The history of the 5 litre mini keg and return of the Watneys Party Seven
2020 is the year European Malt Company celebrates 30 years as a supplier to the brewing and beverage industry. A large proportion of our business has been the establishment of the 5 litre mini keg into the UK and Ireland so I thought it would be a good time to give a little bit of a background story on the history of the humble mini keg!
Who invented the mini keg…well it depends on your definition of the mini keg! There was certainly a lot of influence from the UK with the Watneys Party Seven!
Watneys launched Party Seven on 21 October 1968. The party 7 was a staple at ‘knees ups’ across the nation in the 1970’s. It was one of the first bulk containers for purchasing beer cheaply. In 1968, Party Seven sold for 15 shillings (or 75p). In today’s money that would have been about £9. *
How to open a party seven
A ‘Can Piercer’ was the usual tool to open small cans of beer…but the party 7 was made of thicker metal, designed to withstand the higher pressures and so the method of choice to open a party 7 was normally the hammer and nail or hammer and screwdriver technique! You needed to punch two holes into the top. One hole let the beer out, the other let the air in.
More often than not this would result in an impressive beer fountain, covering most of the surfaces and participants at the party, or worse still a visit by the opener to A&E!
At the launch of Party Seven, Watneys offered a Sparklets beer tap designed for Party Seven. You could buy it for 59/9d (59 shillings and 9 pence) you also got a voucher entitling you to one free Party Seven. The beer tap was expensive, in today’s money it would have been just under £40.
Despite its less than perfect design the Watneys Party Seven was a huge success with millions sold. The benefit of this oversize can at this time was that it was a great alternative to bringing a crate of returnable bottles to a party that you would need to remember to collect and return or lose your deposits on. The party seven was a real game changer at a time when PET did not exist and it was normal, for example, to buy your lemonade in returnable bottles, delivered by a local distributor.
The party seven was an extremely popular part of 1970s young working class adult culture.
50 years later and the brand has been reignited by Nick Whitehurst, co founder of Watneys Beer Company.
London-based Watneys, first began brewing in 1837, became a household name in the 20th century for producing one of Britain’s most infamous beers; Watneys Red Barrel.
The brand collaborates with local independent brewers to contract out their production and bring their beers to market. The beer sold under the Watneys name today is a far cry from the notoriously bland and below-par suds it offered up in the 70s.
Nick says “The nostalgia and history of Watneys give us provenance, but what we’ve done is taken this heritage and reinvented the brand to appeal to a whole new generation of drinkers,” **
The new Watneys Red Barrel has been reviewed by industry renowned beer sommelier Jane Peyton. You can view the tutored tasting video here: https://party-seven.com/pages/beer
Jane describes the experience of pouring from a Huber mini keg as ‘a very satisfying experience to twist the nozzle and see and hear beer pouring into the glass. I particularly like the swooshing sound as the beer fills the glass. It’s a completely different experience to opening and pouring a bottle/can for one. There is an anticipation that this beer will be shared and what could be better than having a shared experience with friends or family with a really tasty beer and knowing there are 9 pints in the cask!’ ***
The history of the mini keg and establishment by European Malt in the UK
In 1991 whilst working for Rudebeck, as well as acquiring other agencies including SAHM glassware- the first printed glasses introduced to the UK market and Malt from various maltsters Terry Swann started selling 5 litre PartyKegs made by German manufacturer Datagraf GmbH, Heilbronn, Germany (now closed).
The keg was simple but required the purchase of additional accessories so that the consumers could tap the beer. Fun to use, but a bit expensive and fiddly. As 5 litres is approximately 9 pints Terry decided to call this the ‘Party Nine’, in a nod to its British predecessor the ‘Party Seven’.
Terry subsequently joined Crisp Maltings in 1996. In 1998 another German manufacturer ‘Huber Packaging Group’ improved the Datagraf keg by inventing the PartyKeg with integral tap.
The simplicity of the 5 litre keg with integral tap is the key to its success today. No additional purchases required and a non drip hygienic tap makes this package both an economical and user friendly way to dispense draught beer from a large take home package. In 2000 Terry visited Huber Packaging at the Brau exhibition in Nuremberg and established the agency for Huber mini kegs in the UK and Ireland with European Malt Company Ltd.
European Malt has tirelessly promoted the virtues of the Huber party keg to the 2000+ Breweries in the UK. The PartyKeg was re-named easykeg IT (integral tap).
Huber Packaging Innovations
Innovations at Huber also led to the developments of the IPS (integral pressure system) and Draftking (top dispense).
When daughter Jayne joined the company in 2010 she decided ‘PartyKeg’ was not so relevant as her generation did not have many partys and so re-named the container a ‘mini keg’ as it is known worldwide today.
Going back to the Party Seven – Ironically, I recently discovered that the new Watneys Party Seven mini kegs are being packaged under the watchful eyes of Hugo Anderson. Hugo was one of European Malts first customers for the Huber easykeg for Budweiser at The Mortlake Brewery. The Mortlake Brewery founded in 1487, was bought by James Watney in 1889 where the Watneys beer was born!
Terry Swann who has worked in the brewing and beverage industry for over 44 years recalls the experience of the party seven first hand ‘Carrying a Watneys Party Seven meant you would always be welcomed in and in the end it could always double as an ash-tray – but preferably only when empty!’. I bet he never imagined his daughter Jayne would be writing about it for her company website almost 50 years later!
The new Watneys Party Seven mini kegs can be purchased directly from their online store and to complete the circle I have already ordered mine. I am currently in the planning stages of my socially distanced party for 6!