Draught Guinness in the 1960s

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tom­my Mar­ling takes the tem­per­a­ture of draught Guin­ness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom.

When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.

It appears as part of an arti­cle called (rather long-wind­ed­ly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guin­ness Runs Smooth­ly… The Ser­vice Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ from the Spring 1971 edi­tion.

First, there are some help­ful num­bers:

In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guin­ness as in 1956. Fif­teen years ago the num­ber of out­lets could be count­ed in hun­dreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devo­tees of draught Guin­ness can get their favourite brew.

By way of con­text, in those mid-1960s Bats­ford pub guides we’ve been trawl­ing through draught Guin­ness is fre­quent­ly men­tioned as a sign of an inter­est­ing pub in much the same way, say, Brew­Dog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still note­wor­thy, and a wel­come sight for many beer geeks.

The arti­cle goes on to give some spe­cif­ic details of how the roll out hap­pened and (some­thing that still gen­er­ates debate and con­fu­sion) how it was dis­pensed at var­i­ous times:

Before the Park Roy­al brew­ery was built draught Guin­ness came in wood­en casks as it had done for gen­er­a­tions, from Dublin to our Man­ches­ter, Bris­tol and Glas­gow stores and to the Lon­don docks. There were then a few spe­cial­ist out­lets large­ly patro­n­ised by Irish affi­ciona­dos of draught Guin­ness.

(That is, Mur­phy’s, Ward’s Irish House, and so on.)

Dur­ing the last war the late W.E. Phillips set up an organ­i­sa­tion at Park Roy­al to ensure that the troops got their Guin­ness. This was deliv­ered to can­teens, mess­es and bar­racks direct by us and had to be in draught form since we under­took no bot­tling our­selves. This orig­i­nal Park Roy­al draught beer went out in 8‑gallon casks with a top pres­sure of 50 lbs. Came the peace, and draught Guin­ness was sent out in the 8‑gallon casks to the retail trade direct from Park Roy­al.

This kind of lan­guage per­haps explains the con­fu­sion over whether post-war draught Guin­ness was cask-con­di­tioned. This sounds like what we would now call keg, does­n’t it? But…

In 1946 when old-stagers with us now were break­ing in their 32″ bot­tom demob suits our met­al cask depart­ment was formed and man­aged by E.J. Grif­fiths. His assis­tant was Jack Moore now region­al man­ag­er in Leeds. Even in 1946 the hous­es which spe­cialised in draught Guin­ness such as Mooneys and Wards were being sup­plied from Park Roy­al ‘in the wood’. Don’t for­get, we still had a cooper­age and there was no tanker deliv­ery.

So, in oth­er words, if you were a con­nois­seur and went to the right pubs, you could get cask-con­di­tioned draught Guin­ness; oth­er­wise, it was some form of kegged beer. (And if you get the urge to vis­it ‘Mooneys’, you’ll find one branch on Fleet Street and still an Irish pub under the name The Tip­per­ary.)

New out­lets were opened by the met­al cask depart­ment and there were exper­i­men­tal stages in the cask­ing and dis­pens­ing sys­tems. The first cask with a sim­ple tap was placed on the bar counter and drawn direct. Then came the ‘two-way’ tap sys­tem which incor­po­rat­ed a vent­ed cask on the bar counter and a pres­surised cask below the counter.

This sounds a bit weird – sort of half cask, half keg, with some of the beer exposed to oxy­gen in an inter­me­di­ate stage just pri­or to serv­ing. It would be inter­est­ing to know more about how this worked – maybe it’s some­thing that could make a come­back, just to real­ly con­fuse the hell out of every­one.

A technician tinkers with a Guinness font.
Jack Charl­ton adjust­ing the tap end in the New­cas­tle Tou­can Room.

This was fol­lowed by a stain­less steel dis­penser placed on the counter and oper­at­ed from a sin­gle cask under the counter, and high (‘brisk’ in Scot­land) and flat beer could be reg­u­lat­ed by the bar­man. The arrival of the Alumasc cask with an inter­nal reduc­ing valve meant that we could use a dis­pens­ing fount which served a glass of Guin­ness direct from the tap… This was the break­through – its name – the ‘Easy Serve’.

This is begin­ning to sound like draught Guin­ness as we know it today, although there’s no men­tion of nitro­gen. The big roll-out of ‘Easy Serve’ seems to have tak­en place between 1953 and 1960.

The rest of the arti­cle is about the organ­i­sa­tion­al struc­ture of the ser­vice depart­ment – not so inter­est­ing! – but for the sake of any­one Googling try­ing to track down rel­a­tives, some names men­tioned are: Ron Men­nie (cask dept), M.R. Hat­field (brew­er), Michael Ash, Per­cy Watts, Gor­don Pen­rose, Jack Plack­ett, Les Beland, Pat Miles, John Groves, John Beamish, Alis­tair Camp­bell-Har­ris, Con Mar­tin, F.P. Clift, Paul Woods, Ger­ry Rick­man, Neil Lewis, Dou­glas Car­naghan, Stan Smith, Jock Rid­dle, Bob Simp­son, Stan Brock, Har­ry Mar­tin, Pad­dy Elliot, Dou­glas Skel­ton, Frank But­ler and Dick Evans.

8 thoughts on “Draught Guinness in the 1960s”

  1. An alter­na­tive title for this post could have been The Road To Nitrokeg.

    As for mod­ern Guin­ness, I can’t under­stand why some peo­ple vis­it Ire­land and then state that Guin­ness is bet­ter there than in the UK, see­ing that all pro­duc­tion is nitrokeg. As the main skills you need are know­ing how to clean your lines and how to use a span­ner, there should­n’t be any dif­fer­ence. I can only assume it’s rather like that charm­ing bot­tle of wine you enjoy while on hol­i­day, so you buy a bot­tle to take home, only to find it dis­ap­point­ing. Devoid of the atmos­phere you enjoyed while abroad, it’s just a bot­tle of plonk.

    1. I ordered a pint of Guin­ness in Eng­land once and the bar­man poured off in one go. Obvi­ous­ly it was manky.”

      Peo­ple in Ire­land still hold that some pubs here serve a bet­ter pint of Guin­ness than oth­ers. While it’s pos­si­ble that some don’t get their lines cleaned as often as oth­ers, and dish­wash­er main­te­nance is far from uni­form, you nev­er hear any­one say that one pub does a bet­ter pint of Heineken or Carls­berg than anoth­er, even though flaws would be far more obvi­ous in these. The pow­er of folk mem­o­ry, I guess.

  2. Myself & Gary Gill­man (@beeretseq) had a brief, mem­o­ry-jog­ging/­false mem­o­ry😊 con­ver­sa­tion about Guin­ness dis­pense on Twit­ter last night.

    I men­tioned my Dad remem­ber­ing drink­ing grav­i­ty-pour(?) cask Guin­ness Porter in N.Ireland up until the v. ear­ly 70s (to me this was backed up by read­ing about & see­ing a nice pic of jack­et­ed Guin­ness casks in M. Jack­son’s New World Guide).

    All this led me to MJ’s old online arti­cles and one about the change from bot­tle-con­di­tioned to fil­tered & pas­turised Guin­ness in UK (1993 – I think Ire­land fol­lowed c1998? I scoured Dublin cor­ner shops to grab a few of the last old BC 1‑pint bot­tles like the ones C&C now use for Mag­n­er’s). MJ also men­tioned one rea­son why Irish-poured draught Guin­ness might have actu­al­ly been a tasti­er prod­uct (rather than just hol­i­day­mak­ers drink­ing from rose-tint­ed glass­es) – the beer in Ire­land was­n’t pas­teurised until some time after it was for the UK mar­ket. Anoth­er rea­son could also be that it was deliv­ered fresh­er to the pub & the keg is/was drunk quick­er than the aver­age UK pub too.

    In the late 90s I lived next door to The Coach & Hors­es pub in Nor­wich, home to the Chalk Hill Brew­ery. From my bed­room win­dow I could see the pub­’s flat roof, on which there must have been a cou­ple of hun­dred emp­ty Guin­ness kegs. When I asked why they were there, I was told the (pre­vi­ous?) land­lord had had a deal with some­one to import ‘grey mar­ket’ fresh, unpas­teurised Dublin Guin­ness, rather than sell the then Lon­don-brewed, pas­teurised ver­sion!

    If any­one is near a copy of MJ’s New World Guide – do me a favour & let me know what he says about Guin­ness Porter in Belfast in the late 60s/early 70s? Cheers!

    1. Mike, eas­i­er to dis­cuss it here as not lim­it­ed by the char­ac­ter restric­tion of Twit­ter.

      You may be right about that porter being cask-con­di­tioned, but I have doubts because many sources state that by the 1960’s Guin­ness ceased pro­duc­ing cask-con­di­tioned draught beer. The change start­ed in ’58 and worked its away across the coun­try by the mid-60’s. Cer­tain­ly wood bar­rels (casks) were tak­en out of ser­vice by about ’63 – so any cask pro­duc­tion after would have been in met­al casks vs. the nitro keg sys­tem.

      I agree that in the 70’s in Ire­land, draught Guin­ness (any type) prob­a­bly was­n’t pas­teur­ized, but the ques­tion is, was that porter served indeed straight from the bar­rel (2 mixed sup­pos­ed­ly) brew­ery-con­di­tioned, thus fil­tered and car­bon­at­ed? We know that some brew­ery-con­di­tioned beer was pulled through hand-pumps in Eng­land in that peri­od (a CAMRA con­cern as you know at the time). I think the Guin­ness porter in ear­ly 70’s was prob­a­bly pre-con­di­tioned but of course don’t know for cer­tain. Once again you may be right and it would be good to have some ver­i­fi­ca­tion from a record about Guin­ness pro­cess­ing in this peri­od. Hugh­es deals most­ly with bot­tled stout – “ES” or extra stout and FES – and says lit­tle unfor­tu­nate­ly about details of changeover from nat­ur­al con­di­tioned beer to brew­ery con­di­tioned beer.


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