Draught Guinness in the 1960s

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tommy Marling takes the temperature of draught Guinness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom.

When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.

It appears as part of an article called (rather long-windedly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guinness Runs Smoothly… The Service Representatives’ from the Spring 1971 edition.

First, there are some helpful numbers:

In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guinness as in 1956. Fifteen years ago the number of outlets could be counted in hundreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devotees of draught Guinness can get their favourite brew.

By way of context, in those mid-1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve been trawling through draught Guinness is frequently mentioned as a sign of an interesting pub in much the same way, say, BrewDog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still noteworthy, and a welcome sight for many beer geeks.

The article goes on to give some specific details of how the roll out happened and (something that still generates debate and confusion) how it was dispensed at various times:

Before the Park Royal brewery was built draught Guinness came in wooden casks as it had done for generations, from Dublin to our Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow stores and to the London docks. There were then a few specialist outlets largely patronised by Irish afficionados of draught Guinness.

(That is, Murphy’s, Ward’s Irish House, and so on.)

During the last war the late W.E. Phillips set up an organisation at Park Royal to ensure that the troops got their Guinness. This was delivered to canteens, messes and barracks direct by us and had to be in draught form since we undertook no bottling ourselves. This original Park Royal draught beer went out in 8-gallon casks with a top pressure of 50 lbs. Came the peace, and draught Guinness was sent out in the 8-gallon casks to the retail trade direct from Park Royal.

This kind of language perhaps explains the confusion over whether post-war draught Guinness was cask-conditioned. This sounds like what we would now call keg, doesn’t it? But…

In 1946 when old-stagers with us now were breaking in their 32″ bottom demob suits our metal cask department was formed and managed by E.J. Griffiths. His assistant was Jack Moore now regional manager in Leeds. Even in 1946 the houses which specialised in draught Guinness such as Mooneys and Wards were being supplied from Park Royal ‘in the wood’. Don’t forget, we still had a cooperage and there was no tanker delivery.

So, in other words, if you were a connoisseur and went to the right pubs, you could get cask-conditioned draught Guinness; otherwise, it was some form of kegged beer. (And if you get the urge to visit ‘Mooneys’, you’ll find one branch on Fleet Street and still an Irish pub under the name The Tipperary.)

New outlets were opened by the metal cask department and there were experimental stages in the casking and dispensing systems. The first cask with a simple tap was placed on the bar counter and drawn direct. Then came the ‘two-way’ tap system which incorporated a vented cask on the bar counter and a pressurised cask below the counter.

This sounds a bit weird — sort of half cask, half keg, with some of the beer exposed to oxygen in an intermediate stage just prior to serving. It would be interesting to know more about how this worked — maybe it’s something that could make a comeback, just to really confuse the hell out of everyone.

A technician tinkers with a Guinness font.
Jack Charlton adjusting the tap end in the Newcastle Toucan Room.

This was followed by a stainless steel dispenser placed on the counter and operated from a single cask under the counter, and high (‘brisk’ in Scotland) and flat beer could be regulated by the barman. The arrival of the Alumasc cask with an internal reducing valve meant that we could use a dispensing fount which served a glass of Guinness direct from the tap… This was the breakthrough — its name — the ‘Easy Serve’.

This is beginning to sound like draught Guinness as we know it today, although there’s no mention of nitrogen. The big roll-out of ‘Easy Serve’ seems to have taken place between 1953 and 1960.

The rest of the article is about the organisational structure of the service department — not so interesting! — but for the sake of anyone Googling trying to track down relatives, some names mentioned are: Ron Mennie (cask dept), M.R. Hatfield (brewer), Michael Ash, Percy Watts, Gordon Penrose, Jack Plackett, Les Beland, Pat Miles, John Grives, John Beamish, Alistair Campbell-Harris, Con Martin, F.P. Clift, Paul Woods, Gerry Rickman, Neil Lewis, Douglas Carnaghan, Stan Smith, Jock Riddle, Bob Simpson, Stan Brock, Harry Martin, Paddy Elliot, Douglas Skelton, Frank Butler and Dick Evans.

8 thoughts on “Draught Guinness in the 1960s”

  1. An alternative title for this post could have been The Road To Nitrokeg.

    As for modern Guinness, I can’t understand why some people visit Ireland and then state that Guinness is better there than in the UK, seeing that all production is nitrokeg. As the main skills you need are knowing how to clean your lines and how to use a spanner, there shouldn’t be any difference. I can only assume it’s rather like that charming bottle of wine you enjoy while on holiday, so you buy a bottle to take home, only to find it disappointing. Devoid of the atmosphere you enjoyed while abroad, it’s just a bottle of plonk.

    1. “I ordered a pint of Guinness in England once and the barman poured off in one go. Obviously it was manky.”

      People in Ireland still hold that some pubs here serve a better pint of Guinness than others. While it’s possible that some don’t get their lines cleaned as often as others, and dishwasher maintenance is far from uniform, you never hear anyone say that one pub does a better pint of Heineken or Carlsberg than another, even though flaws would be far more obvious in these. The power of folk memory, I guess.

  2. Myself & Gary Gillman (@beeretseq) had a brief, memory-jogging/false memory😊 conversation about Guinness dispense on Twitter last night.

    I mentioned my Dad remembering drinking gravity-pour(?) cask Guinness Porter in N.Ireland up until the v. early 70s (to me this was backed up by reading about & seeing a nice pic of jacketed Guinness casks in M. Jackson’s New World Guide).

    All this led me to MJ’s old online articles and one about the change from bottle-conditioned to filtered & pasturised Guinness in UK (1993 – I think Ireland followed c1998? I scoured Dublin corner shops to grab a few of the last old BC 1-pint bottles like the ones C&C now use for Magner’s). MJ also mentioned one reason why Irish-poured draught Guinness might have actually been a tastier product (rather than just holidaymakers drinking from rose-tinted glasses) – the beer in Ireland wasn’t pasteurised until some time after it was for the UK market. Another reason could also be that it was delivered fresher to the pub & the keg is/was drunk quicker than the average UK pub too.

    In the late 90s I lived next door to The Coach & Horses pub in Norwich, home to the Chalk Hill Brewery. From my bedroom window I could see the pub’s flat roof, on which there must have been a couple of hundred empty Guinness kegs. When I asked why they were there, I was told the (previous?) landlord had had a deal with someone to import ‘grey market’ fresh, unpasteurised Dublin Guinness, rather than sell the then London-brewed, pasteurised version!

    If anyone is near a copy of MJ’s New World Guide – do me a favour & let me know what he says about Guinness Porter in Belfast in the late 60s/early 70s? Cheers!

    1. Mike, easier to discuss it here as not limited by the character restriction of Twitter.

      You may be right about that porter being cask-conditioned, but I have doubts because many sources state that by the 1960’s Guinness ceased producing cask-conditioned draught beer. The change started in ’58 and worked its away across the country by the mid-60’s. Certainly wood barrels (casks) were taken out of service by about ’63 – so any cask production after would have been in metal casks vs. the nitro keg system.

      I agree that in the 70’s in Ireland, draught Guinness (any type) probably wasn’t pasteurized, but the question is, was that porter served indeed straight from the barrel (2 mixed supposedly) brewery-conditioned, thus filtered and carbonated? We know that some brewery-conditioned beer was pulled through hand-pumps in England in that period (a CAMRA concern as you know at the time). I think the Guinness porter in early 70’s was probably pre-conditioned but of course don’t know for certain. Once again you may be right and it would be good to have some verification from a record about Guinness processing in this period. Hughes deals mostly with bottled stout – “ES” or extra stout and FES – and says little unfortunately about details of changeover from natural conditioned beer to brewery conditioned beer.

      Gary

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