“In Comes the Keg”

Stanton (Stan) Delaplane was a well-known American journalist, based in San Francisco. He is remembered in beverage history for introducing Irish Coffee to the United States in 1952. But he should be known for another, probable first: introducing the term “keg bitter” to an American audience in 1962.

This was long before writers, and famously Michael Jackson in The World Guide to Beer (1977), talked up – or rather down – the term to bemused but enthusiastic American beer fans.

On May 27, 1962, reporting in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Delaplane explained what keg beer was. He referred colourfully to UK drinkers not happy at paying 2d. a pint more for beer that didn’t require any more tender care of publicans than turning a tap.

According to Delaplane the price differential, which beer journalism ragged on later, was justified by the capital investment necessary to convert to keg production. It wasn’t corporate greed, in other words. True, once the brewers got their money back the price should have come down, especially as some later studies showed keg beer was weaker than cask ale.

 

 

But there was all that advertising to pay for. And prices don’t always come down in that kind of environment. C’est la vie.

Delaplane wrote that the merger of Flowers and Whitbread breweries in 1962 meant keg beer would replace cask-conditioned ale in Whitbread’s large tied estate. This seems to show that keg was meant to replace cask ale in the tied system, vs. being just an expedient for isolated houses or those with irregular sales. See on the latter point the 1992 journal article discussed by Ron Pattinson in a blog post, here.

The term keg for pressurised, filtered, often pasteurized beer seems to date from 1954 or 1955, citations vary. It came in via the brand term Flower’s Keg Bitter for its pressurized, sparkling draft. The beer itself, wrote beer historian Ian Hornsey (see p. 671), was a spin-off of wartime efforts at Luton, home of Flowers’ Green brewery, to design draft beer for American servicemen who were not used to cask ales.

Watney’s famously, or infamously, introduced a keg-type beer in the 1930s, at London’s East Sheen Racket Club. A small red barrel used for decades in the associated marketing and in the term Red Barrel Beer, perhaps inspired Flowers’ term “keg” for a beer served from a metal barrel under injected pressure.

In any case, by the early 1960s as we see, the term keg bitter and cognates were evidently established in the London trade for a new kid – keg – on the block. Beer appreciation circles started to rumble. This lead finally to the creation of CAMRA, or The Campaign for Real Ale, the famed consumer beer lobby.

So we see Americans were told quite early, via a well-known journalist, what keg beer was, and its significance vs. the traditional form of draught beer, cask-conditioned ale.

As I have also discussed, from the 1950s through ’80s, or dawn of the craft beer era, Americans had quality imports available. There was a surprising range of styles, including “sours” and Imperial stouts, from the key beer producing countries. 1970s press reports in New York revealed, too, the phenomenon that was CAMRA.

America had all the knowledge to stimulate a beer revival much earlier than 1976 when New Albion Brewing was founded by Jack McAuliffe in Sonoma, CA. But its brewers at the time were preoccupied with other issues – developing ever lighter beer, especially.

Things of course don’t happen in a logical sequence, or what seems logical retrospectively. They happen because people, or enough people, get the ball rolling. And whether and how that will happen is by definition unpredictable, and specific to time and place.

Still, we can look back to see what people knew, when about beer in America, and how history might have unfolded had the cards been played differently.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the 1962 news article linked in the text (via Fulton Newspapers). All intellectual property therein belongs to the sole owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.