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While We’re Away: Guinness in the Archives

We know blogs are ephemeral and that you’re just supposed to let a post disappear once it’s had its moment but we’ve got lots in the archive that we reckon newer readers might have missed. So, while we’re away on holiday, we thought we’d resurface a few bits on Guinness.

First, a big one, and not a blog post: for All About Beer back in June 2016 we pondered on how Guinness has managed to lose its edge, from being the go-to choice for discerning drinkers to the subject of scorn. After a lot of picking and digging, we reckon we managed to work it out:

Beers that are around for a long time often come to be perceived as Not What They Used to Be (see also Pilsner Urquell, for example). Sometimes that is down to jaded palates, or is the result of a counter-cultural bias against big brands and big business. Both of those might apply to Guinness but there is also objective evidence of a drop in quality, or at least of essential changes to the product…. Guinness has tended to be secretive about process, recipes and ingredients but we do know, for example, that the temperature of draught Guinness dropped significantly from about 1988 onward, falling from a typical 12 degrees Celsius to a target of 7 degrees. This is one thing that caused those drinkers of traditional cask-conditioned ale who had regarded draught Guinness as the one tolerable keg beer to turn against it.

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.

Here on the blog we also looked into what old in-house magazines from Guinness’s London brewery at Park Royal can tell us about the roll-out of the draught Guinness we know today:

“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.”

A sardine/sild sandwich.

Beyond beer, Guinness also had a huge impact on the birth of ‘pub grub’, as readers of 20th Century Pub will know. Here, from November 2016, is our filleting of Guinness’s 1961 recipe book for publicans, which was published as part of the brewery’s drive to get more food into pubs:

[In] October 1962, the newly-formed Snack Demonstration Team hit the road in [a] fabulous Mystery-Machine-alike [van]… Four days a week for the latter part of that year, lecturer Jo Shellard (an actor turned caterer) and his assistant Clint Antell toured the North West of England (where pub food was particularly wanting, we assume) speaking to groups of publicans ‘and their wives’.

And there’s lots more, if you want it:

3 replies on “While We’re Away: Guinness in the Archives”

I am certain that Guinness tastes thinner and more bitter in an unpleasant way than it used to, and I’ve assumed this was due to cost-cutting on ingredients, disguised by selling it much colder.

When I first started drinking in the early 80s, it was Extra that was the “friend in every pub” – bottle-conditioned, complex and extremely tasty. Draught Guinness was slightly exotic (odd, considering it was the only beer in every single pub in the country, more or less), but it was considered more as less bad than any other keg beer of the time rather than anything else; it wasn’t as cold and fizzy as all other keg beers, so you could at least taste it. It was the drink of last resort; no cask ale, I would drink bottled Guinness or White Shield. If they weren’t available then reluctantly it would be draught Guinness. And it really was reluctant, because it was generally quite a bit more expensive, too. Guinness generally lost its cachet when other stouts began to become available, either keg Irish ones or cask English ones, but also with the decision to axe bottle-conditioned Extra. Guinness was no longer the drinker’s friend – especially as these events were more or less contemporaneous with boardroom misbehaviour. Guinness were now the bad guys; monopolistic, uninterested in the beer drinker, and corporate baddies. Guinness Extra Cold didn’t help, nor the fact that the normal draught stuff had got colder.

I agree, Nick, about bottled Guinness, which was my usual drink if there was no real ale, or if the real ale wasn’t much cop. As well as stopping the production of the bottled-conditioned version, they have in my opinion changed the draught version for the worse.

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