Saturday, 16 February 2013

Barley supplies in Germany in 1948

With food of all kinds in short supply in the years after WW2, brewers in the British zone of Germany made several attempts to get permission from the military government to use barley, says an article in March 1948 in the newly-founded young news magazine Der Spiegel.

The brewers first requested 46,000 tons of barley to make 15 million hectolitres of beer. When both this and a second request was declined by the Brits, the brewers asked for 37,500 tons of barley with which to make 11 million hectolitres of 1.7% small beer. For comparison the peacetime production across the country had been 45 million hl at 12%.

I think the figures the Spiegel calls percent must be degrees Plato rather than ABV, otherwise they don’t make sense. 12 Plato would give us a beer of around 5%, which sounds about right for peacetime beer. That means the 1.7 beer is even weaker than it looks, as 1.7 Plato is next to nothing.

“The British zone is the driest region in all of Germany”, the Spiegel notes. The British had banned the production of all alcohol, whereas in the French zone a 2% beer was permitted and 3% in the Russian zone. 

Just 17 of the 250 breweries in the British zone were allocated barley for making beer. They brewed beer for the NAAFI at 8.5 (this must surely also be Plato. I can’t see Tommy quaffing an 8.5% ABV beer, or being in a fit state to keep order the next day), and were permitted to make 50,000 hl of full-strength beer for export. This went to the old German export markets in South Africa, South America, Egypt and Australia.

Before the war Germany had been exporting between 600,000 and 900,000 hl. Now the brewers were having to turn down export orders because they had no barley to brew with.

As you might expect, there was political pressure not to “waste” scarce grain on brewing beer. The brewers argued that the 46,000 tons of barley they wanted comprised only 0.75% of Germany’s grain consumption – the equivalent of one thin slice of bread a week per person. It was even suggested (by whom is not clear) that bread ration coupons could be used for beer.

Enter the wily Professor Dr. Hermann Fink, who managed to argue convincingly that it was better to make beer from grain than to feed the grain to animals. At least, convincingly enough for the northwest brewers’ associations at whose conference he was speaking.

His argument is summarised in this charming diagram. After making beer you can feed the spent grain, yeast and trub to cattle and pigs, which builds more fat, apparently, than just feeding barley to pigs.

The comparison comes out expressed as vital, nutritious fat: 60 tons if using the barley as animal feed; 74.3 tons if the grain is processed into beer first.



Brewing vs. animal feed

42,300 hl full-strength beer or 500,000 hl small beer
and 45 tons malt shoots and 225 tons spent grain

710 tons full cream milk
682 tons buttermilk and skimmed milk

23.7 tons of butter fat
50.6 tons of pork fat
Total 74.3 tons fat


The brewers were unsurprisingly delighted by this convenient discovery, and made sure to make use of Prof Fink’s argument in their representations to the military government. It had little effect: the occupying commanders pointed out that British and American breweries were also having to restrict their output to conserve grain. The beer consumption of the USA had dropped by 35% since 1946 and the British were drinking only 1.9 million standard barrels, down from 2.5 million in 1946. (Since this is expressed in standard barrels, it’s quite possible the Brits were drinking the same number of pints of weaker beer, or even slightly more.)

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