Pure Beer Debate


  compiled by Mike Retzlaff

In Britain, long before the “Free Mash Tun Act” of 1880, the question had been debated as whether sugar should be used in brewing at all.  It remained a continuing subject of controversy.  A Pure Beer Bill had been promoted in Parliament, and a Beer Materials Committee had sat from 1896 to 1899.

Following the arsenic scare of 1900-1901 (see Arsenic Poisoning), meetings were held in various parts of the country to press for a statutory definition of beer as brewed exclusively from barley malt, hops, yeast and water.  Alternatively, labeling rules might be introduced, so that consumers would know what adjuncts had been used.  Also following the scare, some breweries announced that in the future their beers would be brewed from malt and hops only.  The Pure Beer Bill before Parliament was withdrawn after the Royal Commission issued its first report in July 1901.

A writer in the Manchester Guardian took the opportunity to advocate the introduction of another pure beer law in Britain.  He suggested that legislation on the materials used in beer should be brought in, and thought it rather humiliating that England’s great rivals in the production of beer, the Bavarians, had actually done this nearly four hundred years previously.  He argued that beer should be made from malt, hops and water only, which might demand more skill from the brewer, but would eliminate the danger of a beer made with chemicals which looked correct but was not.  He also advocated the use of German-style cold fermentation.

Before the Royal Commission, Sir Lauder Brunton referred to the demand that no glucose or sugar but only malt and hops should be used, but said that he was told that this would make it difficult to brew ‘the light beers similar to the German laager [sic] or Pilsener beers which have come to be so extensively drunk in this country within the last thirty years’.  He also pointed out that English and German barleys were different.

R.C. Garton – a partner in Garton, Hill & Co, brewing sugar manufacturers of Battersea – spoke in praise of sugars in brewing.  In his view, they were not adulterants, but represented progress in brewing science.

T.W. Lovibond, managing director of Newcastle Breweries, which he described as a business involving £2 million and 200,000 barrels a year, stated that he considered sugars a practical necessity for modern brewing. If adjuncts generally were prohibited, more foreign barley would have to be used in brewing, as only the very best English barley was suitable for use on its own.

Lovibond, who had been chairman of the Country Brewers’ Society in 1899-1900, noted that in September 1899 there were approximately 6,796 breweries, of which nearly 5,000 were publican-brewers, 300 were small breweries, and only 1,400 of any importance. Newcastle Breweries used inverted cane sugar (inverted by yeast, not sulfuric acid) and maize grits. The use of adjuncts enabled them to brew a better beer more quickly than an inferior all-malt beer.  Since about 1880 the public had developed a taste for lighter and cleaner beers.  “Light all-malt lager-type beer could be brewed in this country,” he said; “Tennent’s of Glasgow produces a good ‘lager’, as does the Tottenham Brewery, London, but there is no great demand for it.”  The main difference with German beers was in the method of mashing, although the malt was also dried differently. 

Rudolf Wahl of the Nord-Deutsche Kartoffel-Mehl Fabrik, Küstrin, (North German Potato Flour Factory) stated that glucose was used by German brewers.  Its use was prohibited in Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden, ‘for political purposes’ in the interests of farmers, but Wahl asserted that ‘it is publicly known that [brewers] do use substitutes – they smuggle them into Bavaria’.  Rice was also used.  Wahl noted that the solid glucose used in brewing in North Germany was mainly for top-fermented beer.

C.S. Reed, a former MP for Norfolk, said that he had drunk ‘some exceedingly bad beer’ in his time, and blamed the substitutes, pure malt beer being harmless.

gleaned from:

The 1900 Arsenic Poisoning Epidemic  by Peter Dyer – Brewery History vol. 130


Thomas Watson Lovibond (referenced above) was the younger brother of Joseph Williams Lovibond who in ca. 1885 invented the Tintometer and the Lovibond scale for malt and beer color.  Their father, John Locke Lovibond, started a brewery in the West Country in 1834.  He moved to Greenwich and bought another brewery in 1847.  He built a new brewery there in 1865 and started a partnership in this brewery with his four sons in 1872.  All prospered in the brewing business.

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