We Finally Got To Drink Watney’s Red Barrel! (Sort Of.)

Watney's Red Barrel: beer in vintage glass with logo.

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

  1. Sure­ly to real­ly need to have it on prop­er non-nitro keg served at around nor­mal cask tem­per­a­ture to get the full expe­ri­ence, though? 😉

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. George De Piro asserts:

    Pas­teur­iz­ing does indeed pre­serve beer from micro­bial spoilage, but at a very high price. The beer leaves the brew­ery tast­ing like it is already a few weeks old. Hop aro­ma and fla­vor will be more mut­ed than the unpas­teur­ized prod­uct, and there may be tof­fee-like or hon­ey-like notes indica­tive of oxi­da­tion.’


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

  6. 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…

    1. 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).

      1. 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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