We Finally Got To Drink Watney’s Red Barrel! (Sort Of.)

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.

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Magical Mystery Pour #8: Aus Bayern

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We finally found time to sit down and enjoy the final batch of beers suggested to us by Joe Stange, all three of which are from Bavaria, and two of which we’ve had before in one form or another.

We bought them from Beers of Europe and they were all in 500ml bottles:

  • Keesman Herren Pils, Bamberg, 4.8% ABV, £2.09
  • Ayinger Jahrhundertbier, Aying, 5.5%, £2.39
  • Weltenburger Asam Bock, Weltenburg, 6.9%, £2.69

Glass of pale golden beer. Of Herren Pils Joe says:

Repeat visitors to Bamberg typically go through their Rauchbier and Ungespundet phases before they emerge from their pupas as beautiful Herren-swilling butterflies. (And then, weirdly, the phases start over again.) There are times when I drink this and decide it’s my favorite beer in Germany.

We poured it into one of our favourite Pilsner Urquell mugs (Boak’s proudest moment is mangling Polish into Czech to negotiate the purchase in a pub in Prague) where it looked very pretty and very pale. The head, as you can see from the picture above, was very well behaved.

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Magical Mystery Pour #7: Slaapmutske Dry-Hopped Lager

Magical Mystery Pour logo.The third of six lagers recommended to us by Berlin-based American beer writer Joe Stange is from Belgium, but bears little resemblance to Jupiler or Stella Artois.

This time, instead of using us as guinea pigs, he’s directed us to a beer he personally knows and enjoys:

I have always liked this one, another fine Proefbrouwerij product. The Beersel Lager for the Drie Fonteinen restaurant is similar and also dry-hopped, and I like it enough that sometimes I have one there instead of a gueuze. Which is deranged.

It has 5.3% alcohol by volume, comes in a 330ml bottle, and we got ours from Beers of Europe for a not unreasonable £2.39.

Our expectations, based on the information on the label, were that it would be (a) quite dry and (b) a little grassy, perhaps even hinting at Poperinge Hommelbier.

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Schrödinger’s Beer (non) Review: Cloudwater DIPA V3

There are some beers about which it is practically impossible to express an opinion and be believed, one way or the other.

They’re so talked-about, so anticipated, so venerated, or so despised, that nothing we say can add much to the conversation.

The Westvleteren beers from Belgium are one example, Batham’s Best Bitter might be another. But they’re fixed points in the firmament; others blink into existence and generate great heat, perhaps only for a few months or years.

The word we’re avoiding here is hype, perhaps because it gets thrown around too easily — people talking with enthusiasm about a thing you’re not interested in isn’t hype. It might be justifiable in this case, though, which has seen online beer stores issuing would-be-panic-inducing Tweets in anticipation of a consumer frenzy, and launch events. (It is still in stock in many places, by the way.)

"Schrödinger's Cat" by the No Matter Project.
Schrödinger’s Cat” by ‘No Matter’ via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

If we say that we were anything less than wowed by version 3 of Manchester Cloudwater’s Double IPA, we’re surely just inverted bandwagon jumpers, contrarians and grumps. We’re fighting the hype and thus still failing to judge the beer on its own merits. We’re those people who say with a flourish that they don’t like The Beatles and make you think, ‘Really? Even “It Won’t Be Long”?’ If we say we didn’t especially like this beer not everyone will believe us or will question our motives.

But what happens if we rave about it? If we list this fruit and that. If we say it is like nothing else we’ve ever tasted and that it blows similar beers from other equally hip breweries out of the water, that it finds a truly distinctive flavour profile in a market already crowded with IPAs, that it made us swoon?

Then we’ll be sheep, sycophants, mindless zombie fans.

So, we’re just going to leave the box here, unopened.

Questions & Answers: How Long do Vintage Beers Keep?

“How long do old beers keep before becoming undrinkable? I recently came across some old bottles I’d forgotten about including a Whitbread Celebration Ale from 1992 and Teignworthy Edwin Tucker’s Victorian Stock Ale (2000 vintage), the label of which says it ‘is designed to mature and improve in the bottle over several decades’. It’s 16 years old now – will it get any better? In what way?” — Brian, Exeter

We’ve had mixed experiences of drinking really old beer. A c.1980 bottle of Adnams’s Tally Ho barley wine that we picked up in a junk shop was interesting but, ultimately, a bit grim; while a dusty, tatty bottle of 30-year-old imperial stout we drank at Kulminator in Antwerp was one of the best things we’ve ever tasted.

Whitbread Celebration Ale from 1992 was, said Martyn Cornell, still tasting good in 2011. Others have found plenty to enjoy in beers from 1902 and even (Martyn Cornell again) from 1875:

Amazingly, there was still a touch of Burtonian sulphur in the nose, together with a spectrum of flavours that encompassed pears, figs, liquorice, charred raisins, stewed plums, mint, a hint of tobacco, and a memory of cherries. It was dark, powerful and still sweet…

Edwin Tucker Stock Ale 2000 vintage label.

But there isn’t much information out there about how Edwin Tucker’s Stock Ale in particular is responding to ageing — there are no reviews on RateBeer, for example. Beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones did write an impressionistic review a while back, though, so we asked his advice. He says:

I had one in 2013 and then another I think a year later and it was starting to turn. I would suggest drinking now and hope for a sherry-like character.

In general, extreme ageing of beers would seem to be, in technical terms, a mug’s game, and even strong ales brewed with cellaring in mind begin to lose their sparkle after a while. Patrick Dawson, the author of the definitive book on this subject, 2014’s Vintage Beer, says in Chapter 3:

A decent English barley wine will easily continue to develop positive characteristics for 6 to 8 years, with some examples capable of 10 to 15 years. Exceptional versions have been known to go 50-plus years in the proper conditions, but very few beers are currently being brewed… to justify this amount of ageing.

We emailed Mr Dawson to see if he had any specific advice in this case. He says:

Well, I have to be honest and say that I’ve never had the privilege to try an Edwin Tucker’s Stock Ale, so I can’t give a specific recommendation. However, I will say that 16 years is a long, long time for a beer to mature. It takes an incredibly special beer to develop positively past this point. Cantillon’s Gueuze, Thomas Hardy’s Ale, and the Bass Corker barleywines being a few notable examples. When presented with this situation, of an unknown beer that has been aged a long time already, I always say to open it. My logic is that it’s better for a beer a bit too young and brash, than over-the-hill and dull.

So, to summarise, don’t sit on special beers for too long or they’ll probably cease to be special. After all, you can’t take them with you.

Note: Brian’s question edited for brevity and clarity. Updated 08/04/2016 to add Patrick Dawson’s email advice.