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Wednesday, 15 August 1906

Mr FOWLER (Perth) . - I regret that I am compelled to return to the discussion of the matter now before the Committee, after having taken up some little time last night. But it is the duty of the members of the Tariff Commission to meet the criticisms that have been levelled against their recommendations, more especially when certain members are under a total misapprehension as to their effect. I listened yesterday to some very elaborate, if not instructive, disquisitions upon the constituents and qualities of alcoholic liquors, and I feel called upon to reply to some of the remarks made by honorable members, because, in my opinion, they are very misleading. The trouble has arisen through a misunderstanding of the terms used by chemists in dealing with questions of this kind. We hear the word "impurities" used in a sense that is entirely misleading as applied to alcoholic spirits. There is no doubt that alcohol, by a very exhaustive process, can be made absolutely pure, and this purity is what chemists aim at securing when they wish to obtain alcohol for laboratory purposes. The alcoholic liquors of commerce, however, are distilled in such a way that they retain certain impurities - as chemists would call them - which give them their distinctive qualities, and, to a large extent, their wholesome properties. In this connexion, I may also remark that the best chemists admit th'at chemistry is, to a large extent, at fault in dealing with the analysis of alcoholic liquors. The science of chemistry has not yet reached such a stage that chemists can definitely tell us the effects of the various constituents of alcohol. They can discover these constituents, but they have ultimately to fall back upon the older experience of those who have adopted practically a rule of thumb to decide what is good and bad in alco- \holic liquors. Fortunately, we are able to conclude, with a fair amount of certainty, that experience forms a safe guide in connexion with these matters. There is no doubt as to what brandy 'and whisky were originally. Whisky was a preparation of malt spirit, distilled by pot stills, and brandy was a preparation of spirit distilled from wine by the same process. But the introduction of the patent still Kas brought about a considerable mystification, both in alcoholic liquors and in the minds of the public. I wish to refer specifically to the statements made by certain honorable members with regard to tEe manufacture of brandy. I said fast night, and I repeat, that I question whether a single gallon of brandy is made in Australia bv the methods employed in the production of the finer qualities of French brandies. I hold in mv hand a pamphlet issued as the result of an inquiry- into the distillation of brandy, and the constituents of that spirit by a Commission brought into existence in England a few years ago, at the instance of that well-known medical journal, the Lancet. This pamphlet represents the most advanced and complete views on the question. It contains distinct information as to the methods necessary to be adopted to produce the higher qualities of brandy. To begin with, it is stated -

The peculiar pleasing characteristics of genuine old Cognac brandy must be referred, not to alcohol at all, but what the French call the "impuretes" of brandy, that is to say, to the secondary products of distillation.

In another part of the pamphlet we are told how this process of distillation is conducted. The wine is, of course, heated in the usual way. The first portion that goes through the still is put aside. The central portion is also put aside, and then the third portion is silimarly dealt with. The central portion is again distilled, and the central portion of that distillation is what' is known as brandy of the highest quality. I very much doubt whether that method of distillation has ever been practised in Australia to any considerable extent. With regard to the ageing of spirits, we have heard it stated in this House that ageing has practically no effect - that there is really nothing in it. The Lancet Commission, however, express themselves very definitely upon this point. They say -

The differences as regards chemical composition which will be seen to exist between old and new brandy are not so much in kind as degree. One effect of age upon the composition of brandy which can easily be traced is that of oxidation, a small depreciation, of alcohol occurring in favour of aldehydes and acetic acid..... This loss is chiefly alcohol ; there is a corresponding increase in ethers, in higher alcohols, and what may be called " vinosity " develops, coupled with " finesse and style.

There is an indication of the distinct .difference between the new and the old alcoholic spirit. The remarks that I have quoted with regard to brandy apply also to whisky. It is a' matter of common experience with every one in the trade, and even with those who indulge in alcoholic stimulants, that the older spirit is undoubtedly finer and more palatable than that which is new.

Mr Salmon - Has the honorable member read the opinion expressed by the Lancet with regard to Australian brandy?

Mr FOWLER - Yes.

Mr Salmon - Has the honorable member read any better opinion?

Mr FOWLER - No, I have not. I agree that the Australian brandy, as at present exported, is honest in character, that it is pure, and not blended brandy. My point, however, is that the very best methods are not yet adopted in Australia.

Mr Salmon - And yet we produce the best brandy.

Mr FOWLER - Our brandy is, per- . haps, equal in quality to a good deal of the standard French brandy, but I am not sure that the finer qualities of French brandy are not superior, perhaps only from the epicure's stand-point.

Mr Salmon - The Lancet places Australian brandy first.

Mr FOWLER - I have not seen any statement to the effect that Australian brandy is equal to the finer qualities of French brandy.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What would be the Lancet's standard of judgment - the medical standard?

Mr FOWLER - I am quite in the dark with regard to the statement to which the honorable member for Laanecoorie refers. I am not aware that the Lancet has said in as many words that the Australian brandy is superior to the very finest products of the Charente district in France.

Mr Salmon - They call Australian brandy the finest in the world.

Mr FOWLER - I shall be very glad if the honorable member can show me that that judgment has been pronounced. I wish now to refer to the point made by the honorable member for Bland yesterday, when he contended that the differentiation made by the Tariff Commission between the duties on pure and blended brandies was nonsensical - that it was ridiculously insufficient. I take it that members of this Par-' liament, who have devoted a considerable amount of time to the investigation of the question - who have gone into it thoroughly and earnestly, and with as much ability as they possess - are scarcely likely to put forward a proposition which amounts to nonsense. I am prepared upon general ^grounds to defend our recommendation in that respect, as representing a very fairaverage as between the two qualities of liquor. Anybody who has. read the evidence tendered to- the Commission will realize that I am entirely in sympathy with the development of a trade in pure brandy. I do not at all like the idea of fostering a trade in the blended article. At the same time, the Commission could not ignore a considerable volume of evidence which was submitted to it, to the effect that blended brandy is an article of commerce, and that, as a matter of fact, it is preferred by some persons to the pure article. When honorable members point out that the difference between the cost of. the production 'of the two articles is very great, they are looking at the wrong end of the question altogether. There is no doubt that the difference between the cost, of producing the two classes of brandy is as one to four.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member is speaking of spirit now.

Mr FOWLER - I am speaking of the difference between the cost of producingpure brandy and that of producing the blended article. But when we come to the selling price, which, after all, is what de'termines the trade in these articles, we find that there is nothing like the differ- ence which I have indicated. For example, let us take the price of a bottle of pure brandy, as against that of a bottle of blended brandy. At the very most, upon my calculations, the difference between their price would be about 4d. or 6d. When it is recollected that each bottle of pure Australian brandy will - -if the recommendation of the Commission be adopted - carry with it a Government certificate of quality, I think honorable members will realize that that fact in itself offers a considerable preference to the superior article.

Mr Poynton - We have already seen samples with labels upon them, and I should like to know what is the good of

Mr FOWLER - The honorable member is speaking of labels which are attached to bottles under existing conditions. .

Mr Poynton - Under conditions such as the Commission have recommended.

Mr FOWLER - No. The recommendation of theCommission, which is not included in the proposal of the Minister of Trade and Customs, extends the necessary protection to the pure article.

Mr Poynton - There is no supervision exercised over spirit when once it has been taken out of bond.

Mr FOWLER - I would point out to the honorable member that if he were sellingbrandy it is not likely that he would take off the genuine article a label guaranteeing its quality, in order to depreciate its value. The Commission recommend that that guarantee should attach only to the superior article, and I think it' is obvious thatnobody engaged in handling such an article would belikely to deprive it of the value which the label imparted to it. Take the position of any customer who desires to purchase a bottle of brandy. Let us assume that he enters an hotel or a shop and states his requirement. He wishes to purchase a bottle of good brandy. Let us further suppose that he is shown the pure brandy with the Government stamp of quality attached to the bottle, and also the blended article with its distinctive markupon it.

Mr Poynton - Why does the Commission allowsuch a small margin in the case of the genuine article as compared with the blended article?

Mr FOWLER - I will deal with that matter presently. Let us suppose that the customer asks what is the price of the two articles which have been shown to him. He would probably be told that the difference between the cost of the better article and that of the blended brandy was not more than 4d. or 6d. per bottle. How many persons desiring to obtain the better article would hesitate to pay that extra price when the guarantee of quality was attached to it?

Mr Poynton - But pure brandy cannot be produced for 6d. per bottle extra.

Mr FOWLER - Yes it can. It can be sold at no greaterincrease upon theprice of the blended article than 66. per bottle.

Mr Poynton - The additional cost of the material from which it is distilled represents considerably more than that sum.

Mr FOWLER - I have already pointed out that when honorable members talk of the cost of producing a pure brandy they are looking at the wrong end of the question. I admit that the cost of the production of the two articles is as one to four. But when that amount is . added to the duty, and to one or two profits, and a gallon of pure brandy is divided into six parts - six bottles contain a gallon - honorable members will see that the difference between the price of the genuine as against the blended article is not more than 4d. or, at the most, 6d. per bottle. Here arises the difficulty of stimulating the production of Australian brandy with which the Tariff Commission was met. As honorable members are aware, my sympathies are all in one direction. But the evidence was conclusive that blended brandy was an article which was regularly put upon the market, and which was even sought afterby some persons in preference to pure brandy. When we came to consider the situation, most of us realized that it would be a very improper proposal to levy upon the cheaper article a duty which was altogether out of proportion to that imposed upon the superior article. In other words, it would be wrong to compel the purchaser of blended brandy to pay into the revenue of the country a contribution which was decidedly out of proportion to that paid by the purchaser of pure brandy.

Mr Poynton - My complaint is that the Commission recommends the extension of an advantage to the purchaser of the inferior article.

Mr FOWLER - If honorable members will take the trouble to look into the matter they will see that the recommendation of the Commission would impart a considerable stimulus to the production of a pure Australian brandy. If the trade in that article has developed under the conditions which have hitherto existed, it is only reasonable to assume that it will progress much more rapidly under the stimulus which would be imparted to it by the adoption, of the recommendation of the Commission. Some honorable members apparently have not studied our recommendations, and do not realize that protection to the genuine article is part and parcel of our scheme. I think that I ought to remind those who talk so much about genuine Australian brandy that there are certain classes of wines used in the production of that article which, to put it mildly, do not make the highest classes of brandy. For instance, there is a good deal of " off " wine used ; that is to say, wine which has gone wrong in the process of manufacture, and which is distilled at a very high degree of rectification in order to make it less objectionable. M)[ opinion is that the public should be protected from that sort of thing.

Mr Watson - But we need not provide for that in the Tariff.

Mr FOWLER - That is so. Those who talk so loudly about genuine brandy will have to carry their contention to its logical conclusion. "Undoubtedly the Tariff Commission has not done so. Its members have adopted a commercial, attitude towards these matters, and it is rather discouraging to us - after due consideration has been given to these phases cf the question - to hear honorable members criticise us because of the severely commercial nature of our recommendations.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member is too sensitive.

Mr FOWLER - No ; I welcome criticism in connexion with our recommendations.

Mr Poynton - Then why is the honorable member complaining?

Mr FOWLER - I am complaining of the lack of consideration which has been given to those recommendations.

Mr Kennedy - What shall we do when we have to consider recommendations upon which the members of the Commission are divided ?

Mr FOWLER - No doubt the honorable member, with his keen intellect, will assess those recommendations at their proper value. Last evening I listened at tentively to the complaint of the honorable member for North Sydney in regard to the alleged hardships which would be imposed upon importers if the recommendation of the Commission in regard to keeping imported spirits in bond for two years were given effect to in the absence of fair warning. Undoubtedly, the honorable member speaks as one with considerable experience in commercial matters, but I must confess that I am not able to agree with him as to the hardship that would be inflicted. There is no doubt that a very considerable quantity of immature spirit finds its way into Australia and passes into consumption. The bonding of that spirit, until it has attained an age of two years, would not in any way damage the interests of the persons who own it. It is a well known fact that spirit acquires an added value in accordance with the length of time which it is kept in bond.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member will see that satisfactory proof of age could scarcely be forthcoming in regard to spirit which has already been shipped, or which is now in bond, and if we prohibited all that from passing into consumption, there would be no supplies. That was the point which I endeavoured to put.

Mr FOWLER - I understand that the honorable member desires that facilities for proving the age of imported spirit should be provided before the "recommendations of the Commission are given effect to.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I desire that notice shall be given of our intention.

Mr FOWLER - I take it that all the bonds record the time at which spirits go into the charge of Customs officers.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was refer- 1 ring to spirits which are on their way to Australia, or which have been in bond' for only a few months.

Mr FOWLER - I was about to suggest that it might be advisable to make a special allowance in the case of spirits which are already upon the water, but I must say that the necessity for allowing a full two years to elapse before the recommendation of the Commission was given effect to does not seem to me to be a very urgent one.


Mr Hutchison - Will the honorable member tell the Committee how spirit distilled by means of a' patent still, improves with age?

Mr FOWLER - Even the best chemist in the world cannot tell that. Undoubtedly we have not sufficient chemical knowledge to enable us to enumerate all the processes which take place.

Mr Conroy - That was the case seven or eight years ago, but it is not so to-day.

Mr FOWLER - The members of the Commission know that it is a fact, culled from the experience of those who handle alcoholic liquors, that even patent still spirit does improve with age. Those spirits undoubtedly carry with them a proportion of the secondary constituents of the wash.

Mr Conroy - A rectified spirit does not improve with age.

Mr FOWLER - Trouble once more arises in connexion with the use of the word " rectified." I have already pointed out that there is no absolutely rectified spirit in commerce, although a little may be found in chemical .laboratories. What is in commerce called " rectified spirit " is that which has undoubtedly been distilled at a high degree of rectification, but which still contains all the essential characteristics of the product from which it has been derived.

Mr Watson - That is hardly correct. Spirit rectified to from 65 to 70 per cent, overproof contains practically none of the characteristics of that from which it comes.

Mr FOWLER - There is a corresponding shortage of those characteristics.

Mr Watson - That is so.

Mr FOWLER - It still contains a proportionate quantity of the secondary constituents of that alcohol which is distilled at a lower strength ; and none of the socalled rectified spirit known to commerce is entirely devoid of these secondary constituents. J "While, undoubtedly, pot-still whisky or brandy shows a distinct change in ageing, that change is shown - although I admit that it is in a less degree - in the case of highly rectified spirit. In this connexion I would point out that it is notorious that deeds of violence perpetrated -in the larger cities of the old world by persons under the influence of liquor are almost invariably traceable to the drinking of that whisky known .as raw grain spirit. It is a matter of common opinion in Great Britain that that spirit has a maddening, effect upon the brain, and a very objectionable effect upon the general health of those who consume it. In the case of spirit which has been kept for a few years, however, those objectionable qualities disappear in a degree corresponding with its age.

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