Category Archives: homebrewing

Watney's Red Barrel beer mat (detail).

Brewing Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg

For our first attempt to extract a home brewing recipe from the Kegronomicon we’ve gone for the original Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg (RBWK) as it was in around 1966.

There’s a huge amount of technical information in the documents that won’t be of much practical use to home brewers, and which we barely understand, so we’ve concentrated on the key parameters which should enable you to get vaguely close if you plug them into your own brewing software and/or process.

In general, though, the emphasis throughout is on absolute cleanliness: contact with oxygen should be minimised at every stage; and everything should be kept completely, obsessively sterile.

Note on sterility from Watney's QC manual, 1966.

And if you happen to have a bloody big industrial filtering and pasteurising facility, use it — that’s probably the biggest influence on how this beer would have tasted at the time.

Our primary source for vital statistics was a memo dated 26 August 1966, from F.W. Dickens of the Red Barrel & Draught Beer Department, Mortlake, providing a single handy summary of revised targets for colour, OG, IBU and carbonation.

We also cross-referenced with OG/ABV data from Whitbread’s analysts via Ron Pattinson.

Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg, c.1966

OG 1038 | FG 1009 | c.3.8% ABV | 30-32 IBU | 27 EBC

Pale malt 89%
Enzymic (acid?) malt 1%
Crystal malt (variable, for colour) 4.5%
Malt extract (in mash) 3%
Invert 3 (sugar, in boil) 2.5%

 

Hops — Fuggles (70%) Goldings (30%) to achieve 30-32 IBU. (Manual prescribes a blend of different growths to help maintain a consistent palate across batches.)

Water (all water used in the process) – 40 grains per gallon sulphates; 35 grains per gallon chlorides.

  • MASH at 158F (70c) for 1.5hrs; 1st sparge 175F (79.5c); 2nd sparge 160F (71c).
  • BOIL for 1h45m, with Invert 3 sugar, Irish Moss (1lb per 100 barrels – so, a teaspoon…) and Fuggles at 1h45m; Goldings at 15m.
  • Pitch yeast at 60F (15.5c) — Mortlake 114, or a blend of 114 and 118, in case you happen to have any handy; alternatively, a fairly neutral English ale yeast is probably best.
  • During fermentation, keep temperature below 69F (20.5c).
  • Warm condition for 8-12 days with dry hops (Goldings) at rate of 1oz per barrel (0.8g per gallon, we think); or use hop extract to achieve the equivalent. Add caramel at this stage if colour is off.
  • Prime with ‘liquid candy’ (sugar syrup?) to achieve 1.45 vols CO2 in final container.

Educated suggestions for which commercially available yeast strain might best approximate Watney’s would be very welcome.

And if there’s anything above that just looks completely barmy — numbers that don’t add up &c. — let us know and we’ll double check the source material.

On Judging

London Amateur Brewers competition.

When the London Amateur Brewers (LAB) asked if we would be interested in joining the judges for their recent regional home brewing competition, we jumped at the chance.

Like most people, we’ve observed the results of judged competitions with bemusement in the past: “How did that win!?” Although we knew it wouldn’t be on the scale of CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain we thought it might give us some insight into how such decisions get made.

Arriving at Beavertown’s new Tottenham Hale brewery at 8:45 am on a Saturday, the first thing that struck us was how reliant it all is on good will — on unpaid volunteers with the necessary skills giving up half their weekend. (Our only qualification for judging beer is enthusiasm which is why we were each paired with someone more experienced who had achieved some level of BJCP accreditation.)

Ah, yes — the BJCP. Judging a competition with something like 150 entries without using some kind of rules, however arbitrary, would be impossible. The BJCP system breaks those entries down into categories and provides rigid style definitions: they say Cream Ale ought to have ‘sparkling clarity’, for example, so even if your attempt tastes incredible, it will lose points if it is hazy and has lumps floating in it.

In fact, some beers which didn’t really taste all that great scored reasonably well because they were clear, correctly conditioned, and formed and retained a decent head. Flavour isn’t everything, at least not in this context.

The emphasis on ‘style’ works reasonably well with fairly common types of beer such as bitter or IPA. The judges had lots of experience drinking commercial examples and knew what to expect. ‘California Common’, on the other hand, presents more of a challenge, as does ‘Festbier’, only a handful of which are ever found on sale in the UK, and usually past their best — judges were largely reliant on the written descriptions from the BJCP to decide if a beer was ‘correct’.

There was also a sense that some entrants struggled to find a category for their beer and, shoe-horning it into the closest fit, found themselves docked points for not being ‘true to style’. Others seemed to have attempted one style but accidentally brewed another (e.g. it had gone sour, or turned out darker than expected) and were trying it on.

All in all, the BJCP system rewards conformity and ‘cloning’ while punishing creativity.

Now, let’s be clear: the judges try their absolute best, within the rules they’ve signed up to, to make sure great beers get the recognition they deserve. There was lots of agonising and soul-searching, with arbitration from stewards and senior judges, and we heard variations on “I’d drink that all day if I could, but it’s not a [STYLE]” throughout the day. But final decisions in each category were made by re-tasting the top scorers and ranking them without close reference to style guidelines: which one really was best?

The toughest part, arguably, is completing feedback forms for each beer. If the comments aren’t honest, then what’s the point? But if they’re too blunt, then they might be discouraging, and the LAB don’t want to put people off brewing or competing in future. Generally, it was possible to say, even where a beer scored poorly, that it was a problem with ‘trueness to style’ rather than poor brewing technique. There was, however, no nice way to say, “This beer made me retch and forced me to spit it into a bucket.”

Some good beers no doubt got knocked out, just as some good teams have been knocked out of the World Cup, but those that made it to the final judging table for ‘Best of Show’ were undoubtedly deserving. Here, a couple of category winners simply didn’t stand up to scrutiny: the best saison was better than the best lager, in absolute terms, for example. The overall winner, after much impassioned argument and careful consideration, was a flawless black IPA with commercial potential.

On balance, we might enter a BJCP-rules competition if we thought we’d brewed a particularly good example of a standard style, but not if we’d brewed anything remotely unusual.

And, from now on, we’ll certainly have a little more sympathy with the judges at national and international competitions.

Barley illustration.

Subtle Variety = Texture

We’ve noticed a distinctly improved malt character in the last two pale ales we’ve brewed at home, and think we know why.

Even though their grain bills consisted entirely of pale malt, for purely pragmatic reasons (using up ‘bag ends’) we used a mix of different varieties, from different sources, which we suspect has provided a subtle background texture.

We’re not talking about using different types of malt, e.g. crystal, chocolate, wheat or Munich, but multiple malts in the same category.

We’ve heard of brewers mixing malt from different suppliers to even out inconsistencies, i.e. if Bloggs Malting Ltd can’t deliver Maris Otter this month, it won’t be missed because it only makes up 10 per cent of the total. But that must also improve the complexity of the beer, even if only in the most subtle way.

One of those music analogies everyone loves: a key secret in the Beatles’ sound is double tracking. John Lennon’s vocals in particular were usually made up of at least two separate recordings played in sync so that his voice sounded ‘thicker’. If you’re not interested in recording technology, you probably won’t spot it, but it certainly makes a difference.

And another for those who prefer to use their peepers rather than their lugholes: there’s green, and there’s textured green.

Flat green vs. textured green.

The appeal of texture is why Instagram is so popular, and why people spend so much time using Photoshop to make things look as if they were printed on sugar paper using a 1920s press.

So, our hypothesis is that a ‘pale and hoppy’ ale made with 40 per cent Bloggs’s Maris Otter, 40 per cent Dibble’s Maris Otter and 20 per cent Grubb’s Optic will taste more interesting than a beer with a grist comprising 100 per cent of any of those malts.

Can any other brewers (home or otherwise) confirm or deny?

Watney’s Recipe Clues

Among the many treasures in the archive at the St Austell Brewery is a small notebook which contains more information about Watney’s beer than any source we’ve yet come across.

At some point in the 1960s, a Watney’s man left Mortlake in South London and took a job in Cornwall. He brought his day-to-day working notebook with him.

Its blue cover is grubby and scuffed, and much of the contents is mundane — cleaning formulas, notes on the prices of steel wool, and so on. Among the gems, however, is this table of information on the fermentables used in Watney’s full range c.1965:

Watneys brewery notebook.

Click to enlarge.

(We say c.1965 because (a) the only date recorded anywhere is October 1963 but (b) there is also a reference to Worthington E, launched which was pushed after 1967.)

We think those beers across the top are (updated 08/05/2014 — see comments):

  • Sto. = Stout
  • IPA
  • RBA = Red Barrel Ale (bottled Red Barrel)
  • RBK = Red Barrel K——-? (kegged Red Barrel)
  • Watneys Special Bitter/I——Special Bitter (perhaps branded for a brewery they’d taken over?)
  • WPA = Watney’s Pale Ale (bottled beer)
  • BA/XX — Brown Ale/Mild (pitch black…?)
  • Lager

If we’re right, then, first up, what we’ve been told about Red Barrel (as opposed to Red) would seem to be correct — it wasn’t full of ‘chemicals’ or ‘enzymes’, being made with c.90 per cent pale malt with a bit of invert sugar and a small amount of malt extract (EDME). It doesn’t even have any ‘flaked maize’ in it.

EDME description from notebook.

We don’t know what ‘DEM’ is — another form of ‘dried extract malt’, perhaps? CSI might be ‘candy syrup’, but that’s just a guess.

We don’t know about hop varieties or hopping rates so there isn’t quite enough information here to construct a recipe for 1965 Mortlake Red Barrel, but grist and approximate colour in Lovibond is more than we’ve had before.

Given the number of Watney’s men who went on to found their own breweries (Bill Urquhart at Litchborough, John Gilbert at Hop Back) there might well be lots of notebooks like this knocking about in attics across the country.

Mini Kegging Our Home Brew

Family Ale home brew from a mini keg.

As our search for the most convenient and reliable method for dispensing home brew continues, we currently find ourselves infatuated with the five litre mini-keg.

Bottles are great, apart from the fact that cleaning and filling enough for a batch takes most of a day, and is beyond tedious. Serious home brewers rave about Cornelius kegs, but every time we read a ‘simple guide’, we find our eyes glazing over: too expensive, too complicated, and with too many dire warnings. Polypins are fine, but we’ve had more than one beer come out of them lifeless (our fault) and there’s no easy way to rectify that after the fact.

Mini-kegs, in theory, offer the best of all those options: bulk-filling, affordability, availability, and control over carbonation.

Mini kegging kit from Brewferm.Our first two attempts at mini-kegging didn’t go well. Even with the drastically reduced priming recommended by the manufacturers, we found the beer so over-gassed that we just got glass after glass of furious foam. This time, though (1938 ‘Family Ale’) we nailed it: we released the pressure from the keg before affixing the tap, and then dosed it with Co2 from a bulb to achieve the right level of carbonation at the point of serving.

We’re not sure we’ve ever seen our home-brew looking as appealing as this did with a stable head and gentle carbonation. (We didn’t aim for ‘fizz’.)

We’ve found that, assuming cleaning and sanitising procedures have been followed, it keeps for weeks in the keg, so there’s no rush to drink the whole lot in one sitting.

We bought our mini-kegging kit (three kegs, gas bulbs, tap) from Brewsmarter via Amazon.co.uk for £70 including delivery.