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.

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

Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965

The 1965 Watney’s quality control manual we’ve borrowed contains recipes for two brown ales: Watney’s and Mann’s.

Both have rather dif­fer­ent recipes, per­haps sur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en their sim­i­lar spec­i­fi­ca­tions: for exam­ple, Wat­ney’s con­tained black malt for colour, while Man­n’s got most of its from caramel. The water was also treat­ed very dif­fer­ent­ly. (And, by the way, bot­tled Wat­ney’s Brown was also quite dis­tinct from their draught mild.)*

Because Man­n’s is still in pro­duc­tion, we’re a bit twitchy about shar­ing the details, but the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion should enable you to pro­duce at home some­thing resem­bling Wat­ney’s Brown as it was in 1965.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Kegro­nom­i­con: Watney’s Brown, 1965”

Brewing Watney’s Red (not Red Barrel), 1971

As we’ve noted several times before, Watney’s Red, launched in 1971, was a rather different beer to Watney’s Red Barrel, whose place it usurped.

The Watney’s qual­i­ty con­trol man­u­al we’ve been lent was print­ed 1965 but con­tains type­writ­ten inserts on how to brew Red, issued in August 1971.

There are some obvi­ous omis­sions in the oth­er­wise quite thor­ough infor­ma­tion sup­plied. For exam­ple, no orig­i­nal grav­i­ty (OG) is spec­i­fied. Exter­nal sources of infor­ma­tion, how­ev­er, seem to con­firm that grav­i­ty fig­ures were approx­i­mate­ly the same as for Red Bar­rel, which makes us think that these spe­cial instruc­tions (repro­duced in full, beneath the table, below) were intend­ed as updates to the detailed instruc­tions already includ­ed in the man­u­al. Obvi­ous, real­ly, after all the time, mon­ey and effort that had been spent per­fect­ing the process across mul­ti­ple plants.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Brew­ing Watney’s Red (not Red Bar­rel), 1971”

Watney’s on Objective Tasting

The Watney’s Quality Control manual we’re currently digesting not only contain instructions for brewing but also sets out how to manage a beer tasting session.

You want me to take advice on tast­ing beer from Wat­ney’s!?” our old­er read­ers might cry at this point. The fact is, it’s hard to read the QC tome with­out gain­ing a cer­tain respect for the care and atten­tion the Big Red Giant put into process, even if the prod­ucts weren’t, er… uni­ver­sal­ly adored.

The pur­pose of this test was to check that Red Bar­rel brewed in the regions was as near as pos­si­bly iden­ti­cal to that brewed at the moth­er­ship at Mort­lake in Lon­don.

1. The Room

(a) should be qui­et

(b) should be mod­er­ate in tem­per­a­ture (58–62°F) [14–16°C]

© and should be low in light inten­si­ty (twi­light con­di­tions)

The Acces­sories

(d) The light should be red in colour (to obscure dif­fer­ence in haze and colour)

(e) Seats should be pro­vid­ed for the taster to sit in a relaxed posi­tion.

(f) A glass of water and a sink should be pro­vid­ed for each taster.

(g) A form of record­ing the results should be pro­vid­ed for each taster.

2. The Beers

These should have been stood overnight at a tem­per­a­ture of 58–62°F. They should be of equal C02 con­tent and should be poured so that all three glass­es show equal amounts of head.

The instruc­tions go on to sug­gest how results should be record­ed and the role of the organ­is­er in polic­ing the process. There is also advice on test­ing the ‘skill and inter­est’ of the tasters:

Take some dis­tilled or tap water which is free from unpleas­ant flavour, cool and bub­ble car­bon diox­ide through it to remove air and intro­duce car­bon diox­ide… This water is then added to a por­tion of beer to dilute it by 10%. This dilut­ed beer and a con­trol por­tion of the undi­lut­ed beer… are then used in a three-glass test [where two glass­es con­tain the same beer]… The tasters are told before­hand only that one of the two beers is more dilute.

A sweet­ness test, run in exact­ly the same way, used a sam­ple dosed with 4 grams of sucrose per litre.

It is pos­si­ble to score 33% cor­rect answers by mere “guess­ing”. Mem­bers tak­ing part with aver­age scores of 50% or more may be regard­ed as suit­able tasters for a per­ma­nent pan­el. This elim­i­nates peo­ple with low dis­crim­i­nat­ing pow­ers where beer tast­ing is con­cerned but, at the same time, the pan­el select­ed will not be too severe in its judg­ments.

We had­n’t con­sid­ered it before but, yes, we can see that finicky super-tasters prob­a­bly are as use­less as total numb-tongues for this kind of task.

As it hap­pens, we’re cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing what amounts to an extend­ed exper­i­ment in total, care­free sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Both approach­es, we think, have their place, but per­haps we’ll try extreme objec­tiv­i­ty next. The only wor­ry is what might hap­pen if one of us gets des­e­lect­ed from the blog after the dilu­tion test.

Illus­tra­tion adapt­ed from Bulbs by Ignas Kukenys, on Flickr, under Cre­ative Com­mons.

Brewing Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg

For our first attempt to extract a home brewing recipe from the Kegronomicon we’ve gone for the original Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg (RBWK) as it was in around 1966.

There’s a huge amount of tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion in the doc­u­ments that won’t be of much prac­ti­cal use to home brew­ers, and which we bare­ly under­stand, so we’ve con­cen­trat­ed on the key para­me­ters which should enable you to get vague­ly close if you plug them into your own brew­ing soft­ware and/or process.

In gen­er­al, though, the empha­sis through­out is on absolute clean­li­ness: con­tact with oxy­gen should be min­imised at every stage; and every­thing should be kept com­plete­ly, obses­sive­ly ster­ile.

Note on sterility from Watney's QC manual, 1966.

And if you hap­pen to have a bloody big indus­tri­al fil­ter­ing and pas­teuris­ing facil­i­ty, use it – that’s prob­a­bly the biggest influ­ence on how this beer would have tast­ed at the time.

Our pri­ma­ry source for vital sta­tis­tics was a memo dat­ed 26 August 1966, from F.W. Dick­ens of the Red Bar­rel & Draught Beer Depart­ment, Mort­lake, pro­vid­ing a sin­gle handy sum­ma­ry of revised tar­gets for colour, OG, IBU and car­bon­a­tion.

We also cross-ref­er­enced with OG/ABV data from Whit­bread­’s ana­lysts via Ron Pat­tin­son.

Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg, c.1966

OG 1038 | FG 1009 | c.3.8% ABV | 30–32 IBU | 27 EBC

Pale malt 89%
Enzymic (acid?) malt 1%
Crys­tal malt (vari­able, for colour) 4.5%
Malt extract (in mash) 3%
Invert 3 (sug­ar, in boil) 2.5%


Hops – Fug­gles (70%) Gold­ings (30%) to achieve 30–32 IBU. (Man­u­al pre­scribes a blend of dif­fer­ent growths to help main­tain a con­sis­tent palate across batch­es.)

Water (all water used in the process) – 40 grains per gal­lon sul­phates; 35 grains per gal­lon chlo­rides.

  • MASH at 158F (70c) for 1.5hrs; 1st sparge 175F (79.5c); 2nd sparge 160F (71c).
  • BOIL for 1h45m, with Invert 3 sug­ar, Irish Moss (1lb per 100 bar­rels – so, a tea­spoon…) and Fug­gles at 1h45m; Gold­ings at 15m.
  • Pitch yeast at 60F (15.5c) – Mort­lake 114, or a blend of 114 and 118, in case you hap­pen to have any handy; alter­na­tive­ly, a fair­ly neu­tral Eng­lish ale yeast is prob­a­bly best.
  • Dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion, keep tem­per­a­ture below 69F (20.5c).
  • Warm con­di­tion for 8–12 days with dry hops (Gold­ings) at rate of 1oz per bar­rel (0.8g per gal­lon, we think); or use hop extract to achieve the equiv­a­lent. Add caramel at this stage if colour is off.
  • Prime with ‘liq­uid can­dy’ (sug­ar syrup?) to achieve 1.45 vols CO2 in final con­tain­er.

Edu­cat­ed sug­ges­tions for which com­mer­cial­ly avail­able yeast strain might best approx­i­mate Wat­ney’s would be very wel­come.

And if there’s any­thing above that just looks com­plete­ly barmy – num­bers that don’t add up &c. – let us know and we’ll dou­ble check the source mate­r­i­al.