Watney’s Red on Film, 1971

The above film was made by Watney Mann (Watney’s) to help their staff understand Watney’s Red, which replaced Red Barrel as the firm’s flagship keg bitter in 1971.

It was unearthed by Nick Wheat who col­lects British doc­u­men­tary and indus­tri­al films and writes occa­sion­al beer arti­cles for Dron­field CAMRA’s Peel Ale mag­a­zine. The copy above was made by pro­ject­ing the 16mm film onto a wall and point­ing his phone at it but it does­n’t look bad for all that.

From an arti­cle Nick dug up from Film User for July 1971 we know that it was one of three films pro­duced to help with the roll-out of the new prod­uct as part of what Wat­ney’s called ‘Oper­a­tion Che­ka’ in ref­er­ence to the Bol­she­vik secret police. The suit of films cost £5,500 pounds to make (about £80k in today’s mon­ey) and this one is ‘Che­ka 2’ ‘Che­ka 3’, high­light­ed in this info­graph­ic from Film User:

Infographic depicting the roll-out of Operation Cheka.

The film itself is an amaz­ing rel­ic. It fea­tures var­i­ous plum­my senior exec­u­tives explain­ing, rather stilt­ed­ly, the think­ing behind the change, accom­pa­nied by footage of lor­ries and brew­ing plants around the coun­try (our empha­sis):

You see Red Bar­rel has been with us now for fif­teen years and is still the same. In the mean­time oth­er beers have come along in keg with new flavours, and meet­ing new ideas of taste. There­fore Red Bar­rel might be said to be old fash­ioned. So what we did was to study the whole sit­u­a­tion in great detail with our col­leagues in the group mar­ket­ing depart­ment. We want­ed to find out just what it was the cus­tomers liked, what their ideals were, what were the faults, per­haps, in ear­li­er beers, and alto­geth­er how we could make it right for the sev­en­ties.

What we’ve done is to give the beer a new smooth pleas­ant taste. We’ve also giv­en it a much bet­ter head and alto­geth­er a more attrac­tive appear­ance. Gone is any sug­ges­tion of bit­ter after palate; instead, there is a pleas­ant malty meali­ness.… We’ve stud­ied flavour, stud­ied peo­ple’s reac­tion to flavour, and pro­duced exper­i­men­tal beers, test­ing out all the vari­a­tions we can think of in such things of sweet­ness or bit­ter­ness.

That con­firms what we’d heard from oth­er sources, and what we said in Brew Bri­tan­nia: that Red Bar­rel and Red were quite dif­fer­ent beers, with the lat­ter an alto­geth­er fizzi­er, sweet­er beer. But this would seem to sug­gest that, unless they’re out­right fib­bers, that peo­ple in the com­pa­ny gen­uine­ly believed they were respond­ing to pub­lic demand rather than cut­ting cor­ners for the sake of it.

There’s some sol­id his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion in all this, too. It tells us, for exam­ple, that Red was devel­oped pri­mar­i­ly at the Wat­ney’s plant in Northamp­ton, for­mer­ly Phipps, and that the beer and point-of-sale mate­r­i­al was sched­uled to hit pubs in March and April of 1971.

There is also an awk­ward inter­view with Mr Hors­fall, a pub­li­can in… Eldon? Old­ham? Answers on a post­card. He had been tasked with sell­ing the new Red on the qui­et to gauge cus­tomer reac­tions to the refor­mu­la­tion and, though hard­ly jump­ing for joy, seemed to think his cus­tomers pre­ferred it, on the whole.

Arguably the most excit­ing part comes at the end: a reel of orig­i­nal TV ads from the time star­ring (we think) Michael Coles as a hard-boiled counter-intel­li­gence oper­a­tive tasked with stop­ping ‘the Red Rev­o­lu­tion’. These ads seem to us to be par­o­dy­ing Callan, a pop­u­lar TV pro­gramme of the day star­ring Edward Wood­ward, with the seedy side­kick ‘Friend­ly’ clear­ly a ref­er­ence to Callan’s ‘Lone­ly’.

Thanks so much for shar­ing this, Nick! And if any­one else out there has this kind of mate­r­i­al, we’d love to see it.

Updat­ed 22/03/2018 after Nick got in touch to say he thinks this is actu­al­ly Film 3.

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”

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.

Cloning Watney’s Red

There’s one beer more than any other that we would like to be able to taste for ourselves: Watney’s Red.

We know it was ter­ri­ble – we don’t doubt what we’ve been told by numer­ous peo­ple who were unlucky enough to taste it, includ­ing a for­mer Wat­ney’s PR man – but, like peo­ple who flock to watch The Room or Plan 9 From Out­er Space, we are mor­bid­ly curi­ous.

Note that we have spec­i­fied Wat­ney’s Red, not Wat­ney’s Red Bar­rel. The lat­ter had a bad rep­u­ta­tion, but it was prob­a­bly the for­mer, launched in 1971, which real­ly brought the wrath of beer geeks and trig­gered the ‘good beer move­ment’. It was­n’t mere­ly a rebrand but a com­plete refor­mu­la­tion, with a nas­ti­er, cheap­er recipe that pro­duced a yet sweet­er, fizzi­er beer.

We are hop­ing that, to coin­cide with our book launch, we can con­vince some­one to brew us a clone, and the mar­ket­ing peo­ple at Aurum Press liked that idea, so fin­gers crossed. At any rate, we’ll def­i­nite­ly give it a go at home using mini kegs and Co2 bulbs.

But first things first: what was the recipe? Here’s what we know.

  1. A press state­ment for Red issued in 1971 (accord­ing to Roger Protz) described the beer as hav­ing a ‘bland­er taste and a bet­ter head’.
  2. In his 1973 book The Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion Frank Bail­lie described Red as ‘a well bal­anced keg beer with a burnt malty char­ac­ter­is­tic’.
  3. From cor­re­spon­dence with one for­mer Wat­ney’s pro­duc­tion brew­er, we know that Red ‘prob­a­bly… used raw bar­ley and added enzymes’, unlike Red Bar­rel.
  4. Dave Line claimed in his book Brew­ing Beers Like Those You Buy (1978) to have been giv­en full details of many recipes by brew­ers; he does not give a recipe for Red, but his oth­er Wat­ney’s bit­ter recipes (for ‘Spe­cial’ and Starlight) use Fug­gles hops.
  5. In April 1972, Which? mag­a­zine gave an orig­i­nal grav­i­ty (OG) of 1037.9 and an ABV of 3.67%. The Dai­ly Mir­ror of 10 July 1972 had 1037.2 and 3.6%. When CAMRA test­ed it a cou­ple of years lat­er, they got 1037.8 and 3.4%.
  6. Ron Pat­tin­son and Kris­ten Eng­land shared this recipe for Whit­bread Tankard from 1971. It was made with around 72% pale malt, 4% crys­tal malt, 6% ‘tor­ri­fied bar­ley’, and then a lot of sug­ar. Can we per­haps assume a vague­ly sim­i­lar malt bill for Red? And sim­i­lar hop­ping rates?

Does any­one have any oth­er sources they can point us to?

(And we don’t mean mod­ern home brew recipes based on guess­work, which is in turn based on the mem­o­ries of a friend­ly CAMRA mem­ber.…)

UPDATES 13/3/2014

  • On the advice of Steve ‘The Beer Jus­tice’ Williams, we emailed Dr Ken­neth Thomas who looks after the Courage archive where man of Wat­ney’s records end­ed up. He told us:
[Although] I found exten­sive records still at the Tru­man brew­ery in Brick Lane, and at the for­mer Mann’s brew­ery in Whitechapel, the for­mer archives of Watney’s had, in the ear­ly 1980s, already been deposit­ed on indef­i­nite loan at either the Lon­don Met­ro­pol­i­tan Archive in Clerken­well, or at the City of West­min­ster Record Office in Vic­to­ria… So, if any brew­ing recipes exist for Watney’s Red, they will be some­where with­in the col­lec­tions either at the LMA or West­min­ster.

  • We also had anoth­er look at that 1972 edi­tion of Which? mag­a­zine: their tast­ing pan­el observed that Tankard was paler and ‘fizzi­er’ than Red, and Red was by far the dark­est of the beers sam­pled.

There’s a lot to learn from bad beer

Watneys Red Barrel beer mat.

Tak­ing the time to drink bad beer is a use­ful way to cal­i­brate the taste­buds, cor­rect your per­spec­tive, and stim­u­late the taste­buds. Some­times, it’s just about remind­ing your­self that bad beer is still beer and won’t kill you.

In this post, Ghost Drinker expos­es a guilty secret: many blog­gers and writ­ers use Carls­berg Spe­cial Brew as short­hand for the worst type of strong-and-nasty ‘tramp brew’, despite nev­er hav­ing tried it. (As adults, at least.) We’ve got two choic­es: get a can and give it a go, or stop refer­ring to it. We’re inclined towards the lat­ter. After all, we’ve always got War­ka Strong to fall back on.

On a sim­i­lar note, Gareth at Beer Advice points out how odd it is that a beer that ceased pro­duc­tion in the 1970s, before many beer blog­gers were born, remains one of the most talked about – that is, Wat­ney’s infa­mous Red Bar­rel, the bogey­man of bad British bit­ter.

Red Bar­rel was (we think) renamed just ‘Red’ in around 1971. Frank Bail­lie’s Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion (1973) describes Red as a ‘well bal­anced keg beer with a burnt malty char­ac­ter­is­tic’; and the analy­sis in this 1972 Dai­ly Mir­ror arti­cle (via Ron Pat­tin­son’s blog) sug­gest a respectable strength of c.3.6% abv – not as shock­ing­ly weak as we’d imag­ined from read­ing one polemic or anoth­er.

Does any­one who’s old enough to remem­ber drink­ing Red Bar­rel want to sug­gest a beer avail­able today that might give us an idea of its flavour and char­ac­ter? Maybe you even have some antique tast­ing notes in a crum­bling note­book? Or per­haps we’ve already been there with our John Smith’s Extra Smooth exper­i­ments?

Maybe we’ll just brew a batch, if we can find a con­vinc­ing recipe.