Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1959 Watneys Brown Ale

Now here's a special treat: a beer from the legendary Watneys. Unfortunately, they're legendary for all the wrong reasons. Maybe notorious would be a better word.

I thought I'd never get to write any Watney recipes. Because their brewing records don't appear to have been preserved. However those of one of the breweries they took over, Usher's of Trowbridge, have. And they brewed some Watney brands in addition to their own beers.

Watney acquired a terrible reputation in the 1970's for producing crap beer. Their name got so bad, that they eventually removed it from the exterior of their pubs. As a brand, Watney became unusable.

CAMRA was to a great part responsible. Watney produced no cask beer for many years and were an obvious target. Grotney was what they called them. And with good reason: their beer was crap.

John Keeling told me how when he worked at Wilson's, another Watney subsidiary, the Cream Stout they produced was for a large part made up of ullage - returned beer - pasteurised and coloured up with caramel. It sounded disgusting. I now realise that this wasn't an isolated example.

Because the Watney's Dairy Maid Stout, Brown Ale and XX Mild brewed at Ushers are exactly the same. There's all sorts of drecky beer added at racking time to the stuff that was brewed and fermented.

In the case of Brown Ale, this was added to the 734 barrels brewed the normal way:

BB 30 barrels
Bottoms 40 barrels
RB 93 barrels
finings 9 barrels

That's 172 barrels, in total. Bottoms is the sludgy stuff left behind in vessels. RB I assume stands for returned beer, or ullage. Not sure what BB is, but it's definitely not Best Bitter.

I can't imagine that lot improved the quality of the finished beer.

The recipe below is for the beer as brewed. If you want to go all authentic, I suggest collecting dregs and the gunk left after racking, filtering it, boiling it for a while to kill any bugs, then add it to the beer when you rack. Not that I would recommend such scummy practice.

The recipe itself doesn't look too bad. A mild malt base, a bit of crystal for body and roast barley for colour. At about the standard gravity for Brown Ale back then, around 1030º.

Time to pass you over to me (again - though Kristen will be back in a couple of weeks) . . .

1959 Watneys Brown Ale
MA malt 5.50 lb 81.06%
crystal malt 0.33 lb 4.86%
flaked maize 0.33 lb 4.86%
roast barley 0.25 lb 3.68%
No. 2 invert 0.25 lb 3.68%
caramel 0.125 lb 1.84%
ginger pinch
Fuggles 45 min 1.00 oz
OG 1031
FG 1007
ABV 3.18
Apparent attenuation 77.42%
IBU 14.5
SRM 30
Mash at 152º F
Sparge at 170º F
Boil time 45 minutes
pitching temp 60º F
Yeast WLP023 Burton Ale


Graham Wheeler said...

Your Alma Mater (B.P.) did a very similar thing with their Entire. Booth in his book (1829) transcribes Mr Barclay's answers to questions asked by a House of Commons committee, presumably on beer adulteration (there were lots of those over the years) in 1818. Mr Barclay freely admits that his Entire consisted of a brewed Keeping Beer base, plus returns from publicans; bottoms; residues from brewery pipe work; "a certain portion of brown stout"; and "some bottling beer" (perhaps the BB in your article).

Entire was what B.P. called his stale or hard beer, which was sent out to publicans for mixing with mild in the customer's glass (to make genuine porter, in my view). It was obviously done to save money, Barclay sort of admits that, but they would also have wanted to encourage and accelerate the sourness. It must have been very widespread. I can remember the days when it was an open policy for all the slops in a pub to be chucked into the mild, nobody seemed to be too bothered about that. It follows that a similar practice must have taken place within just about every regional brewery.

With regard to twentieth-century browns and stout, it must have induced a background sourness, which was probably an appreciated characteristic of the style, and may explain why many browns and stout were reputed to be blends.

Gary Gillman said...

The very high percentage of returns - more than half - makes one wonder what the taste was like. Presumably it wasn't sour, but then why was the beer returned? Or if it was sour, could something have been added to neutralize the acid? Maybe the taste was defective in a different - non-sour - way, which mixing with these other beers would have diminished especially if some sweetening was added.

Bottoms would simply be yeasty beer and the heavy finings component would clear it, so it was just a way to "recover" useable beer, that part seems okay.

Of course many reading will be reminded of Barclay's early 1800's testimony. Clear some London houses continued to use very old methods of putting their beers together, methods which at first blush seem hair-raising but the taste of which may have been quite acceptable in many cases.


Gary Gillman said...

What Graham says makes sense except I can't imagine that this Watney's brown ale had a sour taste. Brown ale was often - I don't say always - sweet but even where "dry" that doesn't mean sour, the market would not have accepted that. In the late 1980's I had a number of bottled browns from the surviving London and regional breweries and these were never sour. Mann's of course was sweet.

For stout or porter, it was surely a different story, but probably the blend wasn't 50% returns and also sweetening would have lessened the effect - what John Keeling was referring to.

Maybe the returned beer for Watney Brown Ale was off in a non-sour way or again something was added to the beer to take off the sourness, some alkali maybe.

Graham is probably right about bottle beer (BB). I'd guess this was beer past its sell-by date, drinkable due to being pasteurized. Or maybe it simply meant (fresh) beer brewed for bottling.


Mike Austin said...


Kristen England said...


Did they price these differently? Meaning, if you added the slops to the mild, was it that much cheaper than a stout or porter or the like? To me, if slops were being added, I'd assume it had to be quite cheap for people not to care.

Ron Pattinson said...

Mike Ausin,

weird, I know the ginger. Ushers seemed to put it in all their beers.

Graham Wheeler said...


No, it did not decrease the price; indeed, the price in the public bars of all the pubs in any particular town were usually the same. I think that the practice had been going on for so long, since Victorian times, that people felt there was no option but to accept it. I spoke to one person who regarded it as an enhancement. After all, mild was always the weakest and cheapest beer in a pub, so additions originating from other beers could be said to potentially improve it.

I am surprised that it wasn't classed as adulteration; certainly adding a cheap weak beer to a more expensive one would be regarded as such. There are strict anti-adulteration laws applied to publicans. It was, probably still is, illegal for publicans or their staff to even add finings to a beer, although it is permissible for just about anyone else to do it, as long as he or she has been authorised to do so by the brewery.

I don't think that adding beer to beer has ever been illegal. The practice seems to still be going on; funnels and filters for that purpose are available from any cellar equipment supplier. I think that today that the added beer would have to be like-for-like to not count as adulteration. If I was a brewer who had supplied a mild to a publican, and discovered that he had been dumping other brewers' stuff in it, he would be in court faster than a rocket could get him there.

Jeff said...

A lot of this sounds disgusting, quite frankly. The idea of blending returned/exposed/expired beer with fresh product goes against most of what I've learned of modern brewing techniques and styles. Unless the practice could be measured and lent a distinct, desirable quality it can only been seen as cheap. Current barrel-aged releases and sours have been blends but they sure aren't using returned beer for it lol.