Which? Beer Report, 1960

Detail from the cover of Which? magazine, August 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.

12 thoughts on “Which? Beer Report, 1960”

  1. My recollection of Boddingtons only goes back to the early 1970s, but I don’t recall it being intensely bitter. Higsons of Liverpool was far more bitter at the time.

    1. We’ve only got anecdotal evidence to go off (we were both in nappies at the end of the 1970s…) which is why we’d like to see some numbers. CAMRA did testing on the OG of beers in the mid-70s but not hop bitterness — quite amazing that Which? did, really.

  2. But in Ireland, the process of introducing nitrogen-dispense Guinness (filtered but still unpasteurised) was just starting and didn’t become generalised until mid- 60’s. What form was draft Guinness served in in England between ’37 and this Report in August 1967? If Guinness scientists had yet to invent nitro dispense, was the beer cask-conditioned and served from hand pumps? If not, what form was it? Or was Guinness a bottled beer only in England (Park Royal) until the nitro stuff flowed in from a backwash from post-nitro Ireland? (So to speak i.e., allowing that any form of Guinness in England was from Park Royal until the latter was clamped shut).

    Gary

        1. Flower’s Keg bitter is also listed with ‘keg’ in the notes so probably, yes. Someone else (Beer Nut?) might know more about what happened to Guinness’s dispense methods, when.

          1. More Oblivious’s territory than mine, but AFAIK nitrokeg Guinness was first launched in 1959, so it’s perfectly possible that it’s what this report was measuring. Though that’s not to say it was the same beer as modern Guinness : the current recipe dates from over twenty years later, I think.

  3. Interesting to see the phrase “poke-per-penny” – the forerunner of “bangs-per-buck”,

    I would guess that Hammonds Best Mild was in fact a light mild which explains its bitter-like characteristics.

    My understanding is that “Draught” Guinness did not exist in Great Britain before it was a nitrokeg beer. Previously Guinness was exclusively a bottled beer. But I’m not old enough to remember personally.

    1. Poke-per-penny ours, I’m afraid, rather than in the original text.

      We’re fairly sure there was draught Guinness in London from before WWII via J.R. Murphy & Sons, but it was perhaps a niche import product. Andrew Campbell’s 1956 Book of Beer refers to it as a bottled product only.

  4. The different terminology is very interesting. I think PUM is something very important to the character of a beer but have never seen this acronym before . Was this something that was routinely stated in the 60s?

    1. Ben — the abbreviation PUM is ours, for the sake of clarity, to save us typing it out every time. Very few published reports from this era comment on residual fermentables or bitterness levels but it’s quite usual to see details of attenuation in home-brewing recipes and the like.

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