James Nicholls / “Odious Monopolies: Power, Control, and the 1830 Beer Act” / The Politics of Alcohol / 2009

Sydney Smith / 1771-1845 / English writer and clergyman

After last Gin Act, new act in 1753 required new license application with requirement of clergy signature and signature of 3 or 4 “reputable and influential householders.” Next 50 years saw more licensing requirements, and more desire from drink manufacturers to expand markets. 1830 Beer Act. Victory for free trade capitalism over established power of local economic and political elites. Undid 3 centuries of work that had placed beer under magisterial control. 18th century brewing giants made money via porter. Porter invented 1720. Benefitted from economies of scale like no other. Stored in bulk, transported, less spoiled, produced in vats. One of the first mass produced consumer items in England. 1830 Beer Act brought hitherto unimagined height of laissez-faire economics. 1830, made beer license cost ₤2, no magisterial control, no application to magistrates, no certificate of character, no alehouse license. Result? Syndey Smith: “Everybody is drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling. The sovereign people are in a beastly state.” Now, critics of drink could lump beer and gin together as sources in inebriety and disorder, and then launch teetotalism.


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