Tuesday 7 November 2023

The Dinosaur in the room

I'm having loads of fun splashing in the paddling pool of 1970s beer. Remembering those happy, happy times where pubs were traditional and beer, er, traditional. (Excuse me, my Thesaurus is currently offline.)

Don't meet your heroes, they say. My beer-soaked equivalent is: don't look too closely at the beers you love. A bit more of a mouthful, I know. But you try coming up with pissy phrases to order. (Sub. check spellin.) You might not like what you find.

Brewing records only tell so much. Mostly what goes on in the brew house. That was never the end of things. Most of the horrors occurred later. Around packaging time. Most beers were left to roam free-range during fermentation. Then came the rack. Sorry, racking.

I take the piss out of Watney for all the returned crap that they mixed into their beers. Didn't that make their beer rubbish? But I only know that because I've seen their internal quality control document. Which shows 10% of "stuff" added to most beers after fermentation.

Due to the tax system in the UK, adding crap on which there was effectively no tax made a huge deal of sense. Financially. The brewers weren't so keen. Derek Prentice told me of the effort it took to stop Fullers trying to recycle beer, even when it made no real financial sense any more. After the introduction of brewery-gate taxation.

Why a dinosaur? Well, that's what I am and it's bigger than a elephant, Also like me. It's because pretty much everyone was up to blending in various types of rubbish. Even when brewing the beers I loved, like Tetley's Mild. Which, according to the brewery's standards manual, could be up to 12.5% "stabilised beer".

Let's not kid ourselves. There was a lot of recycled beer in the pints we so happily slurped back in the 1970s. Whether it happened at the pub or in the brewery, you were lucky if it was the first time around for all of the beer in your glass. In a Tetley's pub with handpumps, maybe as little as 80%.

And still I loved it.

Keg beer was harder to fiddle with in the retail phase. That didn’t dodge all the dodgy brewing practices.


Matt said...

I occasionally drank keg Wilson's mild in a pub near Manchester Airport towards the end of the brewery's final days in the late eighties and enjoyed it. There was a very strong taste of caramel, which was probably one of the more palatable things they chucked in it. Being a dark beer of course made it easier to cover stuff like that up.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a sense of how it was recycled? I'd be curious what kind of filtering they might have done, and whether it was boiled or treated with chemicals in some way. Did they try to sort by color and type, so they weren't mixing brown beers with light ones, or did it all go into one container either at the pub or the brewer?

Foggy Noggin Brewing said...

I remember enjoying a pint of Watney's Red Barrel when I visited Produce Row (Portland, OR) in the late 70's and early 80's. I would love to get the original recipe and brew this historical beer.

Richard said...

Didn't know they mixed returned beer with fresh beer in the 70's! My excuse I wasn't old enough to drink then.
Wonder if it still happens now?

Anonymous said...

Richard I doubt it think there are laws in place.

Bribie G said...

Tetley and also Brains of Cardiff were served through tight sparklers. The first few pulls would fill the glass with what looked like cream, that would settle out to a fairly flat beer with a tight creamy head, not unlike a draught Guinness, then a short pull or two to bring the beer level up to nearly the top.
In the meantime a lot of the foam would run into the "drip tray" and return down to the cask in the cellar.

When CAMRA became prominent a few Brains pubs started selling Brains SA by gravity straight from a cask on the bar but the texture and mouthfeel of the beer was considered just wrong, almost fizzy and no traditional head so this died a death fairly quickly.

Brad McMahon said...

Foggy Noggin, Ron has kindly put up an early 70's Watney's Red recipe up.

Anonymous said...

Please elaborate on the rubbish varietals of the 70s

Anonymous said...

Bass Brew Ten, Whitbread Trophy, Double Diamond. 🙈

Chris Pickles said...

I wonder if Watney's and the other breweries exercised any sort of quality control over the returns that came in. For example, if they got back half a barrel of what was in effect Sarson's would they discard it or throw it in the mix regardless?

Anonymous said...

As someone who is Irish I prefer some breweries cask beer to sparkled Brehon Brewhouse for example.

Ron Pattinson said...

Chris Pickles,

maximum 0.15% acidity, measured in acetic acid.