially supplied, end of the story.
And so the court decided against Crofts. He traded at 40 Brick Lane. Although I couldn’t quite reconcile the civic numbers on the fascias, I think it is this building at the corner (possibly rebuilt), now a hair salon.
What do you think though, was Crofts hard done by?
Note re image: the image above was sourced from the clipart site, here, which has authorized use for the purposes hereof.
*Rather late I think to be selling small beer in London, but there we have it, plus useful, court-approved numbers for its alcohol content then.