Draught Guinness in the 1960s

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.

When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.

It appears as part of an article called (rather long-windedly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guinness Runs Smoothly… The Service Representatives’ from the Spring 1971 edition.

First, there are some helpful numbers:

In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guinness as in 1956. Fifteen years ago the number of outlets could be counted in hundreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devotees of draught Guinness can get their favourite brew.

By way of context, in those mid-1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve been trawling through draught Guinness is frequently mentioned as a sign of an interesting pub in much the same way, say, BrewDog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still noteworthy, and a welcome sight for many beer geeks.

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GALLERY: Guinness Time, 1967-1971

These wonderfully colourful covers for editions of the Guinness London staff magazine remind us of cartoons and children’s books from our childhoods, but could just as easily grace the sleeve of a Kinks LP.

Autumn 1967, front: Adam and Eve with the apple.
Autumn 1967, front.
Autumn 1967, rear: the Edenic serpent wraps itself around a bottle of Guinness.
Autumn 1967, rear.

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Which? Beer Report, 1960

The magazine of the Consumers’ Association was only three years’ old when, in August 1960, it published its first report on the state of British beer.

Covering seven full pages, the article covers 25 draught bitters, 16 draught milds, and around 80 other beers in bottles and cans:

With about 300 brewers making nearly 4,000 different brews, a full, or even representative, coverage of every area has been impossible. We have, however, chosen all the nationally distributed beers, together with a selection from the larger regional breweries throughout the country.

Original gravity (OG), alcohol by volume (ABV), percentage of unfermented matter (PUM), hop bitterness (HB) and price are recorded for each.

Three years before the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW), no particular attentions is paid to distinguishing between kegged and cask-conditioned beers, and filtering, pasteurisation and method of dispense are not among the various quality criteria considered:

People drink a particular beer largely because they prefer its flavour and quality to that of other brews which may be available in the district. Habit and, to some extent, fashion, also influence their choice.

Carlisle Brewery beer mat.All the bitters were between 3% and 4.6% ABV; the cheapest cost 6½d per-half-pint, the most expensive 11d. The best value for money  bitters, Which? concluded, were from Ansell’s of Birmingham, the Carlisle State Management brewery and Friary Meux. Flower’s Keg was notably poor value being the most expensive per half-pint but with a measly 3.4% ABV.

The draught milds all cost between 5½d and 6½d per-half-pint; the weakest was Watney’s at 2.5%, the strongest Hammond’s Best Mild, from Bradford, at 3.6%. The latter seems to have been an unusual brew: not only was it relatively strong but was also more bitter even than most of the bitters with 37 HB, and a PUM of 29 which suggests it was also fairly light-bodied and dry. The milds with most poke-per-penny were from Ansell, Carlisle SM, Charrington and Fremlins.

Looking at the bottled beers, it begins to seem obvious why kegged Guinness draught (kegged) stout had such a solid reputation among beer geeks: it was by far the most bitter beer measured at 62 HB, 30 PUM. By way of comparison, the most bitter of the bitters managed only 40 HB.

It’s a shame other beers beloved of early beer geeks aren’t listed, though — we’d love to see hop bitterness stats for the legendarily intense Boddington’s and Young’s Ordinary as they were in their prime.

Porter Tasting: Batch 3 — Guinness

The purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective.

One of the triggers for our current focus on porters was the launch by Guinness of Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter under the banner of The Brewers Project.

We’re including them in this tasting, despite the fact they’re not British, for several reasons. First and foremost, they’re our rules and we can break them if we like. Secondly, and less petulantly, the parent company is also UK-based, and the beers are being sold in mainstream stores across Britain, not only through specialist importers. Finally, there’s the significance of Guinness Porter in the story of British beer.

Guinness stopped brewing porter in the early 1970s — they had been producing a tiny amount for a dwindling Northern Ireland market — thus rendering the style temporarily extinct until it was revived by one of the first microbreweries a few years later. (Brew Britannia, Chapter Four.) So, there is a certain emotional appeal to Guinness using the word on the label of a beer, even if there’s no real difference between porter and stout, and even if, despite claims to be ‘inspired by’ recipes from 1799 and 1801 respectively, they aren’t really historic recreations.

* * *

For our tasting, we decided to throw standard bottled Guinness Original (4.2% ABV, £2.15 for 500ml at CO-OP) into the mix to check whether (a) the new Guinness porters actually taste any different and (b) just in case it turns out, within the parameters of this project, to be just what we’re looking for. It isn’t, but it really doesn’t taste bad at all: it’s quite nice. Too sweet (for Boak’s taste in particular), rather watery, and definitely lacking in wow factor, but not as grim as some critics, who are perhaps tasting the corporate structure, might have you believe.

Dublin Porter (3.8%; our bottle was sent to us by their PR people, but currently £1.50 for 500ml in supermarkets) is definitely quite different. Despite it’s lower ABV, it seems to have additional ‘oomph’, being drier and more bitter, with some milk chocolate notes where Original has only brown sugar. Only by contrast, though, not in absolute terms, and compared to the other porters we’ve tasted so far, it’s a fairly one-dimensional beer. It’s fine, tasty enough, and reasonably good value, especially if you’re after something vaguely mild-like. But it’s not a contender.

West Indies Porter (6%; pricing as above) does have a bit of star quality. In fact, it struck us as almost as good as the Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter which we’re benchmarking against. It has a firm, almost chewy body, and a pleasing acid-sweet-bitter balance — black forest gateaux territory. But… Smith’s is better and weaker, at 5%. Then again, GWIP is more readily available and, for now at least, cheaper — £18 for 12 bottles as compared to £31, plus delivery. That’s not a saving to be sniffed at. (Theatrical pause, tense music.) It’s a contender and it’s going through to the final taste-off.

On balance, we’d rather Guinness put the energy and effort that’s gone into these into sprucing up their standard range — why not make Guinness Original a more distinctive product, bottle-conditioned, at a higher ABV, and give that a sexy vintage-style label?

We’ve got a few more rounds of this to go. Next up: Kernel Export and other animals.

GALLERY: Brewing in Ireland c.1902

The invaluable and labyrinthine Internet Archive (archive.org) recently made available millions of public domain images from old books, searchable by keyword, on Flickr.com.

This gallery comes from a 1902 book called Ireland: industrial and agricultural which has a substantial section on brewing in Ireland.

(We’ve tidied the images up a bit and flipped them all the right way round.)