Sunday, 9 April 2023

Looking back (part seven): Draught Bitter prices in 1972

After looking at draught Mild the next logical step is to take a gander at Bitter. King of the public bar, at the time.

I'm using the same Daily Mirror article as a source. It's hard to convey just how secret beer strengths were in the past. That's why brewers like Whitbread spent so much effort analysing their rivals' beers. It was the only way of finding out how strong they were. For ordinary drinker? Well, it was just bad luck. Short of analysing beers yourself, you could only guess.

Did brewers take advantage of their customers' ignorance? Of course they fucking did. In the table their are beers called "Best Bitter" with gravities that are very much ordinary. I'd expect a Best to be at least 1040º and 4% ABV.

I drank far fewer of the Bitters than the Milds. Just because I was essentially a Mild drinker. Bathams, Vaux Sampson, Adnams, Courage Best, Theakson and Jennings are the only ones I'm pretty certain that I tried. It was, after all, a very long time ago.

There was a considerable difference in value for money. Three Tuns Bitter was 55% better value than Truman Titan, in terms of gravity. Irinic as Three Tuns was a homebrew pub and so one of the smallest breweries in the country. Blue Anchor, another homebrew house, is third in terms of value for money. And at number two is Bathams, a brewery with just a handful of pubs.

This time the worst value isn't momopolised by Big Six breweries. True, there a lot of them there. This time, eleven of the twelve worst value were keg beers. The only exception being the watery Devenish Bitter, which was a mere 2.7% ABV.

In general, keg Bitter was 1p per pint more expensive than the cask version. You can see this clearly in the table where both are represented. Devenish, for example has Bitter at 11.5p and Saxon, which looks like the same beer kegged, was 12,5p. Greenall Whitley have Bitter at 13p and Festival at 15p. Again, they look like the same beer. Hall & Woodhouse: Badger Best 13p and Forum 14p.

Note that keg beers tended to be named, while cask versions were often simply called Bitter or Best Bitter. 

Draught Bitter prices in 1972
Brewer Beer Price per pint (p) º gravity per p % ABV per p OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation
Three Tuns Bitter 12 3.42 0.35 1041 1008.7 4.20 78.78%
Batham Bitter 13 3.32 0.36 1043.2 1007.1 4.70 83.56%
Blue Anchor Spingo 16 3.24 0.26 1051.9 1019.4 4.20 62.62%
Vaux & Co Sampson 13 3.17 0.30 1041.2 1011.1 3.90 73.06%
Hall & Woodhouse Badger Best 13 3.12 0.31 1040.5 1009.7 4.00 76.05%
Courage Best Bitter 13 3.02 0.32 1039.3 1007.8 4.10 80.15%
Adnam Best Bitter 12 3.02 0.29 1036.2 1009.2 3.50 74.59%
Blue Anchor Ordinary 12 2.98 0.23 1035.8 1014.1 2.80 60.61%
Hall & Woodhouse Forum 14 2.92 0.28 1040.9 1010.8 3.90 73.59%
Banks Bitter 13 2.91 0.29 1037.8 1009.3 3.80 75.40%
Watney Special 12.5 2.90 0.27 1036.2 1010 3.40 72.38%
Jennings Castle 12 2.87 0.31 1034.4 1006 3.70 82.56%
Theakston Best Bitter 13 2.83 0.28 1036.8 1009.1 3.60 75.27%
Vaux & Co Gold Tankard 14 2.81 0.26 1039.4 1011.6 3.60 70.56%
Ind Coope Best Bitter 13 2.81 0.26 1036.5 1010.3 3.40 71.78%
Young & Co Ordinary Bitter 13 2.73 0.27 1035.5 1008.5 3.50 76.06%
Greenall Whitley Bitter 13 2.72 0.30 1035.4 1005.4 3.90 84.75%
Whitbread Trophy 13 2.70 0.28 1035.1 1006.6 3.70 81.20%
Ind Coope Double Diamond 14 2.69 0.24 1037.6 1011.4 3.40 69.68%
Courage  Tavern 14 2.66 0.26 1037.3 1008.8 3.70 76.41%
Watney Red 14 2.66 0.26 1037.2 1009.5 3.60 74.46%
Greene King King Keg 14 2.64 0.23 1037 1008.5 3.20 77.03%
Whitbread Tankard 14.5 2.59 0.27 1037.6 1007.6 3.90 79.79%
Devenish Bitter 11.5 2.57 0.23 1029.6 1008.8 2.70 70.27%
Younger, Wm. Tartan 14 2.56 0.26 1035.9 1007.4 3.70 79.39%
Devenish Saxon 12.5 2.47 0.22 1030.9 1010 2.70 67.64%
Bass, Burton Worthington E 15.5 2.44 0.26 1037.8 1007.1 4.00 81.22%
Greenall Whitley Festival 15 2.40 0.24 1036 1008.3 3.60 76.94%
Truman Special 15 2.38 0.26 1035.7 1005.7 3.90 84.03%
Truman Titan 16 2.28 0.25 1036.5 1005.8 4.00 84.11%
Average   13.5 2.79 0.27 1037.5 1009.1 3.68 75.80%
Daily Mirror July 10th 1972, page 15


Matt said...

Just before prices got out of hand and inflation rocketed, peaking in the mid to late seventies. When I was a young drinker in the late eighties and early nineties, a pint of bitter cost roughly ten times what it had twenty years before. It's now three or four times what it was then.

Phil said...

All the word-of-mouth about different beers that was around in the 70s - how some bitters would give you a "bad head" and some not, how Robinson's was "fighting beer" & so on - make a bit more sense if drinkers genuinely didn't know what they were getting in strength terms. Half a % of alcohol makes a difference over five or six pints.

I'm surprised to read that Blue Anchor's Spingo (presumably what now goes as Middle) was 4.2% back then. People were probably still talking about it as loopy juice, given how weedy most of the stuff in this table is by today's standards.

Anonymous said...

Was there any way for inspectors to know if a pub was watering down beer? I assume with some of those at the bottom of the scale people might complain, but how would authorities know if that wasn't just how weak it was to begin with? Or did they just not investigate?

Rob Sterowski said...

Anonymous, I don’t think watering down beer was as widespread as people sometimes make out. By the 1970s beer was so weak that there wasn’t much scope to stretch it further by adding water. You could argue the watering down had already been done in the brewery.

There is some evidence that the practice of returning slops to the cask was more common, because there are analyses that show the Mild in pubs was stronger than it should have been, having had left-over Bitter added to it.

Chris Pickles said...

I suppose the inspectors would have known the OG's, so they could have analysed the alcohol percent and residual sugar and found out that way.

Chris Pickles said...

I used to find that Robinson's gave me a hangover. Oddly they only sold the best bitter, and light mild in the Manchester area. It was the only time I ever drank mixed, which was a popular choice. The ordinary bitter, which was lovely, was only available in a few pubs near Bakewell in Derbyshire. It's a mystery why they didn't sell it in Manchester where the strength would have been in line with all the other bitters.

Anonymous said...

In the 80's, slop management was a huge thing. At a pub I worked at, the drip tray would be poured into a pint glass, left to the side of the pump, and then topped up with fresh beer for the next customer. No beer would be wasted. I've mentioned this before, but at a pub I used to drink in, all the slops from a range of beers were emptied into a container which was then poured into the Marstons Pedigree keg at the end of the night. It did have a terrible reputation, but at least there was a surprise element for what you'd get in your pint glass.