When did ABV labelling begin in the UK?

We wrote this post because we wanted to know when brewers started declaring ABV for something else we were working on and assumed a quick Google search would turn up the answer. It didn’t.

Even searching through the excellent British Newspaper Archive, the Guardian, The Times and the Economist didn’t unearth much at first.

We knew that the practice of declaring alcoholic strength on pumpclips and packaging began at some point in the 1980s but we couldn’t work out exactly when.

And the harder it was to find out, the more we became interested in why we couldn’t find it out. Was it just not considered important at the time? How can such a seismic change for consumers have happened under the radar?

Part of the problem, we realised, was that ‘ABV’ didn’t mean much to anyone at the time so changing our search criterion to the full ‘alcohol by volume’ helped a little bit.

From this, we are able to establish that a change in the law was proposed in 1987 by the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in response to an EEC (European Economic Community) directive.

And that was our first surprise – we had assumed it happened as a result of either consumer or CAMRA pressure, or as a result of one of the many government enquiries going on at the time. But it looks like it was actually just an all-but automatic implementation in the UK of European wide legislation.

Here’s the statutory instrument from 1989 in full which specifies that the new requirement to display ABV would become effective from 17 July 1989.

This instrument also specifies that the ABV should be shown to the nearest one decimal place and gives tolerances for acceptable differences between the figure displayed and the actual strength.

So that’s the when – pubs had to start communicating alcoholic strength to customers from July 1989.

We’re still none the wiser as to the politics (or lack of politics) around it, though.

We went through editions of CAMRA’s newspaper What’s Brewing for the relevant period and found one brief reference in October 1987, which was presumably when the move was first announced. The then chairman of CAMRA, Jim Scanlon, commented:

“This is something we have been working on for a long time. The effects will be very interesting and I look forward to a great many drinkers being surprised by the actual strength of their session lagers.”

We haven’t been able to see much evidence of this as a CAMRA priority for the preceding period, although there were plenty of digs at lager, tied pubs, brewery takeovers, additives…

In chapter three of our book Brew Britannia we tell the story of how in 1974 the early Campaign used a sympathetic chemist to compare the original gravity of Big Six beers to independent producers. But we haven’t noticed this translating into a coherent campaign to make breweries or pubs display this information.

A March 1988 follow up article made reference to CAMRA making a submission in response to the MAFF proposal but we haven’t been able to find any consultation documents with our various Google searches.

That piece also quotes a MAFF spokesman saying that strengths would not have to be displayed on handpulls “because we were informed that it would be prohibitively expensive”. The statutory instrument suggests that as long as ABV is declared somewhere, e.g. on a price list, it doesn’t need to be on the pumpclip. So it’s interesting that this is now almost universally how it is done.

In July 1989 when the legislation came into effect, CAMRA marked this momentous occasion with a couple of paragraphs on page six, below a story about Tetley’s providing south east pubs with special dispense mechanisms to recreate a proper northern head.

We couldn’t dig up much industry comment either, which again surprised us – given the general accusation in the air at the time that breweries were systematically making beer weaker, we had assumed they would resist the move.

But perhaps they had been expecting it for a while, or assumed that making a fuss about it would just draw attention to it.

It could also be that with changes in licensing and the 1989 report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, AKA the Beer Orders, that they had other things to focus on.

It’s quite hard to pull together evidence of things not happening, though, so if we’ve got anything wrong here, or you remember debate at the time, please do let us know.

Beer: liquid sex, or substitute for soup?

William Schlackman was an American psychologist specialising in attention grabbing market research projects carried out on behalf of big companies. In 1966 he suggested that, for English drinkers, beer was a substitute for sex.

We’ve struggled to track down a copy of the research report itself which is, uh, frustrating, but there’s a summary of its contents in A Monthly Bulletin for January 1967:

At the superficial Freudian level of the unconscious mind, beer-drinking was found, incredibly, to be equated with sex. More profound research revealed this equation with sex to be but a defence enabling the beer-drinker to deny his true motivation… Hunger, the psychologists pointed out, is strong enough in primitive man to stimulate the hunt and the kill. In primitive man, in other words, hunger is overtly a more powerful drive than sex… It comes as a surprise to most of us to learn from the leader of the brewery’s research team, William Schlackman, an American doctor, that what a beer-drinker feels when opening time approaches “is the primitive tension of the hunt.” In civilised man, as in primitive man, “it may outweigh the sex drive.”

The Daily Mirror also picked up the story, quoting Schlackman extensively. Here’s a clearer explanation of his point about beer and sex, in his own words:

The regular drinker puts his love life secondary to his pub life, which is the real reason why so many marriages founder over drink… Confirmed drinkers are rarely womanisers. In fact, they are often hostile to women and to pubs that encourage women’s custom.

So beer displaces sex – got it.

The Mirror article also picks up on a suggestion by Schlackman that the particularly British taste for “tepid” ale rather than cold lager was because…

Beer, which traditionally even schoolboys used to drink for breakfast, subconsciously bears an image very close to that of soup.

Schlackman’s research team came up with a set of personality types matched to beer preference:

The typical draught-bitter drinker was a farm worker on his way home from the plough-field… The mild-and-bitter drinker: A 50-year-old underpaid clerk, dreaming of winning the pools… The Bass and Worthington drinker: A hairy-chested docker… One of the interviewed people though that the typical Bass drinker would probably be a wife-beater, too.

That’s one of those startling statements that makes clear just how much the perception of brands and types of beer can change over the course of decades.

Of course, this should all be taken with a pinch of salt: this kind of pop Freudian analysis has rather gone out of fashion. In 1969, Schlackman suggested that English people liked tea because it reminded them of home, mother and the womb, which says it all, really.

You can read more about William Schlackman and how he ended up living and working in London this obituary – he died in May at the age of 88.

The mystery of The Golden Lion and The Golden Bee

The Golden Bee is the ‘English pub’ at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, USA, and it has intriguing origins.

We can’t recall how we first heard of it but the part of the official origin story that grabbed our attention was this:

You’ll feel transported right to jolly old England at the Golden Bee, The Broadmoor’s 19th century British Pub. The pub was actually transferred to The Broadmoor panel by panel, directly from the UK.

So, this isn’t a recreation or a sham – it’s a real English pub interior relocated across the Atlantic.

How did this come to happen? And which pub did the fixtures and fittings come from?

There’s something a little exciting about the thought that a London pub long-demolished or converted might live on across the ocean, still serving something like its original function.

Our usual research avenues didn’t turn up much but fortunately, the Broadmoor, being something of an institution, has an archivist, Jamey Hastings, with whom we were able to get in touch. Jamey very kindly provided copies of historic press and publicity notices which, while still contradictory and confusing at times, do provide useful information from close to the moment.

This from the Colorado Springs Gazette for 16 February 1964 gives a good summary of the story and feels as it might be the truth purely because it feels less neat and romantic than the typical marketing blurb:

The fixtures, the bar and accessories are those of an English pub built in the 1880s and later brought to this country intact and set up in New York. When the Broadmoor decided to build the Bee, it asked W. and J. Sloane and Co. to find it some authentic pub fixtures.

The firm did more than that. It found an entire pub, covered with dust, in a warehouse in New York… The pub itself had been operated at one time in an area near the old London Terrace section of New York, once one of the fashionable residential districts of the city.

Another article, from just after the pub launched in 1961, says more or less the same only it specifies that the pub interior went from England to New York as far back as the 19th century.

So far, so good, until we come to a similarly credible story from Broadmoor Bonanza for spring 1984, which suggests a slightly different chain of events:

Forty years ago, The Golden Lion was a popular 17th century pub located near the Thames River in London. It’s not in London anymore but it’s still popular. Now called The Golden Bee, it’s one of The Broadmoor’s truly remarkable traditions… In the mid-1950s, Thayer Tutt, Honorary Chairman of The Broadmoor, heard about an authentic English pub for sale from a friend, Sir Guy Bracewell Smith, who was owner of the Park Lane Hotel in London. The pub was owned by the Whitbread House and they wanted to sell it to an American business to aid in publicizing their ale in the United States. Through the Broadmoor’s interior design firm, W.J. Sloan, and its representative, Leslie Dorsey, Mr Tutt arranged to purchase the dismantled bar for $20,000.

The suggestion here, then, is that the pub was older by about two hundred years, was still intact in London as late as the post-war period, and was owned by Whitbread. That’s plenty of concrete information to latch on to.

So far, though… Nothing. We have a pretty good run of 1950s editions of The House of Whitbread, the brewery’s in-house magazine, and can’t find any mention of this sale. It’s not mentioned in any of the official histories to which we have access, either. Nor does A Monthly Bulletin seem to cover it in any of the issues we’ve got.

One item we did dig up is in The Taverns in the Town by H.E. Popham, from 1937:

In the Fulham High Street is The Golden Lion, a fifty-year-old house standing on the site of a very ancient tavern of the same name. The original building, which dated back to the reign of Henry VII, is said to have been the residence of Bishop Bonner… On the pulling down of the original Golden Lion, the panelling was purchased by Lord Ellenborough for the fitting up of his residence, Southam House, near Cheltenham.

So there was at least one historic Golden Lion interior divorced from its original location and floating around.

At this stage, we’re left with more questions with answers.

Because all the sources are American, and because we suspect a certain amount of obfuscation, it’s certainly possible the details might have got mangled – that the original pub wasn’t called The Golden Lion, or wasn’t in London, or wasn’t owned by Whitbread. Although that last seems the most likely to be true.

So… Does anyone have any evidence that might unlock this? Not guesswork but references to newspapers, books, magazines or other papers that might pin this down.

Further reading: Gary Gillman has been writing extensively about the idea of the English pub in American culture for some time, as in this post. Do check out his back catalogue.