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The Moment Guinness Won

Bottled Guinness stout.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.

7 replies on “The Moment Guinness Won”

The first thing Heineken did when they acquired Beamish was stop exporting it. I guess Murphy’s became a lot rarer in the UK when InBev’s licence to brew it there expired.

I also remember S&N introducing Gillespie’s Malt Stout as a Guinness competitor in the early 90s, which didn’t last long. I think a key factor in the success of Guinness has been its slightly astringent character. Most of its would-be challengers have been sweeter, which may go down well in blind taste tests, but doesn’t cut it out there in the real world of pubs.

Stout in large quantities doesn’t agree with me at the best of times – I remember going to the loo in the night after a heavy session on Guinness & getting up in the morning to find the toilet half-filled with a weird peach-coloured liquid, lying pooled at the bottom of the bowl like the port in a Tequila Sunrise. Browny-orange pee is one thing, but peachy-orange is just weird. (I don’t think I’d been eating beetroot…)

But that wasn’t nearly as bad as the time I got hammered on Murphy’s, just after it had come in – it was sweeter and smoother than Guinness, and as a result it was quite literally dangerously drinkable. I got up the next day feeling like death, as you do, but managed to get through the day all right until mid-afternoon – when I started feeling faint and woozy, with cold sweat and (rather alarmingly) pains in the region of my liver. I made excuses and went back to bed. I was OK by the evening, but it’s not an experience I ever want to repeat.

That was a very interesting discussion on Guinness back in 12/12, sorry I missed it. I have always been mystified by draft Guinness. I started drinking it in the mid-70’s and whether in New York, Montreal, London, it tasted very bland and as Tandleman said, cardboard. (I believe that woody-like taste might be from the flaked and roast barley). Sure there are beery hints but very lightly, a bit of roast and hop. It still tastes like that to me today. I’ve had it a number of times in England after production centralized in Ireland and once again, same experience. I have never visited Ireland proper but was in the airport once there en-route to Europe and a pint at the bar was no better. In contrast, bottled Guinness when it was bottled-conditioned was a superb drink. Now it is just an ordinary drink, similar to the draft. But the unfiltered one had a live, yeasty taste and black fruit-like character. That was the last gasp of the real Guinness, in my opinion.


I find it interesting that a challenger in that style of beer would choose the summer to make its push. Maybe it’s just an overseas difference again? I was thinking about Guinness and similar stouts since the last Guinness conversation over here. Maybe Guinness is found in even some of the American pubs over here because our craft breweries haven’t yet found a niche in the Dry Irish Stout style? It kind of clicked for me a while ago. One of the popular ones I can come up with is by Brooklyn Brewery. That’s about it. Perhaps that’s a reason Guinness is still popular over here.

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