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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The Mother lode: Attitudes to Beer, 1963

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.

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The Magic Guinness Blend c.1939

Cover of the Guinness brewing manual.

When a colleague of mine told me that her father had been head brewer at Guinness’s London brewery and wondered if I might be interested in seeing his papers, I got a bit excited.

Finally, months later, we got round to visiting to check out what was in her collection. Based on a quick audit the answer is: everything.

We’ve agreed to take possession of the whole lot, catalogue it, copy bits we might be able to use for our own research, and then help with arrangements to have the important bits taken into appropriate archives.

For now, though, here’s a nugget from the handful of documents we brought away with us on Wednesday night: insider info on how Guinness gained its once legendary complexity at the blending stage.

This comes from a typed document in a plain brown wrapper written in 1939 and updated to take account of wartime brewing restriction. The copy we have seems to come from around 1943 but was in apparently still in circulation in the 1950s.

The first page bears the title ‘The Process of Brewing Guinness’ and the 46 pages that follow offer detailed notes on the basics of beer making (how hops are dried, for example) as well as specifics about Guinness.

Section header: "making up".

Here’s the section on ‘Making Up’:

Beer in storage vats [after fermentation] is quite flat and is cloudy and bitter and uninteresting to taste. Before it is ready for sale it must be ‘Made up’… Beer from say six different brews forms the basis. These are chosen in such proportions that when mixed with unfermented beer (i.e. wort that has been pitched but not allowed to ferment) known as gyle, their residues added to the fermentable matter of the gyle will give a suitable ‘Prime’. ‘Prime’ is the fermentable matter in beer after making up just as ‘Residue’ is the fermentable matter as the beer enters the storage vat. It is measured as the difference between the present gravity of the beer and its perfect primary.

In addition to these beers there are added:–

  1. Barm beer: this is the beer which is skimmed off from the skimmers with the yeast and is separated from the yeast in a filter press. It is intensely bitter but adds very materially to the flavour of the flat, uninteresting storage vat beer.
  2. O.B.S.: old beer storage is old acid beer that, like barm beer, improves the flavour of the finished beer although it is itself very unpleasant.
  3. Drawing: these are residues of made up beer which was not bright enough to put into the trade without further treatment. It is exactly similar in composition to made up beer.
  4. Finings: this is a solution of isinglass in storage vat beer. Only minute traces of isinglass are required but it brings about the very rapid sedimentation of all the floating particles which make the beer cloudy.

All the constituents of the make up are pumped into a ‘Racking Vat’ together and there allowed to stand for 24-48 hours.

So, there you have it. We sort of knew the gist of this but this is the most explicit explanation of the process we’ve seen in writing from a primary source, we think.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 28 July 2018: Blackburn, Belfast, Banked Bass

Here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that caught our eye in the past week, from the colour of pre-WWI beer to the mysteries of fermentation.

First, though, an admission: we put this together on Thursday evening and scheduled it to post automatically. If anything exciting happened on Friday it might not be reflected.

Right, down to business.


Blackburn

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for subscription service Beer52, Katie Taylor has written about the pubs of Blackburn, Lancashire:

“If you asked anyone in here what craft beers they enjoyed, they’d probably think you were on about bottles,” said [bar manage] Hilary [Carr]. “And they don’t drink those.”

I ask what a local drinker would call a beer brewed in a local microbrewery. She answers: “Real ale.”

So with all this love for good, local real ale, what’s stopping northern craft beer brewers from moving in? I ask Hilary to join me for a sit down and she brings her coffee mug – it says “Prog Forever” on it.

“It’s the price,” she says. “All our beers are £2.50 a pint. Nobody will pay more than that and to be honest, they don’t need to!”

(This is actually from last week but we missed it then.)


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

For Good Beer Hunting Stan Hieronymus writes about the fermented food guru Sandor Katz and how his evangelism is leaking into the world of beer:

“Mixed culture is probably the most annoying buzzword right now,” says Todd Steven Boera at Fonta Flora Brewery in North Carolina. “And we use it on our menu boards, labels, everywhere. If you asked 10 random people, I think you would get 10 different answers what it means.”

Mixed culture may not tell consumers as much about what to expect in a glass as Boera would like, but it makes sense in the context of the first of two beers Boera and Katz collaborated on.


The John Hewitt pub in Belfast.

At An Seisiún Mac Siúrtáin (a pen name) has written a long piece about the experience of trying to drink any stout other than Guinness in Belfast:

Before independent beer was a thing in Northern Ireland (prior to this decade, the only independent breweries were Hilden and Whitewater)’ Guinness was my session beer of choice. It had a hint of satisfying roastiness, there were no evil flavours or wateriness like you’d get in macro lagers and the nitro serve – while it stripped some flavour out – meant it went down smoothly without making you feel gassy and bloated like the carbonated beers. It’s therefore the ultimate session beer – enough taste to be morish but not enough to be sickening, and the nitro means it goes down easier and leaves room for more. While Yardsman and Belfast Black are objectively better beers with more flavour, they are not quite direct substitutes in terms of the purpose they serve the drinker.

There’s a fascinating little ‘ouch’ in there for craft beer advocates, too: what if the craft clone of your favourite big brand beer isn’t an improvement but merely the equivalent of supermarket own-brand cornflakes?


A clear pint of Bass pale ale.

On his travels in Stockton-on-Tees Martin Taylor found the tradition of ‘banking Bass’ alive, if not quite well:

“Do you still sell Bass ?”  I squeaked.

“Of course”  Next time I’ll ask if they’re actually open or something daft like that.

I was directed to the other side of the bar.  But where was the famous bankers fridge ?

Still there, but with just four bankers cooling down, rather than the twenty of a decade ago.  Still looked the business though.


Beer glasses.

Just in case you missed it when we Tweeted it last week, do check out this magnificent find by Gary Gillman (@beeretseq): a chart from the period before World War I depicting in full colour various types of European beer, each in their typical glassware. (Detail above.) Gary has now tracked down the source of the image in the Toronto library and found that it came with a table of figures.


If you want more, check out Alan McLeod’s thoughts from Thursday and Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up.


Finally, here’s one to provoke some thought:

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: