Fordham Flower on Keg vs. Cask

“[A] fair description of a beer keg is a smallish metal cask, from which beer is dispensed by carbon-dioxide pressure, and of which the three essential properties are: an ability to be sterilised, a capability to withstand fairly high pressures, and… a perfect and unalterable measure… The first container casualty has been the traditional wooden cask, which falls down on all three counts.

Sad though this is for those of us who were weaned on ‘beer from the wood,’ the advent of the metal cask, the only major change in centuries for containing draught beer, is not really as revolutionary as some people think. All that has happened is that familiar materials, like stainless steel and aluminium, have been developed and fashioned in known ways for a new purpose.”

Sir Fordham Flower, Chairman of Flower’s Brewery, 1962, explaining the benefits of ‘space age keg’.

9 thoughts on “Fordham Flower on Keg vs. Cask”

  1. You flagged this as “keg v cask” but from this it seems he is just talking about the advent of metal casks. Is there more context which shows it in a different light?

    1. The piece (FT, 8 October 1962) is illustrated with a cartoon showing a space rocket made out of a keg, labelled ‘Beer is Best’, flying to the moon!

  2. He is talking clearly about two things serially in each paragraph. In the first paragraph, he is talking about what became known as keg beer. (I hope in your book you will nail down how the term keg became associated with filtered and generally pasteurized beer vs. cask for traditional beer. From what I can see, the term starts to appear around this time but it is not clear who first proposed it for use in this regard – earlier, the term was in erratic use in England, mostly in the regions and not the industry).

    In the second paragraph, he is saying a metal cask can still be used to dispense unfiltered beer.

    In the first paragraph, the statement that the beer is dispensed by carbon dioxide pressure shows clearly he is talking about keg beer.

    And this makes sense because the peer’s company was an early proponent of keg beer, my recollection is it was selling the stuff by the mid-40’s, perhaps the first after the Watney innovations of the 1930’s.

    So it is keg vs. cask and really he is saying cask itself doesn’t vary simply because the container did. I doubt that is true in part because of the porosity of wood, but the question is pretty much moot today.

    Gary

    1. Gary,

      We’ve written a bit about how the terminology got fixed here. Short answer: bureaucracy.

      By metal casks, he definitely seems to mean what we would call kegs.

      His brewery, having coined the term ‘keg’ as a brand name, according to Martyn Cornell, resented it being used generically to refer to the whole category, so perhaps that’s why he kept using the word cask even though it’s confusing and imprecise in this context?

      Anyway, we just liked the bit about him being weaned on beers from the wood!

      1. Thanks for this, and will read the link with interest, but IMO the second paragraph can’t be referring to what we call keg beer today. He says “the only major change” from “draught” is the metal cask and “all that has happened” is the metal replaced the wood. But much more than that happened. Keg beer was suffused with carbon dioxide, altering the character of draught. Keg beer was filtered, so ditto. And keg was usually pasteurized to encourage stability. These three changes fundamentally change the nature of draught beer.

        So I feel he must have been referring to cask beer in the second part unless he was trying to play a fast one, to suggest keg beer is in no significant way different to draught.

        Gary

        1. “…unless he was trying to play a fast one…”

          Bingo.

          All the breweries in this period ran ads suggesting their keg bitters were traditional, old-fashioned, etc., and they didn’t like to overburden consumers with information about silly little things like how beer was made, what was in it, how strong it was…

  3. J.W. Green in Luton via brewer and managing director Dixon got keg going in the later war years apparently as a result of stimulus from the American Army: Ian Hornsey’s A History of Beer and Brewing explains this, see 670 et seq. However, Green merged with Flower’s in the mid-1950’s with Dixon still a top dog and Flower’s Keg of course is a subsequent key earlier keg production under his initial tutelage, but the point being one can see why by the early 1960’s Flower’s was so interested in this area.

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