Allsopp’s 1911 Cask/Keg Beer (Part I)

I won’t cite chapter and verse for a matter well-known to beer historians: Watney’s Red Barrel was a pressurized draft beer (ale) developed in the 1930s following experiments to develop a stable barrel beer for export to India, and to supply domestic trade needing draft beer served non-continuously.

There were apparently, as well, experiments by some brewers in the 1920s with bulk pressurized beer, some was sent (containers) to London pubs with high turnover.

As far as I know, no commercially produced keg beer, i.e., filtered to be bright, gas-charged, perhaps pasteurized, has been documented before World War I. An advertisement that appeared at least twice in a New York newspaper in 1911 seems to show such a product.

It was called the Automatic Cask, advertised for Christmas in the Evening Telegram. The beer itself was Allsopp’s Pale Ale.

The woman seems to be using a hand pump, perhaps the type used today for party kegs that forces air into a CO2 pressurized container. Yes, the air will spoil the beer before very long but the idea is quick consumption, as surely with Allsopp’s automatic cask which was available in small, 1.5 and 3 gal. sizes.

The sizes suggest the market was private homes, clubs, restaurants, and perhaps specialty bars in New York.

A close look shows the faucet about half-way up the standing cask, so the contents had I think to be under pressure. The foam on the glasses seems the type generated by the usual fizzy beer. The term automatic, too, seems to suggest a ready made fizzy beer.*

In this period, Allsopp, the great Burton brewer that helped popularize India Pale Ale around the world, was in receivership. Its affairs were restructured and it continued in business, but it makes sense the business was looking for a silver bullet to restore financial health. As ever, technological innovation is one way, and this automatic cask beer perhaps was an attempt to build a new channel of trade.

This automatic cask must be distinguished from so-called automatic cask systems of the 1890s that were levering systems, designed to lower a true cask (for cask ale) from a cradle or stillions to extract as much clear beer as possible without disturbing the sediment.

If it was keg beer, perhaps had WW I not intervened, the keg beer revolution (in U.K.) of the 1960s-1970s would have happened much earlier, under the appellation automatic cask. It has a nice Futurist ring.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the 1911 press advertisement linked in the text, via the Fulton History website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*I claim no advanced expertise in technic of beer dispense, so any other ideas welcome.

3 thoughts on “Allsopp’s 1911 Cask/Keg Beer (Part I)

  1. Using an on line price conversion, the keg was quite pricey at $47.40 in today’s dollars. Perhaps the “new technology” of pasteurizing keg beer would justify the price hike. If nothing else, it would make for a nice neighborhood Christmas party display.

  2. For what it’s worth, in 1908 in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Fred Maynard wrote an article, “Some Notes on ‘Non-Deposit’ Plant and CO2”. In the first paragraph, he stated: “… to Mr. R. Riddell, of Messrs. Allsopp’s brewery in Burton, is the credit due of being the first English brewer to successfully experiment with the chilling and filtering of English beers”.

    The article does not address further the work of Allsopp in this area, but this does show, in the period concerned, an especial interest in chilled and filtered beers on its part. Such beers typically were force-carbonated to ensure proper condition when poured chilled. In turn this supports the idea that the beer in the automatic cask was of this nature.

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