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.

Continue reading “An Insider’s Memories of Brewing in Bolton”

GALLERY: Modern Watney’s Pubs from Matchboxes

These were carefully removed from matchboxes produced, we would guess, in about 1968, probably for sale in Watney’s pubs. (Any matchbox collectors who want to correct us, go for it.)

The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this.
The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this (Google Street View).
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as 'like a wild west saloon'.
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as ‘like a wild west saloon‘.

Continue reading “GALLERY: Modern Watney’s Pubs from Matchboxes”

Red Storm Rising

‘Surely there must be a picture of one of these posters we can include?’ said our editor at Aurum when he read the passage about the campaign for Watney’s Red in Brew Britannia.

The ads were controversial because they used lookalikes resembling communist dictators to promote keg bitter — a (ahem…) left-field approach for a big Tory-supporting UK brewery. As a result, it was referred to in numerous articles and books from the 1970s, and much-mocked by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). So, yes, you’d think there would be some documentary evidence of its existence.

But, after much searching, the only image we could find to include in the book was this one, scanned from a contemporary magazine:

Watneys Red Army poster c.1972.

It gets the point across but it’s not one of the classics — where’s Fidel Castro? The snap of a billboard illustrating this article at Retrowow might have done the job but the web editor there didn’t know the source, we couldn’t track down ‘Edward Hahn’ ourselves, and couldn’t get access to a higher resolution copy, so that was a dead end.

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English Pubs on the Continent

In 1965, British mega-brewery Watney Mann opened a pub in Paris — the Sir Winston Churchill.

According to Helga Graham in an article in the Guardian published in 1970 (‘Mild and Bitter Spoken Here’, 27/09, p.15), this started when Watney’s hired Serge Herblot, ‘a very French Frenchman in an English blazer and tie’. He was tasked with driving a Bedford van with a mobile bar in the back around Paris and giving the hard sell to Bistro owners; they thought him ‘seriously affected by English eccentricity’ and weren’t interested. It was he, Ms. Graham says, who came up with the idea of building a pub, for which Watney’s put up 50 per cent of the capital.

The pub sat on the corner of the Rue de Presbourg and the Avenue d’Iéna, near the Arc de Triomphe. It was designed by a Russian, Vyacheslav Vasiliev, AKA ‘Slavik’, who said: ‘It is not a real pub — only a parody of the French bourgeoisie.’ (‘In an Alien Culture’, A Monthly Bulletin, June 1966.)

From the outside, it certainly looked like a Watney’s pub with the familiar Design Research Unit branding, as shown in the photo above. In the Red Barrel in-house magazine for April 1966, there was a short article about its November 1965 opening:

The bars, with their oil lamps and red plush seats are as unmistakably English as the Victorian exterior, and the name… Sir Patrick Reilly, British Ambassador, [opened] the Sir Winston Churchill by drawing the first pint of Red Barrel.

By 1968, Watney’s chairman, D.P. Crossman, was boasting in the company report (Financial Times, 04/01, p.6) that the Churchill was ‘without doubt the most famous pub on the continent’, and that Watney’s beers were ‘selling well’ at similar pubs in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart and Munich, with Florence in the pipeline.

When in the same report he added that ‘Outside this country the image of the public house has never stood in higher esteem’, he was taking a dig at the government and their ongoing threat to interfere in or even abolish the tied-house system. Exporting the concept of the English pub abroad, opening up new markets for (easy-to-transport kegged and bottled) British beer, was seen as a vital insurance policy. It lay behind numerous instances of what we would now call ‘pop up’ pubs at trade fairs across Europe and around the world, beginning with the Britannia in Brussels in 1958.

A report in the Financial Times (08/02/71, p.14) summarised the extent of the British invasion by the beginning of the next decade:

This afternoon Bass opens its seventh pub in Sweden — the Francis Drake at Uppsala… All the major British brewers are now on the Continent. Allied has its Double Diamond houses in Rotterdam and Brussels, Courage’s golden cockerel swings over the Cockney Tavern and the Pill Box in Paris as well as other pubs in Amsterdam and elsewhere. Whitbread has 17 houses in Paris and, of course, Watney Mann is probably the daddy of them all… In Paris the red barrel hangs over The Clipper, The Sir Winston Churchill, The Golden Hat, The Mayflower, The Ten Gallons (opened only last month under the famous Olympia Music Hall), the Red Lion and the London Tavern. In Bordeaux there is The Drug Store. At La Baule… it has The Kent Arms. And in Northern France the Queen Victoria rules over Lille. Watney has another 25 pubs Belgium, 12 in Germany, five in Italy and one each in Sweden and Switzerland.

The same article also explained that the whole enterprise relied on marketing British beer as a high-quality premium product for connoisseurs, and jacking up the price accordingly:

In the more sophisticated city centres, with their cosmopolitan populations, the cachet of drinking bitter seems to have had some success, particularly in Paris where there is a distinct preference for top-class beers.

A pint of brown ale at the Winston Churchill cost 6s 6d in 1965, according to a writer in the Guardian (01/12/65, p.11) which, as far as we can tell, is about three times the going rate at home.

Charrington advert: The Pickwick, Geneva.
Detail from a Bass Charrington advertisement, 1973.

Even so, the author of the FT piece concluded, most such pubs were not generally profitable and were really exercises in ‘flag-waving’, and intended to hold territory in advance of Britain’s entry into the Common Market when the real fun could begin.

With the demise of the Big Six and their tied pub estates in the UK, their Continental pub chains also seem to have fallen apart, though it’s hard to say for sure as it happened slowly and apparently wasn’t considered newsworthy. Certainly most of those listed above seem to have disappeared or been renamed. We could not find the Kent Arms in La Baule, for example, although there is a pub called The Salisbury which, despite its name and distinctly English design, calls itself a ‘pub Irlandais’ — how many Whitbread and Watney’s pubs reinvented themselves in this way, with a pot of green paint, and a Guinness font where the keg bitter used to be? We’d guess this Irish pub on Rue Lincoln, Paris, is what remains of Whitbread’s King George.

There are still plenty of faux-English pubs — Charles Wells of Bedford has a decent French pub estate, for example — though it our impression that they aren’t as trendy as in 1970, and we’ve certainly seen some tatty-looking examples on our travels.

Much to our surprise, unlike most of the trendily-designed new-build pubs trumpeted in the Red Barrel in the mid-1960s, the original — The Sir Winston  — is still there proudly declaring itself ‘Un des plus vieux pubs anglais de Paris‘. We’ll have to pay homage next time we pass through.

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.

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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.

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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]

(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.