Thursday 21 February 2019

Bottled Beer in the 1950s

Today's post is an excerpt from Austerity!, one of the many books I published last year. It covers the fascinating - and hugely important - story of UK beer in the immediate post-war years.

This is a section on bottled beer.

Bottled Beer
There was more variation in bottled beer, both in terms of styles and strengths. Stronger beers just didn’t sell in large enough quantities to be sold on draught. Other beers, such as Brown Ale and Light Ale, were considered bottled products. And some, like Sweet Stout, were only really practical in bottled form.

Bottled beer was all the rage in the 1950’s. It was the only type of beer whose sales were increasing. Making it vital for brewers to have good bottling facilities and the right range of bottled products. In 1900, only about 5% of beer was bottled. By 1939 it had risen to 25%, though its growth was temporarily halted by the advent of war. In 1954, it hit 35%.

Undoubtedly the percentage of bottled beer would have been higher, had it not been for WW II. There was a shortage of glass for bottles and even wood for crates, which limited the amount a brewer could produce. (During the war Barclay Perkins regularly sent letters to their tenants warning them they would only get bottled beer delivered if they returned the empty bottles and crates.) Plus bottling used more energy than producing draught beer, which was another important consideration.

Around a third of beer was in bottled form. That’s even more significant when you realise 70-80% of beer was consumed in pubs at the time. There must have been a lot of customers drinking either bottled beer or draught and bottled beer mixed. The situation now is much more complicated. A much higher proportion of drinking goes on at home, so that naturally boosts the amount of bottled or canned beer sold. On the other hand, bottled beer is much less often consumed in pubs.

Bottled sales continued rising until around 1960. The advent of keg beer made bottled beer less attractive. Keg was a similar product, but cheaper in price. The percentage of bottled (and by then canned, too) sales only began to rise again with a change in drinking habits after 1980 when beer was increasingly drunk at home.

Bottle-conditioning, already a minority sport since WW I, was on its way out in the 1950s. It was mostly restricted to Old Ales, strong Stouts, Burton Pale Ales and Guinness Extra Stout. By 1970, there would only be half a dozen left.

Most bottled beer – and certainly all the lower-gravity stuff like Light Ale and Brown Ale – was brewery-conditioned in one way or another. As was Sweet Stout for safety reasons. Some contained so many fermentable sugars any live yeast would have turned them into bombs.

The older method of producing bright bottled beer was called chilling and filtering. Beer was chilled in a tank to drop out any potential protein haze, then filtered and bottled with artificial carbonation.

Intrigued, then why not buy the whole book. It's full of facty goodness. And lots of homebrew recipes.

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