Tasting and Market Research, 1966

In July 1966, an anonymous editorial in A Monthly Bulletin explained how breweries of the time carried out market research into beer.

AMB was a Reader’s Digest style magazine focusing on beer and pubs and was published by the Brewers’ Society. About 18 months ago, Martyn Cornell sent us his spare volumes (he retains a full set) and we’ve been going through them with a fine tooth comb lately while researching a Big Project which is how we came across this article:

If you are market-researching in beer, you cannot merely send your team out for the day to knock on every other door in a suburban street. For one thing the men, who are probably your main customers, will be out at work: for another, they will not appreciate your representatives calling while they are out to ply their wives with drink.

The author explains that market research begins with sales statistics and surveys distributed to ‘bartenders’ (those who think that word is a recent Americanism, take note) and customers, before moving on to taste tests:

In the early days of market research in beer, tasting tests were conducted rather tentatively. Perhaps at heart the researchers wondered whether, deprived of the guidance of labels, consumers might not be foxed by any two beers of the same colour. In fact, it has been found that consumers’ discrimination is good provided only that they are kept to the kind of beer — mild, bitter, or whatever — to which they are most accustomed.

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GALLERY: Modern Watney’s Pubs from Matchboxes

These were carefully removed from matchboxes produced, we would guess, in about 1968, probably for sale in Watney’s pubs. (Any matchbox collectors who want to correct us, go for it.)

The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this.
The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this (Google Street View).
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as 'like a wild west saloon'.
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as ‘like a wild west saloon‘.

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Historic England and Post-War Pubs

Historic England is the Government body ‘that looks after England’s historic environment’ and it wants your help cataloguing pubs built after World War II that are still standing.

Estate pubs, as they’re sometimes called though not all are actually on housing estates, are not always terribly attractive — sometimes cheaply built, they were often victim to panicked plastic-Victorian makeovers in the 1970s, and then subject to decades of neglect. Nonetheless, they’re an important part of our landscape which is in real danger of disappearing. (And, remember, Victorian pubs were once considered tasteless disposable crap, too.)

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QUOTE: Pubs & Class, 1964

“There is something more than a nodding acquaintance between the old Painswick folk and the incomers now, but it is a wary relationship… It is to the Falcon on the main street, or to the even more worldly pub a few miles up the road, that the gentlemen repair for their whiskies and sodas; the villagers — or, as they like to call themselves, the working classes — are more likely to be found with a pint of beer or cider in the Royal Oak or the Golden Hart, which are not half so smart.”

Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Other England, Penguin, 1964.

Which? Beer Report, 1960

The magazine of the Consumers’ Association was only three years’ old when, in August 1960, it published its first report on the state of British beer.

Covering seven full pages, the article covers 25 draught bitters, 16 draught milds, and around 80 other beers in bottles and cans:

With about 300 brewers making nearly 4,000 different brews, a full, or even representative, coverage of every area has been impossible. We have, however, chosen all the nationally distributed beers, together with a selection from the larger regional breweries throughout the country.

Original gravity (OG), alcohol by volume (ABV), percentage of unfermented matter (PUM), hop bitterness (HB) and price are recorded for each.

Three years before the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW), no particular attentions is paid to distinguishing between kegged and cask-conditioned beers, and filtering, pasteurisation and method of dispense are not among the various quality criteria considered:

People drink a particular beer largely because they prefer its flavour and quality to that of other brews which may be available in the district. Habit and, to some extent, fashion, also influence their choice.

Carlisle Brewery beer mat.All the bitters were between 3% and 4.6% ABV; the cheapest cost 6½d per-half-pint, the most expensive 11d. The best value for money  bitters, Which? concluded, were from Ansell’s of Birmingham, the Carlisle State Management brewery and Friary Meux. Flower’s Keg was notably poor value being the most expensive per half-pint but with a measly 3.4% ABV.

The draught milds all cost between 5½d and 6½d per-half-pint; the weakest was Watney’s at 2.5%, the strongest Hammond’s Best Mild, from Bradford, at 3.6%. The latter seems to have been an unusual brew: not only was it relatively strong but was also more bitter even than most of the bitters with 37 HB, and a PUM of 29 which suggests it was also fairly light-bodied and dry. The milds with most poke-per-penny were from Ansell, Carlisle SM, Charrington and Fremlins.

Looking at the bottled beers, it begins to seem obvious why kegged Guinness draught (kegged) stout had such a solid reputation among beer geeks: it was by far the most bitter beer measured at 62 HB, 30 PUM. By way of comparison, the most bitter of the bitters managed only 40 HB.

It’s a shame other beers beloved of early beer geeks aren’t listed, though — we’d love to see hop bitterness stats for the legendarily intense Boddington’s and Young’s Ordinary as they were in their prime.