A Whitbread “Keg Beer” in 1936
This continues my series on beer in the British Mandate of Palestine. It began with this post, a correspondent’s tour of Palestine Brewery Ltd. in 1944.
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, the largest box ad from a brewer I’ve seen in the 1930s Palestine Post, appeared in the October 18, 1936 issue. The ad states that Whitbread’s beer, type not mentioned, is “light”, “cooling”, “refreshing”, yet “possessing all the true characteristics of genuine British Beer”.
(Again the yin yang of traditional yet refreshing in the lager style).
It adds, 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:*
This mention of keg is notable as the term keg 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 of the term 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. It 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 for 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.
Numerous cafe ads in the 1930s Palestine Post mention draught beer, often not specifying brand. But “Barclay’s Beer on draught” is included, as I mentioned earlier, in a 1939 cafe ad for an Easter Dinner.
So draft British beer of some sort was clearly available in 1930s Palestine, including from Whitbread.
In December 1935 the Palestine Post carried a short item called “Draught Beer for the Tropics”. It stated beer would be packaged in “stainless steel tanks” of five and 11 gallons for the “East”. This perhaps was Watney’s new beer mentioned, but perhaps Whitbread’s also, sent to the N.A.A.F.I.
My point, indeed 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 keg term may have sprung from the visual depiction of a small red barrel in Watney’s new branding. 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.
Unless Whitbread’s draught beer sold at the Palestine N.A.A.F.I. was cask-conditioned, which seems unlikely, surely therefore Whitbread 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.**
In the mid-30s Whitbread advertised widely its bottled Pale Ale in the U.K. Some specimens stress its cool and refreshing qualities. Some ads are in sports or leisure settings. This one, for example:
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 these were simply an application of something deployed for export in the 1930s, including the understanding such beers were “keg”.
Note: the series continues with Part VII.
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, applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*As mentioned earlier, issues of the Palestine Post referenced in this series are archived at the National Library of Israel (NLI) website. Per the website, its Jewish press archive is an initiative of NLI and Tel Aviv University, and the Palestine Post issues are 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.