From Roll out the Barrel, the British Film Institute’s DVD compilation of documentaries about beer and pubs.
Until the 1950s, there was no real need to define ‘draught beer’: it was the opposite of bottled beer, simple as that. Then keg beer came along (Watney kegged bitter in 1936; Flowers coined the term ‘keg’ in 1955) and suddenly draught beer had a split personality.
For many people, it didn’t matter. As long as they got a ‘pint’, they weren’t fussy about where it came from. Some ‘connoisseurs’, however, knew they didn’t like keg, but
weren’t sure exactly needed a new term to describe exactly what it was they did like.
They tried ‘beer from the wood’ (in common since at least the turn of the century), until some smart arses pointed out that most casks were made of metal these days anyway. While the confusion continued, big brewers happily promoted keg beers as good, traditional, draught made the way it always has been, from premium malt and hops, only slightly better.
The Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood decided the answer was to reclaim ‘draught beer’ and lobbied government for several years from the late sixties. It was a con, they argued, to call keg bitter draught. Draught, they said, was, you know, proper draught, the good stuff, from the wood, but not necessarily actually from wood… oh, sod it. They were repeatedly rebuffed by Whitehall.
In 1969, the Monopolies Commission, which had been investigating various industries in the great era of corporate mergers, reported on pubs and brewing (link to PDF). As bureaucrats are often required to do, they spent no little time establishing terminology, and came up with this handy guide:
We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer. All the large brewers and many smaller ones now brew a kind of draught beer which has become known as ‘keg’ beer. Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer. [B&B’s emphasis.]
The report, which was widely read by those with an interest in beer, probably did a great deal to popularise the use of the term ‘cask’ in this way.
The report, if you’ve got the patience, is a fascinating read, especially the opening section which summarises the types of beer commonly available and most popular with drinkers.
UPDATE: worth noting, too, that Frank Baillie’s 1973 The Beer Drinker’s Companion classifies each brewery’s beers as either draught, keg or bottled.
In 1965, the landlord and landlady of the Valiant Soldier in Buckfastleigh, Devon, shut the doors and retired to the flat above the pub. They left ashtrays full and unfinished pints on the bar, and never went back. Thirty years later, when the landlady died, the pub was rediscovered — a perfect, dusty time capsule of post-war drinking culture.
We visited on Friday afternoon. It was raining — thundering, in fact — and we had the place to ourselves. Walking across the bare, creaking flooboards of the bar with the archive sounds of the Light Programme drifting in from another room, we felt the hairs on our necks stand up. It was as if, at any moment, a long dead landlord was going to appear behind the bar and take our order.
The walls are covered with vintage advertisements for the Exeter City Brewery. The board over the fire place listed prices for bitter, best bitter, BB, HB, PA, XXX, mild, pale, brown and imperial ales. Two beers — Tun and Watney’s Red Barrel — were advertised as coming from a ‘container’. On the tables, half-finished games of dominoes and cards, cigarette packets and ticket stubs.
That was the bar, of course; the lounge, with its flowery wallpaper and cushioned chairs, was altogether more genteel. The ladies seemed to have stepped outside, just for a moment…
In fact, the pub isn’t quite as it was found in 1996: it was emptied, cleaned and put back together, and there are some anachronisms where things found in the attic or cupboards were too good not to have on display.
Sadly, thanks to a vintage restrictive covenant imposed by Whitbread, no booze can be served on the premises. It would have been lovely to enjoy a couple of pints of mild in that bar.
The museum is open Monday to Friday from April onwards. There are buses to Buckfastleigh from Exeter but, for the full experience, why not get a steam train from Totnes?
As happens every now and then, someone has come across an old post and left a fascinating comment which we wanted to bring everyone’s attention to.
Tony used to work for Starkey, Knight and Ford, the West Country brewers, in the 1960s, working in the keg shop and later delivering beer. He says:
As a student I worked for Starkey`s each summer betwen 1965 and 1967. The first two years at the Fore St. site in Tiverton and the last at the new site. Bridgwater had closed by then and Tiverton was the only brewery still in action but under the aegis of Whitbread. I used to start off in the keg shop before fiddling my way out onto the lorries. In my last year our route covered from Ivybridge to Rooksbridge and from Seaton to Barnstaple the lorry was DPF 473B and still had the Bridgewater address on the side. As I remember Starkey`s had depots in Barnstaple and Plymouth, a firm called Norman and Pring were involved. When I was in the keg plant we mostly dealt with Tankard with occasional runs of mild. Each artic trailer held 187 10 gallon kegs and the 6 wheel Dennis 150 (I had to load these on my own!) I also remember during their independent days Starkey`s brewed a keg beer called “Tantivy.” Some years before I delivered papers to Tom Ford the Chairman. He drove an old Ford(!) V8 which used to misfire every so often.
Fascinating stuff — thanks Tony!
We’re imagining Tony’s experiences to have played out to a soundtrack of Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, although we might be confusing reality with an episode of Heartbeat.