Someone finally answered our prayer and brewed an accurate clone of Watney’s Red Barrel, pasteurisation and all, and we’ve just finished drinking our two bottles.
The brewer in question, who’s a bit shy, is professionally qualified but also brews at home. They brewed a small batch using a 1960s recipe from the Kegronomicon, fermented it with Hop Back’s yeast strain (supposedly sourced from Watney’s), and then used professional pasteurising equipment to finish it off as per the process set out by Watney’s. We met them briefly at Paddington station last week to take possession of two 330ml bottles, one pasteurised, one not.
This seemed like the right occasion to enter the Black Museum of Big Six Tat to retrieve our Watney’s branded half-pint semi-dimple mug — a glass we’ve had for ages but never actually used.
First, we tried the pasteurised version, straight from several days chilling in the fridge — the full Red Barrel experience. It didn’t fizz or hiss, the head forming at the end as the gas rose up to the top. It looked extremely appealing, just on the brown side of golden, about the same shade as Young’s Bitter. We took a good swig each and… It was delicious.
OK, calm down. It was delicious like a nice sandwich, not like five courses at the Fat Duck. Chewy, satisfyingly malty, fresh and definitely on the right side of the bland-subtle border. There was a slight cooked flavour, we thought, although maybe that was down to the power of suggestion. We imagine warmer, or if left sitting around in a pub cellar for six months, it might get a bit nasty. But, like this, we’d happily drink it every day. It’s not far off That Type of Beer.
The unpasteurised version was really quite different, which surprised us. It seemed leafier, greener, almost zesty, and more bitter. More bitter, too, than many bitters on sale in supermarkets today. Can we conclude that pasteurising mutes hops and accents malt? We actually slightly preferred the pasteurised version.
Both reminded us of (a) malty German lagers and (b) bottled beers from Badger (Hall & Woodhouse). If you want to get somewhere close at home try chilling down a bottle of Fursty Ferret.
‘This doesn’t prove anything!’ you might say, and of course it doesn’t. Our friendly brewer might have done too good a job, and the ingredients at hand now aren’t the same as those around in 1966, and the recipe took some deciphering. It’s impossible for us to say. What we can conclude, as many have said before us, is that the recipe for Red Barrel is not fundamentally flawed and that, in the case of a good beer drunk fresh, filtering and pasteurising aren’t necessarily disastrous.
We’re promised Red next, the tweaked version of Red Barrel from 1971, and a real stinker that galvanised CAMRA into action. We can’t wait.