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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QUICK ONE: Watney’s Is Back

Watney's Pale ad c.1968.

Adrian Tierney-Jones has finally put us out of our misery and forwarded the email he so cryptically trailed last week: the Watney’s brand is indeed being revived.

The company behind the revival is Brands Reunited who specialise in this kind of thing — the new incarnation of Home Ales in the East Midlands is theirs, too. They are having their Watney’s branded pale ale brewed under licence at Sambrook’s, reasonably close to the original Watney’s brewery in London.

They seem quite happy to acknowledge that it’s not earth-shatteringly flavoursome but nor is it an attempt to recreate the original less-than-admired beers. This new version of Watney’s Pale contains US hops which, according to tasting notes by Annabel Smith, ‘smacked of pine, and spice’. It’ll be on cask at first with keg to follow.

So, interesting, but not as interesting (to us, anyway) as a keg-only recreation of Watney’s Red would be, with original yeasts and so on… But much, much more commercially intelligent.

An Insider’s Memories of Brewing in Bolton

A few weeks ago we visited Bolton which prompted us to write about the apparent revival of the Magee & Marshall brewery brand. That in turn led Anne Edwards to email us:

‘I was very interested to read about Magee Marshalls Brewery on your blog as both my husband and I worked there in the 1960s.’

This is the kind of thing that gets us a little excited. After some back and forth by email, here’s Anne’s story, with some small edits for style and flow.

B&B: First, what’s your background? Are you a native Boltonian?

I was born in Bolton in September 1943 and was educated at St Paul’s, the local primary, Bolton School (thanks to the 11 Plus), Salford Technical College, where I took my A levels, and Salford University, where I took an integrated course in Microbiology, Parasitology, Entomology and Biochemistry.

B&B: How did you get into microbiology and the brewing industry?

I worked in the Co-Op Technical Research Labs in Manchester while I was doing my course at Salford. Then, in 1966, I answered an advertisement for a microbiologist at Magee’s. I was interviewed by Malcolm Donald and given the job. I always felt destined to work in a brewery. Brewing is in the blood of some of the Settle family.

Anne has written extensively about her family history and at this point directed us to several articles and papers she sent us by post. Here’s a summary: William (W.T.) Settle was born in 1868. His parents, Rachel Settle and Robert Booth, were not married at the time. It was Robert Booth and his wife who established The Rose & Crown in Bolton as a homebrew house; when his wife died, Rachel married him, and took over running of the brewery. When he was 13-years-old, William effectively became head brewer, and took over the firm completely in 1891 when his mother died. Under William’s leadership, the brewery expanded, gaining a small estate of seven pubs – The Rose & Crown, Rope & Anchor, Red Lion, Skenin’ Door, British Oak, Alfred the Great, and The Britannia. After a dispute with a half-brother, the beers ceased to be Booth’s Ales and became Settle’s. Anne’s father, also called William, was born in 1910 and took over day-to-day running of the brewery from 1931, having graduated from Manchester Brewing School. Another branch of the family were bakers and W.T. Settle invested in that business, ensuring that its Fullomeat pies were also sold in Rose & Crown Brewery pubs. In 1951, W.T. Settle died and for a brief moment, the younger William became co-owner with his sister Ivy. Unfortunately, Ivy wanted to sell up, and so the Rose & Crown Brewery and its pubs were bought by Dutton’s for £30,000 and the brewery closed. William never brewed again.

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GALLERY: Modern Watney’s Pubs from Matchboxes

These were carefully removed from matchboxes produced, we would guess, in about 1968, probably for sale in Watney’s pubs. (Any matchbox collectors who want to correct us, go for it.)

The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this.
The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this (Google Street View).
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as 'like a wild west saloon'.
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as ‘like a wild west saloon‘.

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Red Storm Rising

‘Surely there must be a picture of one of these posters we can include?’ said our editor at Aurum when he read the passage about the campaign for Watney’s Red in Brew Britannia.

The ads were controversial because they used lookalikes resembling communist dictators to promote keg bitter — a (ahem…) left-field approach for a big Tory-supporting UK brewery. As a result, it was referred to in numerous articles and books from the 1970s, and much-mocked by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). So, yes, you’d think there would be some documentary evidence of its existence.

But, after much searching, the only image we could find to include in the book was this one, scanned from a contemporary magazine:

Watneys Red Army poster c.1972.

It gets the point across but it’s not one of the classics — where’s Fidel Castro? The snap of a billboard illustrating this article at Retrowow might have done the job but the web editor there didn’t know the source, we couldn’t track down ‘Edward Hahn’ ourselves, and couldn’t get access to a higher resolution copy, so that was a dead end.

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