Draught, Keg and Cask

Cover of Monopolies Commission report on beer, 1969.

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.

30 thoughts on “Draught, Keg and Cask”

  1. Before the inven­tion of the term “real ale”, it was often referred to as “tra­di­tion­al draught beer”.

    But if keg isn’t draught, because it is forced to the bar by CO2 rather than drawn by a pump, then sure­ly grav­i­ty-dis­pensed beer isn’t either 😉

  2. Some ‘con­nois­seurs’, how­ev­er, knew they didn’t like keg, but weren’t sure exact­ly what it was they did like.”

    I’m not at all sure about this state­ment. In the trade, as Mudgie says, what we now call real ale or cask was known as tra­di­tion­al beer. Or “trad”. It was­n’t a secret and most drinkers clear­ly knew that one had gas pumped into it and one did­n’t.

    There seems to be some idea around that drinkers were all dopes before CAMRA arrived to edu­cate them. Not in the many con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had over the years with beer drinkers. They may not have known about the tech­ni­cal­i­ties, but the knew what was what.

    1. Ah. We meant “had­n’t worked out how to describe what it was they did like”. They knew it was ‘from the wood’, or ‘tra­di­tion­al’, or what­ev­er, but it did­n’t have a uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed descrip­tion.

      1. The SPBW founders, who were all long­stand­ing cask drinkers and ‘con­nois­seurs’ (that’s the phrase every­one seemed to use back then) seemed gen­uine­ly sur­prised to dis­cov­er that casks were being made from met­al when they looked into it. They prob­a­bly would have cho­sen a dif­fer­ent name if they’d known!

        1. This is Michael Hard­man: “We start­ed by talk­ing to pub­li­cans about the dif­fer­ence between what we liked and dis­liked and were invit­ed down into cel­lars to find out that the stuff we favoured was cask beer and the new-fan­gled gassy liq­uid was keg beer.”

          So we’re not just pulling out of our ars­es the idea that there were peo­ple who were pas­sion­ate about good beer with­out under­stand­ing the ins and outs of what ‘good beer’ was.

          But maybe Hard­man is over­stat­ing it for com­ic effect, and maybe we should gen­er­alise too much from the expe­ri­ence of a cou­ple of twen­tysome­things in 1972.

    1. And if the SPBW had been a bit more effec­tive and held out longer, when CAMRA came along, they prob­a­bly could have won that bat­tle.

    2. I’ve nev­er real­ly liked “cask”, and on reflec­tion I’m sur­prised that it was float­ing around as ear­ly as 1969. The terms I learned in the 70s and used for a long time after­wards were “keg” and “draught” – as in “they haven’t got any draught, I’ll just have a bot­tle of some­thing”. At some point the num­ber of brew­ers using “draught” (or “draft”) to describe keg made the word less use­ful, so I switched to say­ing “real beer” in a semi-jokey way, and more recent­ly just “beer” – as in “I had a quick look and they haven’t got any beer, let’s not go in”. “Cask” sounds anti­quat­ed in a way “real ale” does­n’t – not a mil­lion miles from “beer from the wood”.

      1. Sur­prised us to see it there, too. Your expe­ri­ence, I bet, is pret­ty typ­i­cal of the way a lot of peo­ple relat­ed to these words at var­i­ous times.

        (Though, on your last point, don’t you end up hav­ing to fur­ther explain your­self quite often? “Well, yes, they did have Car­ling and Tet­ley Smooth, but I mean *prop­er* beer.”)

      2. It’s usu­al­ly only my fam­i­ly I’m talk­ing to, and they’re used to it. My son’s even start­ed wind­ing me up (Are you sure they did­n’t have any craft beer, Dad?.

  3. I think Hard­man is just express­ing it in terms that peo­ple today will read­i­ly under­stand. In any event even if Hard­man was unaware, many oth­ers weren’t.

    In defence of Hard­man, he was relat­ing his expe­ri­ence. Per­fect­ly pos­si­ble that he knew what he liked but did­n’t know why.

    You may how­ev­er be over influ­enced by the notion that peo­ple did­n’t know what was what.

  4. It may have been well under­stood in the trade, and amongst drinkers with trade expe­ri­ence, but I don’t think it was any­where near as well under­stood by the gen­er­al drink­ing pub­lic as it is today (or indeed was by 1980).

    Also remem­ber than in the ear­ly 70s there was much more of a vari­ety of stor­age and dis­pense sys­tems that to some extent cloud­ed the issue or were a kind of halfway house – top pres­sure, blan­ket pres­sure, tank beer, metered elec­tric pumps, freeflow elec­tric pumps etc. Now it is very clear­ly either real ale or keg. In the late 70s, for exam­ple, a sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of M&B pubs in Birm­ing­ham sold real Mild and Brew XI from free-flow elec­tric fonts that were indis­tin­guish­able from the ones used for keg.

  5. I agree Mudgie, but at a basic lev­el peo­ple knew what they liked and what they did­n’t. They either liked their beer cold and fizzy or they did­n’t.

    Your points about dis­pense and fonts as well as bright beer (blan­ket pres­sure, tank beer are more or less the same) are good ones. It was a while before the hand­pump became the abid­ing sym­bol of cask beer, but when I drank in a Greenalls pub in Liv­er­pool when I first moved there, it had elec­tric slid­ers. I knew noth­ing about those or for that mat­ter, cask beer. It was the cus­tomers there that put me right. They knew what was what and it was they that advised me what pubs to go in and what not on the basis of what was tra­di­tion­al and what was not. They cer­tain­ly knew their stuff.

    It was they that piqued my inter­est in real beer. I remem­ber too, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Bass hous­es, but some Tet­ley ones too, you had to ask if it was trad or not.

    1. I’m not say­ing any­one should stop using it – just say­ing that in my ears “cask” has an anti­quat­ed ring to it. I wish “draught” still con­sis­tent­ly meant “drawn up, usu­al­ly but not nec­es­sar­i­ly by a hand­pump”, but that ship’s well and tru­ly sailed; looks like we’re stuck with “cask”.

      1. Tan­dle­man – if Phil had­n’t already replied in mea­sured terms, we might have delet­ed your com­ment – not some­thing we feel all that com­fort­able doing.

        You can shout bol­locks at us, but we’d rather you did­n’t do it to oth­er com­menters – that’s about as near as we’ve got to ‘house rules’. (See man­ag­ing com­ments here.)

        Pre-emp­tive­ly, should add that we’re not on a horse, high or oth­er­wise – just try­ing to keep things civ­il round our gaff.

        1. On a com­plete­ly tech­ni­cal note, how rude is “bol­locks”? It’s one of the few words that have not migrat­ed to this part of the empire and while I know the anatom­i­cal image it evokes and know it’s in the title of the Sex Pis­tols album, have no idea where it real­ly sits in the slid­ing scale of rude­ness­es. Short test => is it worse or weak­er than call­ing some­one a bas­tard?

          1. Do you know about the court case over Nev­er Mind the Bol­locks? If I remem­ber the sto­ry right­ly, John Mor­timer won it by prov­ing it isn’t a swear word at all, but an old Eng­lish word mean­ing ‘non­sense’.

            It’s not that rude. I’d say it in front of my Mum.

          2. Def­i­nite­ly weak­er than ‘bas­tard’. It’s almost a sep­a­rate class of word – too rude (and aggres­sive) for polite com­pa­ny, but not quite a swear­word. “That’s bloody ridicu­lous” would raise the tem­per­a­ture and/or kill the con­ver­sa­tion far more effec­tive­ly than “that’s bol­locks”.

            I did think Tan­dle­man could have expressed him­self bet­ter, though.

    1. Real ale” does sound hor­ri­bly anti­quat­ed if you take the two words sep­a­rate­ly (“land­lord, kind­ly fur­nish me with a pint of ale, and I insist on the ale that is real”). “Ale” mean­ing beer is almost entire­ly extinct in the lan­guage – apart from “real ale”, the only exam­ple I can think of is “steak and ale pie”. But I think most peo­ple don’t think of “real ale” as a form of “ale”. “Brown ale” is a type of drink, so is “gin­ger ale” and so is “real ale”.

      One for the CAMRA Coun­ter­fac­tu­als draw­er – how would the his­to­ry of the organ­i­sa­tion have been dif­fer­ent if they’d gone for CAMREB, the CAM­paign for REal Beer? I think it might have made the organ­i­sa­tion look more aggres­sive & hence less appeal­ing to (most) poten­tial mem­bers, not to men­tion mak­ing rela­tions with the big brew­ers even worse. “Got any real ale?” sounds geeky; “Got any real beer?” sounds con­fronta­tion­al.

  6. Not fol­low­ing you, I’m afraid. EDIT: oh, you mean that cask sounds less anti­quat­ed than real ale? Gotcha.

  7. To my mind, “cask” comes across as a bit affect­ed and tech­ni­cal – actu­al peo­ple in the pub tend to call it “real ale”. I’ve con­scious­ly revert­ed to using the term “real ale” in arti­cles for pub­li­ca­tion.

  8. I’m just lov­ing this series of post­ings and the com­ments they pro­voke – well done! I’m not sure I agree with Phil on “real ale” being the only case left in Eng­lish where ale=beer. I’m pret­ty sure it was quite inten­tion­al­ly coined to exclude lager – fer­ment­ed with what were then referred to as “bot­tom fer­ment­ing” yeast strains – which in those days in the UK was uni­ver­sal­ly a pas­teurised and arti­fi­cial­ly car­bon­at­ed indus­tri­al prod­uct. One of the many incon­sis­ten­cies thrown up by the per­sis­tence of what appeared to be clear and obvi­ous polar­i­ties back in the 1960s is that the “real ales” list­ed in the Good Beer Guide today include a num­ber of cask con­di­tioned “lagers” (and although I sus­pect quite a few of these are brewed with ale yeasts and not prop­er­ly lagered, there are excep­tions).

    I’ve always assumed the term ‘cask’ was pop­u­larised by those in the indus­try who recog­nised the impor­tance of a dis­tinct cat­e­go­ry but thought ‘real ale’ car­ried too much CAMRA bag­gage. It does have the valid­i­ty of a tech­ni­cal dis­tinc­tion as it refers to the ves­sel – a cask has two dis­tinct open­ings so it can be vent­ed to air as well as tapped and is also waist­ed to help man­age the sed­i­ment, where­as a keg has a sin­gle open­ing and is intend­ed to be pres­surised.

    I don’t think we’ll get any­where by spec­u­lat­ing how much tech­ni­cal knowl­edge about dif­fer­ent forms of con­di­tion­ing and dis­pense the aver­age ordi­nary drinker had at any par­tic­u­lar point in time, as the evi­dence is just so scarce. What is evi­dent is that beer pro­pogan­dists and jour­nal­ists haven’t always known what they’re talk­ing about, and often still don’t. The aver­age drinker in my expe­ri­ence is more like­ly to think in terms of what they like, and per­haps of rather vague ideas about things like prove­nance, nat­u­ral­ness, her­itage etc.

    1. I think Des is retro-fit­ting con­cepts to the 1970s here. I don’t believe it was inten­tion­al­ly coined to exclude lager at all. The def­i­n­i­tion of ale as any top-fer­ment­ing beer is an Amer­i­can devel­op­ment of the 1990s.

      To put it anoth­er way, In 1970s British Eng­lish, “beer” exclud­ed lager just as much as “ale” does. You still see super­mar­ket aisles divid­ed into “beer” and “lager” sec­tions in the UK.

      1. Agree with every­thing that Barm says here.
        Also, The large brew­ers had been throw­ing a lot of resources at try­ing to launch nation­al lager brands or quite some time, with­out much suc­cess, and I think that CAMRA was much more anti keg in the ear­ly days than anti lager. Lager sales were, I think, quite a low per­cent­age of over­all beer sales when CAMRA first start­ed up, and it has always been my impres­sion (could be wrong) that the rapid increase in lager sales from the mid-70’s caught CAMRA a bit by sur­prise.

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