Sunday 2 April 2023

Looking back (part three): 1970s bottled beer

More about the beers of the 1970s. Starting with bottled beers.

The popularity of bottled beer had declined by the time I first hit the pub. In 1960, the split had been 64% draught, 36% bottled. By 1970, it was 73% to 27%. But the bottled figures also included off sales. Which at the time were about 10% of the total.

Why had bottled beer sales fallen? One the answers is keg beer. One of the reasons for drinking bottled beer or mixed bottled and draught was the variable quality of cask beer. Keg beer, which though more expensive than cask, was still cheaper than bottled beer. And offered a similar level of consistency.

Also, some styles of bottled beer were going out of fashion. Milk Stout is a great example. Hugely popular in the 1950s, by the 1970s it had become associated with grannies. Who wants to drink what their Nan is drinking? No-one under fifty. Some breweries still made one, but Mackeson was by far the most common.

Most breweries produced a range of bottled beers. Light Ale, Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Stout and some sort of Strong Ale. That was about it, usually. With quite modest bottled sales, few brewers bothered to make beers just for bottling. Light Ale was bottled Ordinary Bitter, Brown Ale the Mild, and Pale Ale the Best Bitter. Stout and Strong Ale were usually just bottled products, though sometimes a Strong Ale might be sold on draught during the Winter.

There were a couple of very strong bottled beers, like Whitbread Gold Label or Bass No. 1, which were 9%-10% ABV and sold in nip bottles. And in London, Courage Russian Stout. It was unavailable in Newark, despite all the pubs being owned by Courage. The northern part of Courage operated quite separately. None of the beers from Courage's southern breweries were distributed in the Midlands and North.

I can tell you very little about these beers. Because I never drank most of them. I can remember trying Bass No. 1 once. I couldn't even tell you now what colour it was. If I'd known its significance, I'd have paid more attention. And maybe tried it more than once.

Sometimes I did drink bottled beer. When a pub sold no cask beer, there was always an alternative for the real ale fan: bottled Guinness. Sold in every pub and bottle conditioned. It's hard to convey the magnificence of this beer. Dry, roastily bitter and with a distinct lactic tang. One of the greatest beers of the day. With so much more complexity and depth of flavour than the travesty of a Stout that is Draught Guinness. It was a sad day when they stopped bottle conditioning.

The other bottled option was Worthington White Shield. Another one of the handful of bottle-conditioned beers. Unfortunately, it was mostly only available in Bass Charrington pubs, so I didn't get to drink it often. It was bone dry, very highly carbonated and quite heavily hopped. Very pale in colour, too. Another excellent beer. Though you needed to be careful pouring it, as the sediment was easily disturbed. Most barmen wisely left the pouring to the customer.


Anonymous said...

Scanning the bottles shelves in the 70's you'd have also seen Shandy Bass, Cherry B, Babycham, Snowball and Pony - the little drink with a kick. What else am I missing from that line up? Britvic 55?

Chris Pickles said...

Bottled Guinness was interesting because there were a large number of different bottlers, and they did not all taste the same. In Tetley's houses it was (nominally?) bottled by 'Musgrave and Sagar' and was rather more mellow than the 'Heys and Humphries' offered by Websters.

Anonymous said...

Nice description of the bottled Guiness. I never had the chance to try it, but I feel like I have a sense of it now.

Ron Pattinson said...

Chris Pickles,

pretty sure Musgrave and Sagar were bottling Guinness when I lived in Leeds. They still owned a couple of pubs, the Town Hall Tavern, for example.

Ron Pattinson said...


the list of bottled products other than beer was pretty short. Not many mixers. Not many different spirits, for that matter.

Thom Farrell said...

Guinness said they discontinued the bottle conditioned stout as ambient temperatures in pubs got warmer and condition suffered. Did you experience this?

Chris Pickles said...

I honestly never had a bad bottle of Guinness, although I did prefer some bottlers to others. Most pubs had a sort of chilled tray affair at the back of the bar in which the bottled drinks sat and kept cool.

Other widely available bottled beers included Newcastle Brown, Double Diamond, Whitbread English Ale (low sugar suitable for diabetics). Ind Coope had a barley wine called Triple A which was sold in Tetley's pubs.

Anonymous said...

Pubs in Ireland used to bottle as did former breweries like Lett’s and Deasy’s

Anonymous said...

My great grandfather a barman loved his bottle of Guinness I can agree on Guinness draught it is shite and I can not understand why the likes of the Guinness Guru hold it up to be the pinnacle of stout. Smaller breweries here in Ireland who do stout do a far better job be it bottled/, canned, kegged or casked.

Ron Pattinson said...

Chris Pickles,

in addition to different bottlers, you had different sources for the Stout. In the North and most of the Midlands it came from Dublin, in the South from London.

Anonymous said...

Marstons Low C - was that available in the 70's or just the 80's?

Ed said...

Courage didn't sell Imperial Russian Stout in the South the last time they brewed it.