GALLERY: Guinness Time in the 1950s – design of the times

The set of Guinness papers we’ve been sorting through for their owner includes a fairly complete two-decade run of Guinness Time, the in-house magazine for the brewery at Park Royal.

While the con­tents is on the whole fair­ly dull (egg and spoon races, meet the toi­let atten­dants, and so on) the cov­ers are works of art, redo­lent of the peri­ods in which they were pro­duced.

Those pre­sent­ed below are all from the 1950s and so there are a cou­ple of ref­er­ences to TV, the hot trend of the day.

Guinness Time Summer 1956 -- a topiary seal.
Sum­mer 1956. Illus­tra­tor: Tom Eck­er­s­ley.
A man uses a giant bottle of Guinness as a telescope.
Autumn 1956. Illus­tra­tor: John Gilroy.

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Guinness Confidential, 1977: Economic Crisis, Quality Problems, Image Issues

In 1977 Guinness commissioned consultant Alan Hedges to look into why sales of the bottled version of the stout were dropping off. His research revealed changes in the beer, and changes in society.

Hedges is, it turns out, some­thing of a leg­end in the world of mar­ket research hav­ing writ­ten an impor­tant book called Test­ed to Destruc­tion, pub­lished in 1974.

We guess from the odd con­tex­tu­al clue that he got the Guin­ness gig because he had worked for S.H. Ben­son, an adver­tis­ing firm that held the Guin­ness account in the 1960s.

He may well still be around – he was active in the indus­try in the past decade or two – so maybe he’ll pop up to tell us more if he ever stum­bles across this post. (That’s one rea­son we like to put things like this out into the world.)

This par­tic­u­lar item is yet anoth­er doc­u­ment from the col­lec­tion of Guin­ness paper­work we’re cur­rent­ly sort­ing through on behalf of its own­er. We’re not going to share the whole thing, just high­light some of the most inter­est­ing parts.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 June 2018: Football, Motorbikes, Public Toilets

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Russia to New York City.

This is a local sto­ry for us: for Bris­tol Cable Maff Tuck­er writes about The Ban­jo, as the coun­cil estate at Cad­bury Heath in east Bris­tol is affec­tion­ate­ly known, and the pub around which life there is cen­tred:

There’s a wall of pic­tures in the Lamb that remem­bers the reg­u­lars that have passed away. Les points at a framed bik­ers jack­et: “Jamie Eng­land, he was aban­doned when he was a kid, his nan took him in and brought him up, along with me and my broth­ers and sis­ters because our dad worked days and our mum worked nights.”


Plastic footballs.

At Lady Sinks the Booze Kirst Walk­er offers advice for dis­cern­ing beer drinkers on how to go about watch­ing the World Cup, which is now under­way:

30 min­utes before kick-off – get two drinks

At 38 min­utes, get two drinks (stud­ies** have shown that most peo­ple will attempt to avoid the half time rush at 40 min­utes, by which time you’re already at the bar like a genius).

If you need a fur­ther drink before 90 min­utes, or if there may be sig­nif­i­cant extra time because Gary Cahill has straight up mur­dered some­one, the time to go is on 67 min­utes when sta­tis­ti­cal­ly a goal is unlike­ly to be scored.

Relat­ed: this seems like a good time to remind every­one of the exis­tence of the craft beer and foot­ball map at Beer Fron­tiers which lists pubs with inter­est­ing beer that also have TVs. It’s also worth not­ing that some chains (Brew­Dog, Craft Beer Co) that don’t nor­mal­ly show foot­ball are mak­ing an excep­tion for the World Cup.

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The Ethereal Form of the Spirit of a Place

Where exactly is the Staropramen we get in 330ml bottles in UK supermarkets brewed? Probably not Prague, but good luck pinning it down any more precisely than that from the packaging.

We don’t dis­like Staro­pra­men (or haven’t dis­liked it, of which more in a moment) and have drunk a fair few pints and bot­tles of it over the years, despite know­ing that it’s not gen­er­al­ly high­ly regard­ed by experts in Czech beer. If we want a lager to drink at a bar­be­cue or to swig from the bot­tle at a par­ty – come on, this is one of life’s great plea­sures! – we’ll some­times pick up a four-quid four-pack at the super­mar­ket. That’s how we end­ed up hold­ing bot­tles in our hands on Sun­day and, for the first time in ages, real­ly look­ing at the pack­ag­ing.

Staropramen.

Estab­lished in Prague. Proud­ly brewed since 1849. #1 Prague beer in the world. The spir­it of Prague. Then, in tiny print, “Brewed and bot­tled in the EU for Mol­son Coors Brew­ing Com­pa­ny (UK) Ltd.”

That all reads to us like the most weasel­ly pos­si­ble way of say­ing NOT ACTUALLY BREWED IN PRAGUE.

So, where is it brewed if not there?

Mol­son Coors has brew­ing plants else­where in the Czech Repub­lic, and all over the EU, from Bul­gar­ia to Bur­ton-upon-Trent. But we have a sus­pi­cion if this ver­sion of the beer was brewed in the UK they would be less shy about it, on the basis that they’re rea­son­ably open about the fact that Pravha, the 4% draught vari­ant, is brewed here.

Our guess as to what’s going on, at least in part, is that there is no sin­gle point of ori­gin, and that they’re keep­ing their options open with regard to logis­tics. Per­haps some of the Staro­pra­men we get in the UK is some­times brewed in Prague, or at least else­where in the Czech Repub­lic, but there might be occa­sion­al peri­ods when addi­tion­al demand is ful­filled by plants in, say, Croa­t­ia. Being more spe­cif­ic on the labels would make this kind of flex­i­bil­i­ty dif­fi­cult.

So, who can say for sure? We’ve emailed to ask this spe­cif­ic ques­tion and will let you know if we hear back.

As to the qual­i­ty of the beer… Well, we’ve stuck up for it longer than some but it real­ly did taste a bit rough to us this time; harsh and nasty, with the same odd hot, pla­s­ticky tang we also pick up in Stel­la Artois and San Miguel in par­tic­u­lar. Per­haps that’s the result of the brew­ing tak­ing place away from home; or because the beer now only uses “ingre­di­ents includ­ing Czech hops” (our empha­sis); or because the lager­ing time is a mere “cou­ple of weeks”. Most like­ly, it’s a com­bi­na­tion of these and a lot of oth­er small­er cor­ner cut­ting exer­cis­es, them­selves the symp­tom of a lack of respect for the beer, even if the brand con­tin­ues to be worth milk­ing.

And why is the brand valu­able? Because peo­ple think they’re buy­ing some­thing from Prague – a gen­uine import, a reminder of adven­tures past, some­thing for which it is worth pay­ing a (small) pre­mi­um – just like we did on Sun­day after­noon.

Where a beer is from, or appears to be from, does mat­ter, at least to the mar­ket­ing peo­ple whose job it is to per­suade con­sumers to buy it.

No Logo

The blackboard at the Drapers.

One of the many interesting things about our local, The Drapers Arms micropub in Bristol, is the lack of branding for beers at the point of sale.

Instead of the cus­tom­ary row of hand-pumps with dec­o­ra­tive pump-clips (which have grown big­ger and fanci­er over the course of the past few decades) the Drap­ers has a rack of casks with beer names chalked on their black jack­ets, and a black­board declar­ing the name, brew­ery, ori­gin, style and ABV of each beer.

The pump-clips are there, actu­al­ly, tacked on the wall behind the bar, along with those for beers com­ing soon, but a deter­mined squint and spec­ta­cle push is required to dis­cern any details. Most peo­ple, we sus­pect, think they’re just part of the decor.

The black­board approach encour­ages cer­tain unusu­al, quite pleas­ing behav­iour. For one thing, peo­ple often ask each oth­er for advice: “Excuse me – what’s that you’re on? It looks bloody good.” And we’ve nev­er known a pub where tasters are so freely offered and  as glad­ly tak­en, and where such gen­er­ous time is giv­en to con­ver­sa­tions about taste and pref­er­ence.

Which brings us to our main point: the lack of obvi­ous brand­ing seems to push peo­ple – and cer­tain­ly forces us – to focus on the beer.

We’ve always been quite open about the fact that, being human beings with a full suite of emo­tions, nur­tured in late 20th cen­tu­ry cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, we are eas­i­ly swayed by pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing. Of course we chal­lenge our­selves and attempt to over­come this instinct to super­fi­cial­i­ty but if we’d seen this pump-clip, for exam­ple, we might have let our gaze pass over it in favour of some­thing else:

Ramsbury Belapur pump-clip
SOURCE: Rams­bury Web­site.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t sug­gest that this beer is any­thing spe­cial. It’s a bit cheap and a bit staid. But at The Drap­ers, a lev­el play­ing field for the graph­i­cal­ly chal­lenged brew­ery, we went for it, and were real­ly glad we did. It’s a thor­ough­ly decent beer we’ve had sev­er­al times since, and Rams­bury have been added to our men­tal list of brew­eries always worth a go.

On the flip­side, there are beers that, divorced from very smart graph­ic design and win­ning blurb, are eas­i­er to assess objec­tive­ly. In plain brown wrap­pers it’s eas­i­er to dis­cern that a slight­ly bland pale ale from a hip brew­ery taste much like a slight­ly bland pale ale from a micro-brew­ery found­ed in 1983.

We gen­er­al­ly argue for more infor­ma­tion rather than less (see tomorrow’s blog post) but some­how the omis­sion of this par­tic­u­lar type of infor­ma­tion – the visu­al – real­ly works for us.