Friday, 10 January 2014

Watney's Brown Ale 1929 - 1964

Random beer from a random brewer again. This time everyone's favourite: Watney.

Bizarrely, I now feel sort of sorry for Watney. Unloved and unmourned, unlike most defunct breweries. Then again, they did try pretty hard to bugger up British beer and British pubs. Not that I ever went into one of their pubs, unless dragged. Even when they did start selling something drinkable, I still wasn't keen on their pubs. They were kings of the tasteless tarting up, ripping out the character and replacing it with bland, cheap tat.

The company I remember with so little fondness was the product of the first big brewery merger. Now here's an irony. When Watney, Combe and Reid merged in 1898, the latter two breweries closed and production was transferred to Watney's Stag Brewery. The irony? There's not a brick left standing of that brewery, while there's a substantial chunk of Combe's brewery in Long Acre left. Until last week I'd thought that Reid's Griffin Brewery had completely demolished. Then I found a large-scale OS map of London online. Which shows that the brewery was on both sides of Leather Lane. Only the part to the West was knocked down.

Back to Watney. They kept the Reid and Combe names alive until WW II. The former for Stout, latter for Brown Ale. Though there were also Stout and Brown Ale sold under the Watney brand. Given the similarity of the specs, I suspect there were the same beers differently labelled.

I'm going to indulge in some wild speculation now. What was the relationship, if any, between Watney's Mild Ale and their Brown Ale? Without any brewing books, this is a tricky one. All I can go by are the gravities I have from analyses. The Brown Ales from Barclay Perkins and Whitbread were most definitely not versions of their Mild before WW II. They were single-gyle beers with their own distinctive grists. And different gravities from their Milds. Whitbread's Double Brown had a much higher gravity than their Milds.

In the case of the first three examples in the table, the gravity is suspiciously close to the 1043º of their X Ale. But after 1931, it gets more complicated. 1931, if you remember, was the year of the disastrous rise in beer duty. An increase which actually saw the amount of tax collected fall, as brewers dropped gravities to be able to leave the retail price the same. The gravity of Watney's X Ale dropped from 1043º to 1034º, and the price remained at 6d per pint. But look at what happened with Brown Ale: the gravity only dropped to 1038º and the price increased from 7d per pint to 8d.

That in itself tells us something. Punters were prepared to pay more for Brown Ale, but weren't for draught Mild. It implies that Brown Ale was more fashionable and upmarket. I know, it's difficult to believe now that Brown Ale could have been either of those things.

After the tax increase was reversed in 1933, Watney's X Ale remained around the same gravity, but fell in price to 5d per pint. While the gravity of their Brown Ale went back to the pre-1931 level and its price dropped by 1d. Which is how things remained until WW II. By the end of which both had dropped to around 1030º. Post-war, both bubbled along in the low 1030's. My guess is that by then they were basically the same beer, with maybe the odd tweak to the Brown Ale, as at Whitbread with Best Ale and Forest Brown.

Here's an interesting fact. Watney's Brown Ale was about exactly the average OG of all beer brewed in the UK in the late 1920's and early 1930's. And Mann's, the original modern Brown Ale, had a very similar gravity, too. While post-war Watney's Brown Ale was 3-4 degrees below average gravity.

Year Average OG Year Average OG Year Average OG
1928 1043.31 1941 1038.51 1953 1036.87
1929 1043.21 1942 1035.53 1954 1036.97
1930 1043.05 1943 1034.34 1955 1037.13
1931 1042.69 1944 1034.63 1956 1037.22
1932 1041.19 1945 1034.54 1957 1037.42
1933 1039.69 1946 1034.72 1958 1037.48
1934 1040.99 1947 1032.59 1959 1037.52
1935 1041.06 1948 1032.66 1960 1037.25
1936 1041.02 1949 1033.43 1961 1037.41
1937 1041.10 1950 1033.88 1962 1037.70
1938 1041.02 1951 1036.99 1963 1037.70
1939 1040.93 1952 1037.07 1964 1037.66
1940 1040.62
Sources:
Brewers' Journal 1921, page 246.
Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 50
Brewers' Almanack 1962, p. 48
Brewers' Almanack 1971, p. 45

One last point. That XX Brown Ale. Judging by the colour, it wasn’t really brown at all but the colour of Bitter. I’ve no idea why it was called Brown Ale.

Watney's Brown Ale 1929 - 1964
Year Beer Price size package Acidity FG OG colour ABV App. Atten-uation
1929 Brown Ale 7d pint bottled 1010 1042 4.16 76.19%
1931 Brown Ale 7d pint bottled 0.05 1011.4 1043.3 4.14 73.67%
1931 Brown Ale 7d pint bottled 0.08 1007.5 1042.3 4.53 82.27%
1931 Brown Ale 8d pint bottled 0.06 1008.8 1038 3.79 76.84%
1932 Brown Ale 8d pint bottled 0.05 1008.2 1038 3.87 78.42%
1933 Brown Ale 8d pint bottled 0.06 1010.4 1038 3.58 72.63%
1936 Brown Ale 7d pint bottled 0.06 1011.6 1041.7 3.90 72.18%
1936 Brown Ale 13d quart bottled 0.05 1012.6 1040.6 3.62 68.97%
1937 Brown Ale half pint bottled 1040.13
1937 Brown Ale 13d pint bottled 0.05 1014.5 1040.8 3.40 64.46%
1938 Brown Ale 7d pint bottled 0.06 1010.8 1040.8 3.89 73.53%
1938 Brown Ale 7d pint bottled 0.05 1013.6 1041.1 13 + 40 3.56 66.91%
1938 XX Brown Ale 6d pint draught 0.04 1015.6 1043.4 23 3.59 64.06%
1941 Brown Ale 6.5d half pint bottled 0.07 1009.9 1034.3 12 + 40 3.16 71.14%
1944 Brown Ale bottled 0.05 1010.4 1031.6 10 + 40 Brown 2.74 67.09%
1946 Brown Ale 13d pint bottled 0.06 1011.4 1031.2 17 + 40 2.56 63.46%
1946 Brown Ale 12d pint bottled 0.05 1008.5 1029.6 12 + 40 2.73 71.28%
1947 Brown Ale 12d pint bottled 0.04 1010.3 1028.3 13 + 40 2.33 63.60%
1947 Brown Ale 12d pint bottled 0.07 1005.5 1028.7 10 + 40 3.01 80.84%
1947 Brown Ale 13d pint bottled 0.04 1009.7 1029.8 11 + 40 2.60 67.45%
1947 Brown Ale 13d pint bottled 0.06 1007.4 1029.3 17 + 40 2.84 74.74%
1948 Brown Ale 15d pint bottled 0.05 1009.3 1030.6 14 + 40 2.76 69.61%
1948 Brown Ale 16d pint bottled 0.07 1005.7 1031 18 + 40 3.29 81.61%
1949 Brown Ale 16d pint bottled 0.05 1009.7 1030.3 16 + 40 2.66 67.99%
1949 Brown Ale 15d pint bottled 0.07 1007.8 1030 16 + 40 2.88 74.00%
1950 Brown Ale 15d pint bottled 0.08 1007.8 1029.4 10 + 40 2.80 73.47%
1950 Brown Ale 15d pint bottled 0.04 1007.9 1030.4 15 + 40 2.92 74.01%
1950 Brown Ale 8.5d half pint bottled 0.06 1010.8 1032.6 16 + 40 2.82 66.87%
1951 Brown Ale 8.5d half pint bottled 0.05 1010.3 1031.1 40 + 17 2.69 66.88%
1952 Brown Ale 9d half pint bottled 0.05 1009.3 1031.1 16 + 40 2.82 70.10%
1952 Brown Ale 9d half pint bottled 0.06 1010.8 1032 16 + 40 2.74 66.25%
1953 Brown Ale 9.5d half pint bottled 0.06 1009.9 1032.1 17 + 40 2.87 69.16%
1953 Brown Ale 9.5d half pint bottled 0.05 1009.8 1032.8 16 + 40 2.98 70.12%
1954 Brown Ale 9.5d half pint bottled 0.05 1010 1031.9 18 + 40 2.83 68.65%
1954 Brown Ale 10d nip bottled 0.06 1010.2 1032.8 120 2.92 68.90%
1955 Brown Ale 10.5d half pint bottled 0.05 1010.9 1032.3 125 2.77 66.25%
1956 Brown Ale 10d half pint bottled 0.05 1011.1 1032.2 120 2.73 65.53%
1963 Brown Ale 12d half pint bottled 0.04 1013.4 1033.1 135 2.54 59.52%
1964 Brown Ale 22d pint bottled 0.04 1012.4 1033.4 135 2.71 62.87%
1964 Brown Ale 22d pint bottled 0.04 1013 1033.4 115 2.63 61.08%
Sources:
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.
Truman Gravity Book document B/THB/C/252 held at the London Metropolitan Archives


5 comments:

Ed said...

I met someone working at the Stag brewery at Mortlake a couple of months back. Slightly improbably it's still going under a rolling death sentence.

kaiserhog said...

Since real ale is the standard in England, I wonder how well a Watney Clone or Watney itself would do in the US market?

Ron Pattinson said...

Ed,

I thought it had already closed. I wonder if they have any old brewing records there? I'd love to get my hands on Red Barrel or Red logs.

Ron Pattinson said...

kaiserhog,

I think Red Barrel used to sell reasonably well in the US. Long after it had crawled off to die in a corner in Britain.

Ed said...

I was once brought a bottle of Red barrel from the US long after it had gone from the UK.

I'll make enquires about records if I see some from the stag brewery again.