Beer history

Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap

Draught Guinness™ is something different to draught Guinness. Exactly how it worked, and how it changed over time, has long puzzled us. Now, we at least have a clear explanation from one point in time – 1958.

The edition of Guinness Time for spring that year includes a four-page article, heavily illustrated, on draught Guinness. It clears up some of the confusion we felt when we wrote this piece a couple of years ago based on a similar article from 1971.

Men working with metal casks.
‘T. Byrne and A.E. George cleansing casks under the supervision of Foreman L. Elliott.’
1. Wood gives way to metal

It begins by setting out the political situation around metal and wooden casks:

Although a few Public Houses still serve Draught Guinness ‘from the wood’, is is now normally set out in Stainless Steel metal casks. The development of metal casks suitable for containing Draught Guinness was not as easy as it may sound and it involved the introduction of new taps and other associated fittings. The original inventor of the equipment was Mr J.F.T. Barnes, the founder of Universal Brewery Equipment Ltd… but many improvements in design were effected by the late Mr E.J. Griffiths and J.R. Moore. The transition from wooden to metal casks, which attracted a great deal of criticism during the early days just after the last War, has now been virtually completed and is accepted everywhere.

There are hints of the Society for the Preservation of the Wood yet to arrive, in 1963, and this helps us pin down when ‘beer from the wood’ became a common phrase.

More men working with more metal casks.
‘A.E. Binfield watches M.C.R. Chilton fitting the bush and tap and A.T. Sargent pressurising the casks.’
2. Conditioned through fermentation

In 1958 at least, draught Guinness was gaining its condition ‘naturally’, in CAMRA parlance — or was it?

Special treatment for Draught Guinness [as opposed to bottled] begins at the stage where the beer is racked… After empty casks returning from customers have been examined and sterilised, a measured quantity of beer is introduced into each one: the cask is closed up, made airtight and then the Pressuriser applies a calculated pressure to the cask. It is now ready to be passed to the Conditioning Room… ‘Conditioning’ is the technical word used to describe the fermentation of beer in cask or bottle: this fermentation builds up the pressure of gas which gives ‘life’ to beer… For this reason, all casks remain for a period in the Conditioning Room at a controlled temperature.

This would seem to us to suggest that these were full sealed, pressurised casks, i.e. what would generally be known as kegs, but that some or all of the fizz was generated through the action of yeast rather than injected. Does anyone else interpret that differently?

A man dispensing Guinness from a cask.
‘P.G. Holbourns, Foreman in charge of the Sample Room, draws a glass of Draught Guinness for tasting.’
3. In the pub

Here’s the really interesting bit: what happened to Guinness once publicans got hold of it.

We’ve heard various descriptions of the two-cask method but this is by far the clearest account of what was going on behind the scenes (our emphasis) in the late 1950s:

When a retailer receives his consignment of Draught Guinness he was use one of various alternative methods of serving it. The problem really arises because the high pressure in the cask creates a good deal of fob when the beer is drawn off, and this takes a great deal of time to settle. The most important of these methods is the ‘two-way’ system which was developed by Mr. E.J. Griffiths several years ago. This consists in stillaging two casks of Draught Guinness side by side, and releasing all the pressure from one of them. When this cask has been opened to the atmosphere for some time it becomes completely flat and beer drawn from it does not foam at all. His idea was to connect the two casks to a single tap the handle of which could be set in two different positions so as to draw beers from the two casks separately. The barman soon learns how to mix the casks so as to get the right size of head.

That phrase “for some time” grabbed our attention – depending on how long we’re talking, it might mean that second ‘flat’ cask acquired a certain funkiness and complexity, adding something of its own to the mix at point of service.

You might even imagine that the ecosystem of one pub cellar over another could contribute to the mythology around one pub serving better Guinness than another, or one entire town or city.

Draught Guinness dispenser.
‘Serving Draught Guinness from one of the new Dispensers.’
4. The coming of Draught Guinness™

We know that Draught Guinness with nitrogen was launched as the 1950s turned into the 1960s and this article seems to hint coyly at its arrival:

As a refinement of the ‘two-way’ system, J.R. Moore has recently been developing a device known as a Dispenser, which has all the virtues of the two-way system but does away with the necessity for having two casks on tap at once. A number of these dispensers are already operating successfully in trade in various parts of the country: they have very handsome counter mountings as can be seen in the photograph on this page.

We’ll keep an eye out for more on Draught Guinness as we trawl through the rest of these magazines and their endless accounts of children’s Christmas parties, sack races and retirement notices.

Main image at top: ‘Under the supervision of Foreman A.E. Binfield, deputising for E.S. Brock who was away sick, D.M. Hitch, Mrs E Gibbons, P. Thomas and Mrs C. Batchelor stack full casks in the Conditioning Room prior to despatch.’

6 replies on “Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap”

the Pressuriser applies a calculated pressure to the cask. It is now ready to be passed to the Conditioning Room

Presumably that’s saying that in each cask you’ve got live beer under a blanket of CO2. Sounds very unwieldy – no wonder they had trouble with fobbing.

The “Dispenser” is fascinating, too:

has all the virtues of the two-way system

= takes beer that’s completely flat and fermented-out and gives it a bit of fizz

but does away with the necessity for having two casks on tap at once

= doesn’t get the fizz from a second cask of Guinness

Looks like the (Re-)Invention Of Keg to me.

they were using the same technology for “cask” and bottled conditioned beer, but presumably the bottles didn’t fob uncontrollably when they were opened. Why they had to prepare draught beer with excess CO2 is a mystery. Perhaps bottled Guinness used some of its residual sugar in transit to the bottling plant, and the resulting excess CO2 was lost in handling during the bottle packaging process? I like the uniquely unwieldy and Heath Robinson nature of the 2 cask system. What could possibly go wrong there?

Fascinating stuff, and not that dissimilar to the evolution of beer conditioning and service that took place throughout Europe in the 1950s/60s. Cask>Keg wasn’t some overnight switcheroo, but a gradual process, with every stage likely considered progress at the time.

This kind of history lesson does of course rather undermine the notion of ‘tradition’ that many Guinness enthusiasts (and indeed those of continental lager) cling to, and which is ruthlessly exploited by marketing departments – this fanciful idea that it’s essentially the same as it was in 1759 or whenever, when the truth is that the processes and the resultant product have changed substantially and on many occasions over the years.

Around 2000 I talked with a retired Carlsberg brewer in Copenhagen who recalled endless tinkering with the processes and regretted that the beer he knew in the 1950s had essentially disappeared, but nobody really acknowledged this, or lamented its passing. Progress – really?

“The popular combination of flat and carbonated beer was known as ‘three threads’. In the 1970s, a brewer called Ralph Harwood…”

Good work here. I agree with Phil. They weren’t really pressurising, they were adding a few pounds top pressure, to preserve the beer from premature oxidation. The idea was to add enough to do that without making the beer gassy. English brewers of cask ale often did the thing. It was offside Camra rules though.

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