A U.K. “Keg Beer” in 1936

Introduction

This post has the same content as another earlier this week, but is retitled to stand alone vs. part of a series, and lightly edited. We show that Whitbread used the term keg in 1936 to describe a draught beer almost certainly filtered, carbonated, and pasteurized. This was well before c. 1955, the commonly accepted time for the emergence of keg beer branding.

Whitbread, the NAAFI, Mandatory Palestine

The great house of Whitbread, the historic London brewer with roots in the 18th century, is now a hospitality business; the brewing was sold 20 years ago. It started in porter and stout and did not produce ale until 1834, but in time became known for pale and other ales.

In the 1930s Whitbread was one of the suppliers to the N.A.A.F.I., the revamped canteen system (from 1920) for H.M. Armed Forces.

Hence, its advertising overseas would often mention this association, to remind Forces’ members that Whitbread beer was available at the N.A.A.F.I. stores with tea, chocolate, tobacco, and other staples.

A stellar example of such marketing appeared in the Palestine Post, published in Jerusalemon October 18, 1936. The ad states that Whitbread’s beer, type not mentioned, is “light”, “cooling”, “refreshing”, yet “possessing all the true characteristics of genuine British Beer”.

It adds that the beer is suitable for the “Climate of the Near East”.

It then states:

… enjoy that “Fresh from the Keg” Flavour.

A detail from the ad:*

 

 

Emergence of Keg Beer Branding

(The discussion below viz the emergence of 1950s keg beer is accepted brewing history, with references therefore omitted).

The reference to keg is notable as the term generally is thought to originate with Flower’s Keg Bitter in the 1950s. Keg was not an expression typically used in the British industry before this period. I have found stray mentions in general literature of the 19th century, usually of provincial origin. But in commercial brewing, the terms used for bulk beer sent to the trade were cask, or occasionally, barrel (or accepted sub-divisions, firkin and the like),

In the same 1936, Watney’s brewery in London first supplied East Sheen Tennis Club in Surrey with chilled, filtered draught intended for keeping through the week. The club had complained that the usual cask-conditioned beer tended to go off by the weekend.

This Watney’s beer was devised in the early 1930s for export to India, and its branding depicted a small red barrel.

The term keg as in keg beer, meaning chilled, fizzy, filtered, pasteurized barrel beer, is usually attributed to Flower’s Breweries Ltd. Flowers was originally of Stratford-on-Avon and was bought out by J.W. Green’s of Luton in 1954.

The merged business, called Flowers, marketed a Flowers Keg Bitter in the mid-1950s. It was intended at first for the free trade, not the pub chain of the brewery. The latter presumably had the turnover and training to sell cask beer in good condition.

J.W. Green possibly originated that keg technology, arising from 1940s experiments to serve beer cold and fizzy for American service personnel. Luton’s wartime associations are well known need I add.

The year of introduction of Flowers Keg Bitter is cited usually as 1956, or sometimes the year after or before. By the 1960s, “keg” takes off as a category of British barrelled beer. On its introduction in the 1960s Guinness’s nitrogen-dispensed draft stout was a keg beer, and has remained so, replacing a formerly naturally-conditioned product.

Yet, in Jerusalem in Mandate Palestine, Whitbread in 1936 is advertising what probably was filtered, pasteurized beer as from a “keg”. Some draft beer clearly was sent by U.K. brewers to the overseas canteens by this period. It is doubtful very much sent to the Levant was cask-conditioned due to the very warm climate.

Cafe ads in the 1930s Palestine Post sometimes mention draught beer, occasionally specifying brands. “Barclay’s Beer on draught” is included in a 1939 ad for a cafe’s Easter Dinner, for example.

New Stainless Steel Vessels to Export Beer for Hot Climates

In December 1935 the Palestine Post carried a short item, “Draught Beer for the Tropics”. It states beer will be packaged in “stainless steel tanks” of five and 11 gallons for the “East”. This perhaps was Watney’s new beer mentioned, but perhaps also the beer Whitbread’s sent to N.A.A.F.I.s in the Middle East.

My point, or finding, is that to all appearances, “keg” in the modern sense of keg beer saw light much earlier than the mid-1950s. And this was so not just within the industry, but publicly via Whitbread’s 1936 news advert in Jerusalem.

The 1935 story used the utilitarian term tank. Not very attractive for marketing-oriented brewers. Keg is more satisfactory, and is a neat mid-point between cask and tank, not in capacity terms but in a marketing sense.

The depiction of a small red barrel in Watney’s new branding perhaps suggested to some in the industry the idea of a keg. Yet, Watney’s did not use the term keg; indeed its famous keg brand in the 1960s was called Red Barrel. More likely, we think the idea of “keg” was drawn from the size and look of the stainless tanks mentioned in the December 1935 story “Draught Beer for the Tropics”.

The fact that Whitbread put the words “Fresh From the Keg” in quotations suggests a coinage for trade purposes: you are drinking “keg beer” now, chaps.

As it seems unlikely Whitbread’s draught beer at the Palestine N.A.A.F.I. was cask-conditioned, Whitbread must have had a true keg beer in the mid-1930s, for export. It was an ale, not a lager, as Whitbread did not brew lager in this period, to my knowledge.**

It seems doubtful the beer advertised as from a keg in the 1936 ad was bottled, moreover. Why would such beer have a fresh-from-the keg flavour? That doesn’t mean bottled beer wasn’t sold at the canteens or for takeaway, which the ad would promote as well.

We know that Whitbread bottled beer was distributed by an agent, Spinney, in Palestine. This 1939 ad clearly refers to such beers: Pale Ale, London Stout, Double Brown.

But draught Whitbread must have been available at the N.A.A.F.I. canteen judging by the wording of the ad, particularly as it refers to no brand type and depicts no bottle.

I think likely all or most draught beer sent to Mandate Palestine by U.K. brewers after 1935 was keg beer, essentially modern bottled beer put in a large metal container.

Whitbread Pale Ale, 1930s

In the mid-30s Whitbread advertised widely its bottled Pale Ale in the U.K. Some ads stress its cool and refreshing qualities. Some have sports or leisure backdrops, e.g. in this eBay listing:

 

 

We suspect a similar beer was kegged in the new stainless tanks for N.A.A.F.I. markets such as Palestine.

Whitbread in 1957 introduced in Britain its Tankard keg bitter. It became in time, as later its keg Trophy, a major seller. I suspect this was simply an application of something deployed for export in the 1930s, including the understanding that such beers were “keg”.

Note re images: the sources of the images above are identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

…………….

*The Palestine Post is archived at the National Library of Israel (NLI) website. Per the website, the Jewish press archive is an initiative of NLI and Tel Aviv University and the Palestine Post was made available courtesy the Jerusalem Post and Professor Ronald Zweig.

**For its history with lager this company history is instructive, by Nicholas Redman. I’ve referred to it in earlier posts.

 

 

3 thoughts on “A U.K. “Keg Beer” in 1936”

  1. Interesting find in the use of the word “keg” in relation to beer in the UK. In the past it was mostly used to refer to casks containing spirits in the UK. Unlike in North America.

  2. Not so sure about the Whitbread being keg.

    But the Barclay’s might well have been. In the form of one of their Lagers which were definitely sold in keg form in the 1930s. They came in 5.5 and 11 gallons casks. They’re metric sizes – 25 and 50 litres. And the brewery provided CO2 to serve them. My guess is that they were wooden casks, just because you didn’t really get metal ones much back then in Europe.

    The fact that it says “fresh from the keg” in parentheses implies to me that it wasn’t really draught. But, as you say, with no illustration of further explanation, we don’t have much to go on.

    I’d love to know which beer it was , as could look it up in their brewing records. If I were to guess, I’d go for their Export Pale Ale, which was about 4.7% ABV.

Comments are closed.