Dr. Johnson’s Stout Waters a Distant Shore, Part III

Without having access to company records and pursuing a detailed study of British brewing economics in 1900-1914, it seemed unlikely I could make further progress in this series. Yet I can, due to the happenstance that an issue of International Brewers’ Journal, No. 45 is available full-view in Google Books and covers 1909.* This is approximately when Barclay Perkins starts to advertise prominently its stout and ale in Victoria, British Columbia (see my Part I and Part II).

All my earlier conclusions are borne out, I’m happy to say, except the idea that Victoria was intended as a depôt to supply Asian or coastal U.S. markets, which is not substantiated to date.

First, take the travails of the industry in general, for which I cited some secondary authority. The journal makes very clear that the years 1901-1909 were continually loss-making for British brewing except for one year’s rally, in 1907. See the discussion at p. 2 of the link above. Barrel “shrinkage” in the eight years was “enormous”.

Regarding Barclay Perkins itself, indeed it had overvalued and written down freehold purchases for pub locations, and the company failed as well that year to declare a common share dividend. Both are confirmed in a Barclay Perkins communication reproduced in the journal, even as the company remained bullish on its general prospects, as companies will. Clearly though the industry and company picture were not encouraging when far-away Victoria beckoned as a new market. See p. 418.

I speculated Victoria appealed due to its strong Britannic character. This is borne out by a research study summarized in the journal that examined the prospects of the Canadian market for British brewing. The message: imported British beer is generally too expensive in Canada at a shilling a bottle, or “a quarter”, and hence only “Englishmen” here can be counted on to buy it. The account does not state Barclay Perkins commissioned the study,  but it is unlikely it didn’t know about it, if only to read it in this issue. See p. 103.

The study was by a H.J. Rodgers, apparently published in Canada. It would be very interesting to put one’s fingers on it; if anyone can, I’ll stand you a pint in Toronto.

Hence, the company was following this advice, or at least was acting consistent with it. Perhaps Barclay Perkins made a similar effort in Newfoundland and other places retaining a strong U.K. character here, but so far I have not found the evidence.

The journal notes at p.176 that beer exports to British North America were 7,729 barrels for the year ended December 31, 1908 (so Canada and Newfoundland), while the U.S. got 66,387 barrels, consistent with its greater population. Clearly Barclay Perkins wanted to increase its share of sales to “BNA” and possibly shore up total North American sales, as the journal notes total industry sales to the U.S. were down, as for British India.

Now, to oatmeal in beer. Remember I stated some of the Barclay Perkins ads touted “two flavours” of stout, one being “oatmeal”?

A correspondent wrote in to ask the journal if approximately 7% oats in the mash would entitle him to call his stout “oatmeal stout”. See p. 130. The journal replied that 7% was the range used by some producers who called their stout just that, hence he might, too. Indeed the journal estimated that 15% would be a “high” rate.

Beer historian Ron Pattinson has examined aspects of this area, see e.g., a blog post from 2016, here. It seems the London porter brewers whose records he examined did not exceed 1%, and 3% was high generally in U.K. brewing with some exceptions such as Maclay Oatmeal Stout (30%).

Nonetheless the journal’s advice in 1909 that 7% oats in the mash tun was typical of oatmeal stout so-labeled is noteworthy given the source, which regularly advised brewers on many kinds of technical issues.

Whatever Barclay Perkins’ oatmeal stout in 1909 held by way of oats, evidently the quantity was thought enough to affect the flavour. Unless the advertising was puffery, which is possible. 

See our next post for one response by a Victoria brewer to the pitch made (sorry) by Barclay Perkins in Victoria.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from this 1910 issue of the Victoria Daily Colonist. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*See Ron Pattinson’s Comment which notes that the journal title is actually Brewers’ Journal. For some reason Google Books includes “International” in the catalogue title.





4 thoughts on “Dr. Johnson’s Stout Waters a Distant Shore, Part III”

  1. For a good sense of the local brewing scene in which Barclay Perkins was trying to make inroads, this 2008 article by journalist, editor and author Ross Crockford is most interesting. One thing local brewing wasn’t was unsophisticated, even at the edge of Canada then off the mainland to boot. As well, Victoria’s water is notably soft, hence ideal for porter…

  2. Just on pricing here in 1911 we see a comparison between Barclay Perkins’ brown stout, Russian stout, and Calgary Beer, presumably made in Calgary. The English beer is more expensive although the spread is not that much. Of course, beer from Calgary was still an import and no doubt beer from Vancouver or Vancouver Island was yet cheaper. It is possible too the price of the English was being kept as low as possible, to help establish the market, and we see this too later when the vendor was absorbing the Canadian war tax.

  3. That book is miscatalogued in Google. It’s The Brewers’ Journal. I’ve no idea where they got in t=international thing from.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: