Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?

‘What was the first kegged “craft”? Freehouses had keg lines – something must have been number one.’ Paul, Edinburgh (@CanIgetaP)

Bailey has recently been reading What Was the First Rock’N’Roll Record? by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes. Rather than declare an answer it puts forward a list of 50 candidates from 1944 to 1956 and explains the claim each has to the title. We’re going to steal that approach.

Watney's Red Barrel (detail from beer mat).

1. Watney’s Red Barrel, London, 1931.
Wait, bear with us! It was the first keg bitter, full stop, and when it first emerged was a well-regarded export quality beer. We’ve tasted a clone of a 1960s version and it was better than some keg red or amber ales currently being put out by larger breweries through their craft sub-brands.

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tommy Marling takes the temperature of draught Guinness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom. SOURCE: Guinness Time.

2. Draught Guinness, 1958.
Please continue to bear with us. In the mid-20th Century draught Guinness was a super-hip beer and apparently very tasty, but hard to find. Technicians at the brewery worked out a way to reliably dispense it from one vessel with a creamy head and it went on to take over the world. It was brewed in both Dublin and London. CAMRA veteran Barrie Pepper is once reported to have said that if all keg beer had been as good as draught Guinness CAMRA would never have got off the ground.

a. German and Belgian beers began to appear more frequently in Britain at the end of the 1970s, usually  bottled, but occasionally on draught. In the mid-1980s Sean Franklin at Rooster’s and Peter Austin at Ringwood considered kegging their beers but neither bit the bullet.

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Face to Face With Mr E.C. Handel of Watney’s

Black and white portrait of a man in a three-piece suit.

The chap in the photograph above is E.C. Handel, known as Ted, who was head of Watney’s advertising/public affairs/PR department from the 1950s until the 1970s.

If you’ve read Brew Britannia (and if not, why not, &c.) you might recall his starring role as a foil for the upstart Campaign for Real Ale, engaging Christopher Hutt in a bad-tempered exchange of letters in the Financial Times which only served to boost CAMRA’s profile:

Most of your readers will probably not have heard of CAMRA… so I should explain that it is a group that includes in its small membership (about 1,500) a number of journalists who see in the ‘ancient v. modern’ beer situation a golden opportunity for ‘controversial journalism’… we have always taken the trouble to answer letters from CAMRA and to point out the innacuracies of the arguments they produce so monotonously. (16 June 1973)

The funny thing is, even though we spent months hunting down biographical details and tracking down people who knew him, including his son, this is the first time we’ve actually seen him. The picture comes from the April 1959 edition of Watney’s in-house magazine The Red Barrel and is excerpted from a group photo of the entire advertising department.

He looks rather severe, doesn’t he? And maybe a bit anxious. He certainly doesn’t look like someone who drank much beer. But maybe the chair was uncomfortable or his waistcoat itchy that day. You can’t read too much into a single picture.

Still, nice to meet you at last, Mr H.

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.

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QUICK ONE: Watney’s Is Back

Watney's Pale ad c.1968.

Adrian Tierney-Jones has finally put us out of our misery and forwarded the email he so cryptically trailed last week: the Watney’s brand is indeed being revived.

The company behind the revival is Brands Reunited who specialise in this kind of thing — the new incarnation of Home Ales in the East Midlands is theirs, too. They are having their Watney’s branded pale ale brewed under licence at Sambrook’s, reasonably close to the original Watney’s brewery in London.

They seem quite happy to acknowledge that it’s not earth-shatteringly flavoursome but nor is it an attempt to recreate the original less-than-admired beers. This new version of Watney’s Pale contains US hops which, according to tasting notes by Annabel Smith, ‘smacked of pine, and spice’. It’ll be on cask at first with keg to follow.

So, interesting, but not as interesting (to us, anyway) as a keg-only recreation of Watney’s Red would be, with original yeasts and so on… But much, much more commercially intelligent.

An Insider’s Memories of Brewing in Bolton

A few weeks ago we visited Bolton which prompted us to write about the apparent revival of the Magee & Marshall brewery brand. That in turn led Anne Edwards to email us:

‘I was very interested to read about Magee Marshalls Brewery on your blog as both my husband and I worked there in the 1960s.’

This is the kind of thing that gets us a little excited. After some back and forth by email, here’s Anne’s story, with some small edits for style and flow.

B&B: First, what’s your background? Are you a native Boltonian?

I was born in Bolton in September 1943 and was educated at St Paul’s, the local primary, Bolton School (thanks to the 11 Plus), Salford Technical College, where I took my A levels, and Salford University, where I took an integrated course in Microbiology, Parasitology, Entomology and Biochemistry.

B&B: How did you get into microbiology and the brewing industry?

I worked in the Co-Op Technical Research Labs in Manchester while I was doing my course at Salford. Then, in 1966, I answered an advertisement for a microbiologist at Magee’s. I was interviewed by Malcolm Donald and given the job. I always felt destined to work in a brewery. Brewing is in the blood of some of the Settle family.

Anne has written extensively about her family history and at this point directed us to several articles and papers she sent us by post. Here’s a summary: William (W.T.) Settle was born in 1868. His parents, Rachel Settle and Robert Booth, were not married at the time. It was Robert Booth and his wife who established The Rose & Crown in Bolton as a homebrew house; when his wife died, Rachel married him, and took over running of the brewery. When he was 13-years-old, William effectively became head brewer, and took over the firm completely in 1891 when his mother died. Under William’s leadership, the brewery expanded, gaining a small estate of seven pubs – The Rose & Crown, Rope & Anchor, Red Lion, Skenin’ Door, British Oak, Alfred the Great, and The Britannia. After a dispute with a half-brother, the beers ceased to be Booth’s Ales and became Settle’s. Anne’s father, also called William, was born in 1910 and took over day-to-day running of the brewery from 1931, having graduated from Manchester Brewing School. Another branch of the family were bakers and W.T. Settle invested in that business, ensuring that its Fullomeat pies were also sold in Rose & Crown Brewery pubs. In 1951, W.T. Settle died and for a brief moment, the younger William became co-owner with his sister Ivy. Unfortunately, Ivy wanted to sell up, and so the Rose & Crown Brewery and its pubs were bought by Dutton’s for £30,000 and the brewery closed. William never brewed again.

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