The Mother lode: Attitudes to Beer, 1963

Public Attitudes Surveys Limited

In 1963 Guinness hired Public Attitude Surveys Ltd to compiled research into the attitudes of drinkers towards stout, and the state of the beer market more generally.

The result­ing report feels to us like an impor­tant doc­u­ment, record­ing sta­tis­tics on dif­fer­ent types of beer, and dif­fer­ent types of drinker, based on gen­der, social class and atti­tudes to alco­hol.

It’s about Guin­ness but almost acci­den­tal­ly gives us great insight into the rise of lager, the death of mild, and so on.

Unless we’re mis­tak­en, this is a source that hasn’t pre­vi­ous­ly made its way into the pub­lic domain or oth­er­wise been much exploit­ed, though there were some con­tem­po­rary news­pa­per reports pick­ing up on its find­ings. We only have our hands on a copy because it came as part of the col­lec­tion of Guin­ness papers we’re sort­ing through on behalf of the own­er.

It begins with a sum­ma­ry of what was learned from pre­vi­ous ‘Nation­al Stout Sur­veys’ car­ried out in 1952–53 and 1958–59:

Guin­ness was marked­ly more depen­dent on the heavy drinker than Mack­e­son, the next most suc­cess­ful stout on the mar­ket… Recruit­ment to Guin­ness was not to any sub­stan­tial amount from sweet stouts… [And] Guin­ness was much more depen­dent on the old­er drinker – those over 45 – than Mack­e­son and the oth­er sweet stouts.

This helps us under­stand what Guin­ness was wor­ried about: that younger drinkers were turn­ing away from dark, bit­ter, heavy beers. That’s a prob­lem when your flag­ship prod­uct – more or less your only prod­uct – is a dark, bit­ter, heavy beer.

Graph -- main drink by sex

This is the first big splash from the doc­u­ment. It shows that in the ear­ly 1960s women hard­ly touched draught bit­ter or mild, and weren’t espe­cial­ly keen on the then fash­ion­able bot­tled ales either. But lager and stout – two oppo­site ends of the spec­trum you might say – were about equal­ly pop­u­lar with men and women.

Graph -- amount drunk by sex

But over­all, women drank less of every­thing: lager might have been pop­u­lar with women, but women weren’t dri­ving the grow­ing mar­ket for lager. “[All] types of beer are much more depen­dent on the male… though this depen­dence is least in the case of stouts”, writes the report’s author.

Graph -- Main drink by ageGuin­ness was for old peo­ple; lager, brown ale and bit­ter were where it was at for the under-thir­ty-fives, who when they did drink stout, pre­ferred sweet­er vari­eties.

That must have wor­ried Guin­ness exec­u­tives – would the younger drinkers of 1963 get the taste as they grew old­er, or was its con­stituen­cy dwin­dling? Would there be no Guin­ness drinkers by 1980?

graph -- main drink by social class

This item refers euphemisti­cal­ly to class, via NRS cat­e­gories: Ds and Es are work­ing class, essen­tial­ly; C2s are skilled work­ing class; C1s clerks and junior man­agers; and As and Bs are the pro­fes­sion­al class­es.

The con­clu­sion of the report from the num­bers was that mid­dle class drinkers pre­ferred bit­ter drinks and lager, while unskilled work­ing class drinkers gen­er­al­ly pre­ferred sweet­er beers. Guin­ness, mean­while, appealed across social groups.

* * *

Now, this next sec­tion, on types of drinker, gets a bit com­pli­cat­ed.

First, for clar­i­ty: ‘reg­u­lar drinkers’ is British Eng­lish and refers to peo­ple who drink frequently/heavily (more than 5.5 pints per week for the pur­pose of this sur­vey) rather than mean­ing, as it might in US Eng­lish, ‘nor­mal drinkers’.

Sec­ond­ly, there are two sets of fig­ures that are hard to dis­tin­guish, and obvi­ous­ly con­fused the orig­i­nal own­er of this doc­u­ment, too: there are sums scrib­bled all over the page in pen­cil along­side exas­per­at­ed anno­ta­tions: !! ??

Graph -- amount drunk by type of drinker

graph: type of beer by type of drinker.

The explana­to­ry text doesn’t help much. Item 1, accom­pa­ny­ing Chart 5:

The Nation­al Beer and Stout Sur­vey 1960–61… showed that where­as 49% of Guin­ness was drunk by reg­u­lar drinkers… 54% of light and brown ales were account­ed for by such reg­u­lar drinkers and near­ly 80% of draught beers. Only lager and sweet stouts were less depen­dent on the reg­u­lar drinkers.

And Item 2, from the text for Chart 6:

The reg­u­lar drinker… is the modal type of drinker in the draught mar­ket; and each one accounts for about two out of every hun­dred pints of draught drunk. The reg­u­lar Guin­ness drinker rep­re­sents only 15% of all Guin­ness drinkers and each one accounts for over three out of every hun­dred pints of Guin­ness drunk… Now com­pare the posi­tion of Mack­e­son, where each reg­u­lar drinker accounts for six out of every hun­dred pints of Mack­e­son drunk. Looked at in this way, the recruit­ment of a reg­u­lar drinker to Mack­e­son is more impor­tant to them than the recruit­ment of a reg­u­lar drinker to Guin­ness. In oth­er words, it is quite as jus­ti­fi­able to say that Mack­e­son is uncom­fort­ably defi­cient in reg­u­lar drinkers as it is to say that Guin­ness is depen­dent on reg­u­lar drinkers.

Eh? We think we’ve got this straight, at least:

  • Chart 5 shows that, e.g., 81 per cent of draught mild sold was drunk by reg­u­lar (frequent/heavy) drinkers…
  • While Chart 6 shows that out of every hun­dred peo­ple iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves as draught mild drinkers, 59 were medi­um or light drinkers over­all.

If you can make bet­ter sense of this, or the frus­trat­ed Guin­ness insid­er who once owned this copy, let us know in the com­ments below.

chart: pints per week

The above chart rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent angle on the same num­bers:

The draught drinkers take on aver­age about sev­en pints per head per week. Guin­ness drinkers drink 2.7 pints per week. Mack­e­son drinkers only drink 1.9 pints per week.

Could you con­clude from that that Mack­e­son and Guin­ness were some­what bet­ter insu­lat­ed than draught mild and bit­ter against a trend towards mod­er­ate drink­ing that seemed to be under­way at this time?

***

Beyond the pure­ly sta­tis­ti­cal research, PAS also tried to get to the bot­tom of why peo­ple might choose the drinks they choose – to under­stand the psy­chol­o­gy behind their deci­sions. They referred to ear­li­er research car­ried out by the Tavi­s­tock Insti­tute of Human Rela­tions on behalf of Guin­ness in 1959 which sug­gest­ed three sit­u­a­tions in which “a man was like­ly to use alco­hol to relieve… stress­es”:

– Repar­a­tive: cen­tred on the notion of reg­u­lar some­what monot­o­nous duty

– Social: cen­tred on com­pet­i­tive­ness

– Indul­gent: cen­tred on escapism.

Repar­a­tive drinkers, it was sug­gest­ed, would pre­fer bit­ter drinks “reflect­ing the dour­ness of their life sit­u­a­tion and their sol­id, respon­si­ble atti­tude towards it”. We were inclined to scoff at this at first – sure­ly peo­ple don’t choose a beer based on its sym­bol­ic val­ue! – but then we thought, well, there is some­thing in the idea of the no non­sense, no fuss Bit­ter Drink­ing Man.

Indul­gent drinkers, mean­while, were thought to pre­fer sweet drinks – why gri­mace through bit­ter­ness when you can just have com­fort­ing fun?

The Guin­ness angle here: Guin­ness drinkers were more like­ly to be ‘repar­a­tive’ drinkers, favour­ing bit­ter­ness, while sweet stout fans were indul­gent escapists.

And why did women favour stout? PAS Ltd asked a sam­ple of female stout drinkers: “How did you start to drink stout?” Eighty-three per cent of those who respond­ed said it was for their health – as a ton­ic when run down, to put on weight, after child­birth, and so on.

Where on earth can they have got that idea?

Guinness is Good For You

The final sec­tion gave some ear­ly and incon­clu­sive con­sid­er­a­tion to the ques­tion of draught vs. bot­tled Guin­ness, sug­gest­ing ten­ta­tive­ly that the then rel­a­tive­ly new draught Guin­ness prod­uct might be act­ing as a step­ping stone to the bot­tled ver­sion for some drinkers:

If draught Guin­ness is to have this role then those prop­er­ties char­ac­ter­is­tic of Guin­ness should be present in draught Guin­ness, but in more mod­er­ate mea­sure. Thus it should be a lit­tle less bit­ter, a lit­tle less strong, a lit­tle less full-bod­ied than the bot­tled prod­uct.

Could this be where the rot began to set in? As it hap­pens, anoth­er doc­u­ment from the col­lec­tion, pro­duced a decade lat­er, sheds light on this very sub­ject…

2 thoughts on “The Mother lode: Attitudes to Beer, 1963”

  1. refresh­ing­ly free of irri­tat­ing mar­ket­ing jar­gon. I dread to think how the same infor­ma­tion would be pre­sent­ed today. As for “dour­ness of their life sit­u­a­tion”, isn’t that what gin is for?

  2. PAS Ltd asked a sam­ple of female stout drinkers: “How did you start to drink stout?” Eighty-three per cent of those who respond­ed said it was for their health … Where on earth can they have got that idea?’

    As it hap­pens, the “Guin­ness is Good For You” slo­gan sprang out of adver­tis­ing agency research in the 1920s: when the ad peo­ple asked con­sumers why they drank Guin­ness, they replied: “Because it’s good for me.” The slo­gan was designed to rein­force a per­cep­tion peo­ple already had – and the idea of stout being “good for you” can be traced back to the 1870s and before.

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