Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Bottled beer in the 1950’s – what type to make?

There was no doubt that a brewery of any size needed to produce bottled beer. But How? There were several options open to the 1950’s brewer.

Really, it was the brewer’s customers who would decide what was made.

“To-day practically every pleasure party goes out with a supply of bottled beer. All these considerations contribute to a greatly increased demand for bottled beers. Having definitely established the fact that a trade in bottled beer is to be commended, it becomes necessary to decide the system and conditions under which bottling is to be carried out. If character and fullness of palate are to be the governing factors then no further discussion is necessary. In spite of every endeavour, it cannot be denied that chilling, filtering and carbonating do reduce those characteristics. It is not to be wondered that, for a long time, well-known firms stipulated that their beers were bottled under normal conditions only, that is to say, without being chilled, filtered or carbonated.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 331.

Interesting that “normal conditions” once meant bottle conditioned. By the 1950’s artificially carbonated were the norm, but by no means universal. In particular, some of the most famous brands of bottled beer – Bass, Guinness and Worthington – continued to be bottle conditioned, not just in the 1950’s but to the 1970’s and beyond.

Brewers were in no doubt that bottle conditioning, if performed correctly, resulted in a superior-tasting product. But that wasn’t necessarily the drinker’s main concern. They were more interested in a nice clear beer and no wasteful sediment.

“If, on the other hand, it is found that the customers care little for these attributes, and prefer bottled beers which have been subjected to artificial processes, then it is useless to endeavour to force upon them anything else. In fact there is no doubt that the overwhelming demand is for bright bottled beer. It has been said that nowadays 'the public drink with their eyes', and demand brilliance. This may be illogical, for a hazy beer can be as wholesome as a bright one and a naturally conditioned beer will certainly have a fullness of palate to which a carbonated, filtered beer cannot attain. Again, of course, naturally conditioned beer requires careful storage, handling and pouring if the sediment is not to be disturbed and it is to be drunk at its best. These points have reacted in favour of bright filtered beers. As a result the number of brewers who brew their own naturally conditioned beer has decreased and most breweries produce filtered beers of their own brewing, and are content to bottle a few well known brands of naturally conditioned beers.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 331.

Some of that sounds like modern hipster barman talk: “a hazy beer can be as wholesome as a bright one“. Though I’m sure Jeffery would be appalled by the orange juice masquerading as beer nowadays.

To sum up: the public didn’t really appreciate naturally conditioned bottled beer, it was more trouble to make, harder to store and needed to be poured carefully. That’s why everyone brewed carbonated beer.

The last phrase refers to the beers mentioned above, Bass, Guinness and Worthington. As I’ve repeated many times, the way they got other brewers to sell their beer in their tied houses was to let them bottle themselves, so getting the profit from bottling.

These figures from before the war show that this beer from other brewers could add up to a considerable amount:

Whitbread sales of Porter & Stout 1929 – 1938 (barrels)
total Whitbread production Guinness & Bass total % Guinness & Bass
1929 481,663 45,595 527,258 8.65%
1930 492,605 50,064 542,669 9.23%
1931 466,218 45,245 511,463 8.85%
1932 416,623 37,977 454,600 8.35%
1933 437,102 39,192 476,294 8.23%
1934 476,205 41,528 517,733 8.02%
1935 494,715 41,773 536,488 7.79%
1936 510,260 41,344 551,604 7.50%
1937 528,725 41,353 570,078 7.25%
1938 538,914 39,077 577,991 6.76%
Whitbread archive document number LMA/4453/D/02/16
Whitbread brewing records

More details about the different types of bottled beer next. 

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