Low grain prices and growth of brewing and distilling

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Stampfer
Posts: 2
Joined: 16 Aug 2020, 06:11

Low grain prices and growth of brewing and distilling

Post by Stampfer »

Greetings

I am a retired teacher of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I work mainly on East European history - Jewish and general.
In early modern Eastern Europe, there was a period when there was a grain surplus and landowners responded to the glut of grain by expanding distilling and marketing frameworks. I came across a statement by the late Joan Thirsk stating that this also took place in England. She wrote the following in her introduction to the English edition of Wilhelm Abel's Agricultural Fluctuations in Europe (London, 1980):
"When all countries of Europe suffered in the seventeenth century from the depressing effects of low grain prices, England's recourse to brewing and distilling as a way of using up corn was exactly the same as that used in countries as distant as Poland and Bohemia."
I would be grateful for references to studies, articles, or books that discuss this development in Great Britain. I would like very much to compare developments in Great Britain with developments in Poland.
I thank you very much for your attention.
Shaul Stampfer / Jerusalem

rwhoyle
Posts: 31
Joined: 25 Jun 2017, 13:45

Re: Low grain prices and growth of brewing and distilling

Post by rwhoyle »

Dear Professor Stampfer,

Webweaver has pointed out to me that no one has answered your query, which is a good one, and so like a fool I will plunge in. I am a little handicapped in that I am on holiday and so have no access to my books, so I could perhaps add more to this when I get home.

I fear that I cannot put my finger on a single book which answers your query or even a body of literature as such. There is doubtless material in the volumes of the Agrarian History of England and Wales V (ed. Thirsk) and VI (ed. Mingay) and I think this is the place to start.

It is taken that the consumption of both beer and spirits grew over the eighteenth century: we know a great deal about what was being drunk in the eighteenth century because beer and spirits attracted the Excise – but this really does take me into areas with which I am unfamiliar, but I can have a look for material when I get home if that would be welcome.

There are studies of brewing by Peter Mathias and Richard Wilson. John Chartres was engaged on a book on eighteenth-century distilling but he retired before it was finished and I would doubt if it will now appear.

The other aspect which might be of interest is the export trade in barley into the Netherlands – I have always understood this to be largely for the benefit of the Dutch distilling trade (barley out – gin by return!). There is a book (which you might find hard to get hold of though) by David Ormrod, English grain exports and the structure of agrarian capitalism, 1700-1760 (1985) which is probably the place to start. Ormrod wrote further on Anglo-Dutch trade. He is now retired, but is still active, so he may be the person to approach about this dimension of the question.

Taking Joan’s comment a little further, you might also think of starch production as a further way is using up grain. I might query her comment however: it is not clear to me which is chicken and which is egg. Did brewing and distilling etc develop as a response to low prices? Or did barley production in particular increase as a response to the marketing opportunities offered by brewing and distilling? I would probably lean towards the latter.

Let me know if I can help further. You have prompted some interesting thoughts, so whilst this is your project, I might well take an interest in it!

Richard Hoyle

Stampfer
Posts: 2
Joined: 16 Aug 2020, 06:11

Re: Low grain prices and growth of brewing and distilling

Post by Stampfer »

This is very useful - and to think that you had all of the references even though you are not at your home base.
Thank you very much!
Shaul Stampfer

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