This really was a big moment. We’ve tasted clones, read plenty, and written a lot, but we’ve never actually tasted Watney’s beer.
We’ve been corresponding on and off with Tom Unwin for years. He grew up near Jess and we interviewed his Dad, Trevor, for Brew Britannia. When Tom came into possession of several bottles of a strong ale produced by Watney’s in 1987 to celebrate the supposed 500th anniversary of the founding of the Mortlake brewery.
(You can read the inevitable Martyn Cornell takedown of that story here.)
We set aside a little time to enjoy the experience of drinking this beer, 137ml each, even though we suspected it was going to be rank. After all, Watney’s beer wasn’t well regarded even when fresh, and this had been stored for 30+ years in a suburban sideboard.
The label told us that the beer had an original gravity of between 1096 and 1104 – quite a range, giving us a hint that it was probably around 10–11% ABV.
Popping the foil covered cap, we were treated to the barest hiss, and found the inside of the lid covered in rusty sludge. It had a slight, bubbly head that drifted away in seconds.
There was a whiff of roasted malt, we thought, or perhaps even smoke, and then a big punch of sherry.
It tastes like Pedro Ximénez – raisins, prunes, a bit of balsamic vinegar. There was also an almond nuttinness and a layer of dark chocolate.
Running through all of this, stopping it from quite being out-and-out pleasant to drink, was a beefy, Marmite line.
If you’ve read any other tasting notes on old beers, none of the above will be surprising. We probably could have written them before we even opened the bottle.
Still, it was special, and an experience we can now tick off our wish list.