Bass – what a litigious bunch they were. Search the newspaper archive for “Bass’s bottled beer” and you’ll find almost as many court cases as advertisements selling it.
I like this article because it goes into more detail. More detail about how Bass uncovered fraudulent imitations of their beer. More detail of how that fraud was perpetrated and the excuses of the perpetrators.
Plus there’s an appearance of Mr. Sullivan, legendary brewing chemist at Bass. Though hang on, wasn’t he called O’Sullivan? I wonder if it’s the same bloke and the newspaper has got his name wrong? Or maybe Bass really did have one chemist called Sullivan and another O’Sullivan.
“BASS’S BOTTLED BEER.
IMPORTANT PROSECUTION AT MIDDLESHROUGH.
Mr Robert Conway, grocer and ale merchant, of North Ormesby, appeared before the Middlesbrough County Magistrates this (Friday) morning to answer a charge of unlawfully using the trade mark of Messrs Bass and Co., the famous firm of brewers at Burton-on-Trent. The local agent of the firm (Mr Cox) attended, in company with Mr Burton, solicitor, to prosecute; and Mr George Barnley defended. — The circumstances of the case were almost identically tbe same as those elicited in the course of a similar prosecution at Stockton on Thursday, and reported in last evening’s Gazette. — The first witness was William Layton, a workman employed at Messrs Bass’s local stores. He said that on the 16th of May he went into Mr Conway’s shop and enquired of the person in attendance whether Bass’s bottled ale was sold there. Witness received an affirmative reply, and at once ordered a dozen and a half of half-pint bottles of pale ale. On obtaining the ale, witness securely sealed the whole of the bottles, and sent six of them to Mr Sullivan (analytical chemist to Messrs Bass) for the purpose of being tested in quality and constituents. Witness now produced the remaining dozen bottles for the inspection of the Bench. — Mr Sullivan, the chemist, was then called to give evidence with respect to tbe result of his analysis. He explained the process he had adopted in his experiments with the ale. He said that the result generally was the discovery of the fact that the ale sent for analysis did not contain the particular chemical constituents possessed by Messrs Bass’s pale ale. The bottles bore the labels of Messrs Bass and Co. Witness said the ale in the bottles was probably worth about 42s per barrel, whilst the pale ale sold by Messrs Bass was worth 60s per barrel. — Mr Barnley, in addressing the Bench for the defence, said he was prepared to produce evidence to show that an assistant in Mr Conway’s employ accidentally — or, rather, carelessly got some Burton ale mixed with Messrs Bass’s beer in the process of bottling. The defendant could not be made responsible for such carelessness on the part of his men, because if a master were held responsible for every act of carelessness on his servants’ behalf he might suddenly find himself before the Bench on a charge of manslaughter if a servant happened to put some poison in the beer. — George Broadbury, an assistant in the defendant’s employ, was then called as a witness for the defence. He stated that when bottling off the ale it was usual to shift the syphon receivers from one cask of ale to another without drawing up the syphons. By this means a small quantity of the beer that was left in the receiver would be bottled with the first part of the other cask. Since he found out that it was needful to empty the receivers he had always been very careful to do so. — The Bench then retired, and, after about twenty minutes’ consultation returned into Court. The Chairman (Mr Hustler) said the Bench thought there was not sufficient evidence to support the charge, and they, therefore, dismissed the case.”
Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough – Friday 06 June 1884, page 3.
It sounds as if Bass sent their employees round to buy beer from those they suspected of selling counterfeit Bass. As Mr. Conway was bottling beer himself, presumably Bass would have been aware if he had bought beer from them. If someone was selling “Bass” but hadn’t bought any barrels, that would look pretty dodgy. I suppose that’s when Bass sent someone around to buy a few bottles. Or maybe they just checked all the bottlers they didn’t have a good relationship with.
What was the chemist looking for? Gravity is the most obvious one. Bass would know the gravity range of their Pale Ale. If a weaker beer had been substituted – the obvious course if you wanted to get maximum profit – it would be pretty easy to spot. That the beer was valued at just 42 shillings implies that, in this case, it was weaker. In 1897, Fuller’s XK cost a little more, 45 shillings, and had an OG of 1055º*. In 1887 Bass Pale Ale had an OG of 1064, according to an analysis** I have. Much higher than the 1052º or so of the counterfeit (according to my guesstimate).
The mineral content would be another item to check. Bass’s brewing water had a pretty distinctive profile and, while it wasn’t be identical in the finished beer, Bass knew how it changed. Because they analysed both their brewing water and their beer during the strychnine scare of the 1850’s. The mineral content is probably what is meant by “particular chemical constituents”.
The explanation that some other beer remained in the syphon receiver it was inadvertently mixed with real Bass sounds like bollocks to me. Surely that would have only affected a few bottles? I’m surprised Mr. Carter got away with it. Nice the way he blamed his employee for the “mistake”.
This is unusual in being the only case I can recall Bass losing. It really was Carter’s lucky day.
* Source: Fuller’s brewing records.
** Wahl & Henius, pages 823-830.