Beer history homebrewing london

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.

UPDATE 26/11/2014: On Twitter, Louis Barfe has suggested that ‘Sto.’ might be Stingo rather than stout. Cross-referencing with the Watney’s Quality Control manual we’ve borrowed, it looks as if he might well be right: though the only grist information it gives for Stingo is from c.1971, the tint and approximate blend of malts looks about the same.

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.

4 replies on “Watney’s Recipe Clues”

Good work and I think you’re right, it shows what has been claimed earlier about Red Barrel vs. Red.

That lager is almost all-malt too, there is a bit of wheat flour (for head retention) in it, otherwise it shows the kind of descent from original European types that has been lost today in the era of Carling and San Mig and so forth.


Makes me think that Watney’s brewed a proper bitter at one time. Even Kegged Bitter and Pale Ale are not the same product today they were in the 60’s and 70’s. Much better they are. Would be interested to taste Red Barrel (not Red) on cask.

I’d suggest RBK was the kegged version and RBA the bottled version: a company AGM report from 1962 talks about “Draught Red Barrel, Watneys Brown Ale, and Red Barrel Ale in bottle”.

Thanks, Martyn — fresh pair of eyes and all that. Makes much more sense.

Wonder why the tiny dab of crystal in the keg but not the bottle…?

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