Tuesday, 12 January 2016

How to brew Watney’s Red Barrel

Had you told me 30 years ago that I’d be writing in detail about how to brew Red Barrel, I’d have called you a twat. After I’d finished laughing.

How times, and, more importantly, people, change over the years. I’m certainly much mellower than I was. And I’ve learned not to blindly dismiss things, just because they aren’t to my personal taste. Though whether Red Barrel was or not, I’ll never know. Because I never tried the stuff. Just like Double Diamond, Courage Tavern and Youngers Tartan. Which keg beers did I try? Not many. I can remember accidentally drinking keg Bass in Cornwall. Bastards were using fake handpulls.

Apologies for wandering off topic. Back to Red Barrel. I’m fortunate enough to have come into possession of a pdf of the Watney Mann Quality Control Manual (thanks to Boak and Bailey). It has wonderfully detailed instructions in how to brew all their beers. Including Red Barrel.

Such a document is dead handy. In some ways better than a brewing record. As it documents many things usually left out of brewing logs. Things like the timing of hop additions.  Though it’s for one specific brewery, it still provides an insight into London brewing in general.

Despite its dreadful reputation as absolute dross, there’s nothing particularly different about Red Barrel’s ingredients or production methods. It looks much like other London Pale Ales. In fact the grist has a higher percentage of malt than most. Of course, the damage was done at the end of the process, when Red Barrel was killed then kegged.

I’m not sure what the date of the Quality Control Manual is. But as it says “Watney Mann” on the cover, it can’t be earlier than 1958. There’s a table of amendments at the front with two entries, dated January and February 1965. So it must date from between 1958 and 1964.

Right, let’s crack on with the details. Starting with the grist:

Watney's Red Barrel grist
Ingredient Percentage notes
Pale malt 89
Dixons Enzymic Malt 1
Crystal malt 4.5 (Maximum)
Malt Extract (Paines, Edme or Diamalt) 3 added to the mash tun during mashing.
No. 3 Invert (Manbre, Albion or Clark) 2.5 added to the copper.
Total 100

94.5% malt is a very high percentage. Around 80% was more typical. And the sugar content is very low. Between 10 and 15% was usual.

Let’s do a bit of comparing and contrasting. Starting with a classy London brewer, Whitbread:

1959 Whitbread PA
Ingredient Percentage
PA malt 75.47%
crystal malt 5.66%
no. 1 invert sugar 18.87%
Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/01/126

Whitbread had some of the most expensive-looking grists, yet the malt content of their Bitter was just 81%, far less than Red Barrel. Whitbread only ever used unmalted grains when forced to during the war.

Now a more typical grist from Fullers:

1958 Fullers SPA grist
Ingredient Percentage
pale malt 81.90%
flaked maize 14.66%
no. 2 invert sugar 2.30%
glucose 1.15%
PEX 2.30%
CDM 0.48%
total sugar 6.23%
Fullers brewing record held the brewery.

The malt percentage is similar to Whitbread PA, but the bulk of the rest is made up of flaked maize rather than sugar.

And finally a Bitter from the North:

1950 Lees Bitter grist
Ingredient Percentage
pale malt 87.07%
black malt 0.09%
enzymic malt 1.43%
invert sugar 1.90%
C.W.A. 7.61%
Proteinex 1.90%
total sugar 11.42%
Lees brewing record held the brewery.

The malt percentage is higher here at 89%. While the remainder of the grist is all sugar. Note that Lees also used enzymic malt. It was dead popular in the 1950’s.

Next we’ll be looking at water treatment and mashing.


John Clarke said...

I used to drink Courage Tavern in the Queen's Head in Newark... I think Watney's Red Barrel went really v]crap when it was reformulated (I think I've got that right) and renamed "Watney's Red".

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough Ron, I have been thinking about this beer over the past couple of days, despite the fact I have never tried it or seen it for sale.

While I was engrossed in a Eddy Merckx documentary I got for Xmas, I noticed that Watney's Red Barrel was emblazoned on a (official sponsor) banner stretched over the course near the finish on one of the TdF stages in either 1969 or 1970. I seem to remember an article saying there was a push into Northern Europe around this time by English brewers with Le Rostbif pub(?) in Paris etc. But seeing it in a TdF stage was quite a jolt.



J. Karanka said...

A friend of mine loves craft beer. I might brew this for his birthday.

Gary Gillman said...

This report from Bailey and Boak some time back indicates that Watney`s Red (vs. Red Barrel) had 20% sugar and used roasted barley vs. coloured malt.


They also suggest that by the time Red was introduced, Red Barrel itself had dropped in malt content a fair bit, to 77% or some 12%, in favour of sugar.

From this, and your own report, it`s fair to conclude that the beer CAMRA reacted to was the result of an incremental process. The all-malt Red Barrel would not have aroused the ire that Red did, IMO. It was clearly a decent replication of what was originally a pale ale and of course was not the only keg bitter in the market. Due to the processing of any keg product, it would likely never have gotten the love from CAMRA but that some bad press rubbed off on even the original Watney Red Barrel keg is undeniable and perhaps inevitable because of what Red was.

This is what happens when recipes change over time and malt and hop character become de-emphasized. Eg. the Red recipe specified no late-addition hops and I`d guess - maybe you know, Ron - the original RB had such addition. But either way, Red represented the terminal point of an evolution which was the result of specific brewing and corporate decisions - it didn`t have to be that way, but it was.


Gary Gillman said...

I correct: the original Red Barrel keg was not 100% malt, but at some 95% malt, to all intents and purposes, it was.