Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Sawdust beer

The British parliament isn't what it was. As these quotes from the debate on the Beer Bill of 1901 prove.

After the passing of the Free Mash Tun Act in 1880, which allowed brewers to use anything that wasn't harmful in the production of beer, there were various attempts to re-impose control on brewing ingredients. The 1901 Beer Bill proposed having two classes of drink: "malt beer" and "part-malt beer".

Sir Cuthbert Quiller spoke eloquently of the injurious effect of the Free Mash Tun Act:

"I should, however, like to point out once more the extraordinary increase of the use of sugar in proportion to malt that has taken place since 1880. In 1870 the quantity of sugar used in brewing was ; 295,000 cwts. ; in 1899 the quantity had increased to 2,943,752 cwts., or ten times the amount. To illustrate what the free mash tun has led to. I hold in my hand a Patent, No. 12241, which was taken out in 1899, for an improved process of converting wood, wood shavings, wood fibre and sawdust, as well as other materials, into glucose and alcohol. I think, Sir, you will agree with me that, if we are to consume glucose at all we i should certainly prefer it to be derived from some other source than sawdust. I am assured that this process has been employed in Germany for the past ten years — for export only, I imagine. Whether the patent lights have been exercised in this country I am unable to say, but, at any rate, 1 think it shows conclusively the necessity for enabling the public to obtain beer which they know has not been derived from any such source."

I don't understand his point. What could possibly be wrong with beer made from sawdust?

Consumer choice, Sir Cuthbert insisted, was what it was all about:

"We are prepared to let the public choose for themselves. The two classes of liquor which are defined in the Bill will stand on their own merits and fight their own battles for popular favour. We are told that people for the most part prefer beer made from chemicals, bright and sparkling. If that is so, they should welcome this Bill, because when they are thirsting for a glass of that chemical beer, which is so much the fashion, there will be no chance of their swallowing any of that thick heavy muddy stuff called "malt beer," which but for this Bill might be thrust upon them. De gustibus non est disputandum. But each person ought to be able to get what kind he likes, whether chemical or otherwise. I have found it very difficult to reconcile the zeal with which advocates of glucose and substitutes defend their concoctions as superior to old-fashioned malt and hops with their anxiety to be allowed to trade under the title of a drink which they assert to be inferior. The principle of warranty is one which it is difficult to attack, and it is this principle which furnishes one of the grounds upon which I ask the House to pass the Bill. It is the principle which underlies all legislation with respect not only to the adulteration of food, but to trade marks, the hall marking of precious metals, and like public safeguards. It is a principle which is already applied by law to beer in the greatest beer-drinking country in the world, and in most other countries force of public opinion is such as to render the employment of substitutes practically non-existent."

Mmmm, lovely chemical beer. "Two pints of chemical and a pint of malt, please." Who wouldn't want to be able to say that at the bar?

(Source: "The parliamentary debates", 1901, pages 1466 - 146.)

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