Brewing Watney’s Red (not Red Barrel), 1971

As we’ve noted several times before, Watney’s Red, launched in 1971, was a rather different beer to Watney’s Red Barrel, whose place it usurped.

The Watney’s quality control manual we’ve been lent was printed 1965 but contains typewritten inserts on how to brew Red, issued in August 1971.

There are some obvious omissions in the otherwise quite thorough information supplied. For example, no original gravity (OG) is specified. External sources of information, however, seem to confirm that gravity figures were approximately the same as for Red Barrel, which makes us think that these special instructions (reproduced in full, beneath the table, below) were intended as updates to the detailed instructions already included in the manual. Obvious, really, after all the time, money and effort that had been spent perfecting the process across multiple plants.

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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.

Cloning Watney’s Red

There’s one beer more than any other that we would like to be able to taste for ourselves: Watney’s Red.

We know it was terrible — we don’t doubt what we’ve been told by numerous people who were unlucky enough to taste it, including a former Watney’s PR man — but, like people who flock to watch The Room or Plan 9 From Outer Space, we are morbidly curious.

Note that we have specified Watney’s Red, not Watney’s Red Barrel. The latter had a bad reputation, but it was probably the former, launched in 1971, which really brought the wrath of beer geeks and triggered the ‘good beer movement’. It wasn’t merely a rebrand but a complete reformulation, with a nastier, cheaper recipe that produced a yet sweeter, fizzier beer.

We are hoping that, to coincide with our book launch, we can convince someone to brew us a clone, and the marketing people at Aurum Press liked that idea, so fingers crossed. At any rate, we’ll definitely give it a go at home using mini kegs and Co2 bulbs.

But first things first: what was the recipe? Here’s what we know.

  1. A press statement for Red issued in 1971 (according to Roger Protz) described the beer as having a ‘blander taste and a better head’.
  2. In his 1973 book The Beer Drinker’s Companion Frank Baillie described Red as ‘a well balanced keg beer with a burnt malty characteristic’.
  3. From correspondence with one former Watney’s production brewer, we know that Red ‘probably… used raw barley and added enzymes’, unlike Red Barrel.
  4. Dave Line claimed in his book Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy (1978) to have been given full details of many recipes by brewers; he does not give a recipe for Red, but his other Watney’s bitter recipes (for ‘Special’ and Starlight) use Fuggles hops.
  5. In April 1972, Which? magazine gave an original gravity (OG) of 1037.9 and an ABV of 3.67%. The Daily Mirror of 10 July 1972 had 1037.2 and 3.6%. When CAMRA tested it a couple of years later, they got 1037.8 and 3.4%.
  6. Ron Pattinson and Kristen England shared this recipe for Whitbread Tankard from 1971. It was made with around 72% pale malt, 4% crystal malt, 6% ‘torrified barley’, and then a lot of sugar. Can we perhaps assume a vaguely similar malt bill for Red? And similar hopping rates?

Does anyone have any other sources they can point us to?

(And we don’t mean modern home brew recipes based on guesswork, which is in turn based on the memories of a friendly CAMRA member….)

UPDATES 13/3/2014

  • On the advice of Steve ‘The Beer Justice’ Williams, we emailed Dr Kenneth Thomas who looks after the Courage archive where man of Watney’s records ended up. He told us:
[Although] I found extensive records still at the Truman brewery in Brick Lane, and at the former Mann’s brewery in Whitechapel, the former archives of Watney’s had, in the early 1980s, already been deposited on indefinite loan at either the London Metropolitan Archive in Clerkenwell, or at the City of Westminster Record Office in Victoria… So, if any brewing recipes exist for Watney’s Red, they will be somewhere within the collections either at the LMA or Westminster.

  • We also had another look at that 1972 edition of Which? magazine: their tasting panel observed that Tankard was paler and ‘fizzier’ than Red, and Red was by far the darkest of the beers sampled.

There’s a lot to learn from bad beer

Watneys Red Barrel beer mat.

Taking the time to drink bad beer is a useful way to calibrate the tastebuds, correct your perspective, and stimulate the tastebuds. Sometimes, it’s just about reminding yourself that bad beer is still beer and won’t kill you.

In this post, Ghost Drinker exposes a guilty secret: many bloggers and writers use Carlsberg Special Brew as shorthand for the worst type of strong-and-nasty ‘tramp brew’, despite never having tried it. (As adults, at least.) We’ve got two choices: get a can and give it a go, or stop referring to it. We’re inclined towards the latter. After all, we’ve always got Warka Strong to fall back on.

On a similar note, Gareth at Beer Advice points out how odd it is that a beer that ceased production in the 1970s, before many beer bloggers were born, remains one of the most talked about — that is, Watney’s infamous Red Barrel, the bogeyman of bad British bitter.

Red Barrel was (we think) renamed just ‘Red’ in around 1971. Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Companion (1973) describes Red as a ‘well balanced keg beer with a burnt malty characteristic’; and the analysis in this 1972 Daily Mirror article (via Ron Pattinson’s blog) suggest a respectable strength of c.3.6% abv — not as shockingly weak as we’d imagined from reading one polemic or another.

Does anyone who’s old enough to remember drinking Red Barrel want to suggest a beer available today that might give us an idea of its flavour and character? Maybe you even have some antique tasting notes in a crumbling notebook? Or perhaps we’ve already been there with our John Smith’s Extra Smooth experiments?

Maybe we’ll just brew a batch, if we can find a convincing recipe.