Brewers were keen to push keg bitter and do away with cask-conditioned beer… but why?
In the late nineteen-forties, they had noted (a) falling sales of beer across the board; but (b) a rise in sales of bottled beer. ‘Draught beer’ (cask-conditioned ale) was often poorly kept and had certainly become rather weak in the wake of two world wars.
They had no desire to rebuild or refit every pub cellar, or to retrain every publican; bottling was expensive and inefficient. Kegs and ‘top pressure’ tank beer seemed the obvious solution. In an article in the Financial Times (FT) on 8 August, 1962, Sir Fordham Flower (!), Chairman of Flowers, listed as the ‘essential qualities’ of keg beer:
- an ability to be sterilised
- a capability to withstand fairly high pressures
- a perfect and unalterable measure.
Other advantages became clear as keg’s market share grew. As an analyst in the FT pointed out on 8 September 1965, keg beer’s ‘consistent qualities’ made it ‘a good candidate for national TV advertising… Charrington United, for example, devoted all its recent TV advertising to its keg brand, and the pattern is not exceptional’. As the idea of ‘national beer brands’ arose, cask-conditioning became less and less convenient for brewers.
Finally, brewers seem very genuinely to believe, presumably based on market research, that there was strong demand for colder, more highly carbonated beer among a core market they otherwise feared losing: the young. They wanted a new generation to get into the habit of drinking beer rather than Coca Cola, rum’n'Coke, cider or wine, and so tailored their product to ‘immature tastebuds’ (that 1965 FT reporter again).
So… what if brewers had reacted to early nineteen-sixties consumer protests and added stronger, more characterful, less cold-and-fizzy keg beers to their ranges? Might they have headed off the revolt and succeeded in doing away with cask-conditioned beer altogether? Perhaps those who love cask ale should be grateful the big brewers were so penny-pinching, obstinate and arrogant.
There’s nothing new being said here, of course, but it’s useful for us (and maybe for some others) to have a quick summary of this in once place. More of these posts to follow. Next: why were they so excited about lager? Let us know if you have any questions you want us to look into!