Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap

Guinness casks.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

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

  5. 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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