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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.

Watney's Red Barrel on a branded tray, in a branded glass.

First, we tried the pasteurised version, straight from several days chilling in the fridge — the full Red Barrel experience. It didn’t fizz or hiss, the head forming at the end as the gas rose up to the top. It looked extremely appealing, just on the brown side of golden, about the same shade as Young’s Bitter. We took a good swig each and… It was delicious.

OK, calm down. It was delicious like a nice sandwich, not like five courses at the Fat Duck. Chewy, satisfyingly malty, fresh and definitely on the right side of the bland-subtle border. There was a slight cooked flavour, we thought, although maybe that was down to the power of suggestion. We imagine warmer, or if left sitting around in a pub cellar for six months, it might get a bit nasty. But, like this, we’d happily drink it every day. It’s not far off That Type of Beer.

The unpasteurised version was really quite different, which surprised us. It seemed leafier, greener, almost zesty, and more bitter. More bitter, too, than many bitters on sale in supermarkets today. Can we conclude that pasteurising mutes hops and accents malt? We actually slightly preferred the pasteurised version.

Both reminded us of (a) malty German lagers and (b) bottled beers from Badger (Hall & Woodhouse). If you want to get somewhere close at home try chilling down a bottle of Fursty Ferret.

‘This doesn’t prove anything!’ you might say, and of course it doesn’t. Our friendly brewer might have done too good a job, and the ingredients at hand now aren’t the same as those around in 1966, and the recipe took some deciphering. It’s impossible for us to say. What we can conclude, as many have said before us, is that the recipe for Red Barrel is not fundamentally flawed and that, in the case of a good beer drunk fresh, filtering and pasteurising aren’t necessarily disastrous.

We’re promised Red next, the tweaked version of Red Barrel from 1971, and a real stinker that galvanised CAMRA into action. We can’t wait.


11 replies on “We Finally Got To Drink Watney’s Red Barrel! (Sort Of.)”

I imagine it was Watney’s Red that I had in 197-mumble (I was under age & someone else was buying, so I didn’t pay too much attention). But that was bloody awful – it tasted, as much as anything, like beer that had been left to go warm & flat, then chilled and recarbonated. (Which I suppose it was, when you think about it.) So if your friendly local historic recipe cloner produces something palatable, they’ve gone wrong!

I drank a bottle of Doom Bar this evening (research purposes, sort of). As I remember it, Red was a lot like that, only fizzier and thinner.

Watney’s Red is NOT the same as Red Barrel, Phil. I’d not be surprised to learn that Red was brewed as part of Watney’s experimentation at Mortlake with continuous fermentation. Mind, Star Light was worse – vile, undrinkable beer.

I’ve read so many posts about Cloudwater’s DIPA that tasting notes about Watney’s Red Barrel come as a breath of fresh air – it’s so infamous I really want to try it (stands against the wall as the South Herts branch of CAMRA excommunicates him with a club).

Watneys Red Barrel – that was nearly as good as Whitbread Tankard !

I do remember drinking a pint of Red Barrel, as a student in Brighton c. 1975. And like the other beers I drank in my home ground in Thanet with my dad or mates, Whitbread Trophy and Tankard, it made no impression other than something to be endured as a rite of passage on the way to being some sort of a man who goes to the pub. TV advertising was relentless. “The pint that thinks it’s a quart”. A buxom blonde barmaid invited to taste a pint she’s just poured “oh it’s too powerful for me. But I like the men who drink it..” (anyone remember which keg beer this was? I remember the ad -I think the barmaid’s name was Maggie-but not the product. Is that successful advertising?). All I recall is giant dimpled mugs full of brown stuff with an artificial creamy head on top that were a struggle to drink. The only one I remember actually enjoying as a drink was Ben Truman keg. Yes, I could taste the hops, if that’s what that strange bitter grown up flavour was. And then, in my second year at Brighton, the college bar at Falmer suddenly sprouted a handpump, and there was Harvey’s, cask, brewed about 5 miles away. Talk about a eureka moment…

Yes – the beer was Courage Tavern Keg. Horrible beer, like Grotney’s.
As a matter of interest, ‘Maggie’ pops up in the Hammer Film ‘Countess Dracula’ (the actress, that is).

Ah thanks for that Chris. Just tried to find the ad on youtube but there’s just a spoof by a chap even sadder than me who remembers all the words..too powerful for me? I bet it was about 3.4 abv. Cheers.

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