Connection between alcohol and sugar?

In his famous 1940s essay on “British Cookery” – British Cookery | The Orwell Foundation – George Orwell wrote, regarding the unusual presence of sugar in British cuisine:

“Part of the trouble is that alcohol, even beer, is fantastically expensive and has therefore come to be looked on as a luxury to be drunk in moments of relaxation, not as an integral part of the meal.”


  1. WHY was alcohol (or perhaps, still is?) so fantastically expensive in a country that produces plenty of barley, wheat and hops?!

  2. What is the connection here, anyway, between alcohol consumption and sugar consumption?

I suspect it is as simple as alcohol and sugar both being seen as a luxury and the unavailability of one through cost can be offset by the addition of the other, more ubiquitous commodity.

And I don’t know about alcohol costs in the 40’s (but rationing was obviously an issue) but certainly these days cost is not a factor. A 500ml bottle of decent beer is a pound, a decent bottle of wine a fiver. So certainly that concept of alcohol as a luxury is no longer the case.

Scotch is made with sugar, as are all hard liquors, beer was mentioned as an also. But beer gets its sugars from the grains, so not sure why it was mentioned unless the Brits added sugar back in the day.

He explains in the very next sentence:

The majority of people drink sweetened teas with at least two of their daily meals, and it is therefore only natural that they should want the food itself to taste excessively sweet.

i.e. Alcohol is expensive, therefore most people drink tea, which they drink very sweet. So they develop a taste for sweet things in general.

Although sugar may also be used in the production of spirits (rum particularly comes to mind), Whisky is a grain spirit made from malted barley (hence ‘malts’). It’s essentially distilled ale.

Sugar additions are also quite common in British beer styles.


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As to relative expense of alcoholic beverages in the UK, they have always been heavily taxed. Current duty on moderate strength beers is 42 pence in the pound.


Why is it that alcohol is heavily taxed? Is it an effort to discourage drinking? Same reason British pubs have early closing times?

Orwell wrote elsewhere (in “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius”) of England having a lot of puritanical laws “that are designed to interfere with everything but in practice allow everything to happen.”

Its taxed for a variety of reasons. England started taxing malt in the mid 1600s. They’ve used many schemes and have has almost as many weird periods as the US has since then. If you get a chance check out the history of the whiskey rebellion in the US.

I suspect for the opposite reason. As prohibition showed demand for alcoholic beverages is relatively inelastic. As long as they are not so heavily taxed as to create a thriving black market taxes on alcohol keep rolling in. Black market alcohol does exist, but it’s a minor market that mainly relies on smuggling from lower taxed jurisdictions. The production of untaxed alcohol is a strictly niche enterprise.

Because people will pay the tax and won’t boycott the product.

I guess there might be a slight puritanical element too. It’s much less morally ambiguous to tax perceived vices, rather than, say, life saving drugs, or sanitary products. :wink:

I believe this was a consequence of WW1. Of course, now they don’t have to shut early (lockdown restrictions notwithstanding) - pubs and bars can now stay open 24hrs, subject to licensing.