As long as we’ve been aware of beer, we’ve known that Guinness was the draught stout, utterly dominating the UK pub market. Even the lager market, with its many very similar products, is not ruled by one single company to the same extent.
Their rise to dominance over the stout market happened quickly in the nineteen-fifties and especially in the sixties but, at the end of that period, there was one last serious attempt to challenge it.
Bass Charrington, the biggest group of its kind, and Watney Mann, the Red Barrel concern, will at the month-end launch a test market of Colonel Murphy’s draught stout at 500 pub in the Manchester and Brighton areas. Within a year, they expect to have enough information to give the new product national coverage… If Colonel Murphy’s is a success it will be a blow to Guinness, because between them Bass and Watney control more than 16,500 of Britain’s 60,000 pubs and it is reasonable to assume that the majority of these will be closed to draught Guinness. (The Financial Times, 26 June 1969.)
Unfortunately, the challenge came too late; the summer was hot; and, though they spent plenty on advertising, it wasn’t anywhere near enough to build from nothing a brand to compete with Guinness. Only six months later, the Charrington-Watney alliance conceded defeat. They not only withdrew Colonel Murphy’s from sale in their UK but also signed an agreement to sell draught Guinness in all of their pubs. Guinness had won.
Fittingly, they announced the end of hostilities, and their unconditional surrender, on 11 November. Beer geeks welcomed the conquerors with open arms.