Thursday, 1 December 2016

Beer in 1958

Beer in Britain, originally published as a suipplement to The Times newspaper, has a handy little overview of the position of beer in the UK in 1958. And because I’m a lazy git, I’m going to nick it.

“The chain of activities starts with the barley and hop farmers. It extends through the maltings and the oasthouses to the breweries where the main processing occurs, where the right "liquor" (the brewers' name for water, whose precise quality matters, and may need to be adjusted) is important, where the yeast is nurtured and added, and new yeasts may be bred, where the hops (which began to be used in the fourteenth century) are added to preserve and give flavour, and sugar to flavour and produce a secondary fermentation. Thence to the cooling, conditioning, casking or bottling, and the transporting to the off-licence, or more commonly to the pub, hotel, or club, where the consumers' acquaintance with beer normally starts and more often than not ends.

"More often than not"—though not so often as formerly, because a larger proportion of beer is now drunk privately at home or elsewhere. Certainly, as later articles show, much more is now sold in bottles, and a little more is sold in cans. The extent of this change is by no means all due to increased consumption at home—for a great deal of the bottled beer made is drunk in place of draught, and some is mixed with draught. This follows partly from a growth in taste for some particular qualities and brands, and partly from an appreciation of the special characteristics of bottled beer, which is more uniformly found to be in good condition. Bottled beer necessarily costs much more to make than draught.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, pages 3 - 4.

The move to bottled or canned beer has continued. But over the last couple of decades it has been because of a change in drinking habits. In pubs, fashion has moved back to draught beer.

The dodgy condition of draught beer does seem to have been a factor in the increased consumption of bottled beer. It also helped keg beer, which brewers saw as being a bulk form of bottled beer, because, like it, it was conditioned in the brewery rather than in the pub cellar.

Now this is something about bottle beer I’d not heard before:

“The advance in its importance, very different for different brewers and in different parts of the country (much more in the south than in the north, for example) reflects both the technical progress going on in the industry, partly in the search for new markets, and the competition between various brands, between breweries selling mainly in their own houses and those selling mainly in the free trade, and between national and regional and local breweries.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 4.

So bottled beer was more popular in the South than in the North? I’d guess economics were at work there. Bottled beer was more expensive than draught and those living in the South were generally better off than those in the North.

Next I’ll take a closer look at the British brewing industry.


Anonymous said...

When they talk about adding sugar for a secondary fermentation, are they just talking about priming for carbonation or are they talking about a two stage fermentation process with sugar being added after the first round is done?

Anonymous said...

It may also be that Southern draught beer was largely flat, so a light ale would mix well with a best bitter. The sum being "better" than the parts. Not so with Northern bitters which seemed to be served fizzy without need for a bottled addition (my experience, more 60's and 70's, when the common introduction to drinking in London was a Light and Bitter).

Ron Pattinson said...


I assume it's for priming.