Real beer

24th December 2019 By malcra 0

This blog was prompted by a bit of Facebook marketing from Seedrs, a funding site, offering the chance to invest in a craft brewer. What made it interesting was that the brewer is Watneys. Well not really a brewer as such.

The once mighty Watneys, Combe & Reid, once part of the FT30 in the 1930s ended up being acquired by Grand Metropolitan Hotels in the 1970’s, but its notoriety amongst beer drinkers of a certain age is for being one of the first in the UK to produce keg beer. It’s not that keg beer can’t be bad, with Watneys Red Barrel being pasteurised and filtered allowing it to be exported and have a long shelf life, hence its appearance on holiday destinations in Spain.

Watneys Red Barrel, synonymous with 1970’s crap beer

Watneys and its Red Barrel became all that is evil in the eyes of the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), although like First World War generals there are some revisionist historians trying to set the record straight. It wasn’t just Red Barrel, but other brands like Double Diamond and Tankard that CAMRA had a real target to aim for. The blog mentioned (which is by Boak and Bailey) makes you feel that CAMRA’s view in the 1970’s when it was founded was too evangelical and wasn’t too tolerant. The Big 6 Brewers demise in the 1990’s as the return to real ale gained force has been documented (including in this excellent paper) and there’s no doubt in 2019 that drinkers have far more choice than ever before with the beer they drink.

So what was the problem with Watney’s ? :

  • according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), it was kegged, therefore not ‘real’ ale
  • it was sweet (and got sweeter when given a makeover at the beginning of the 70’s as Red) and gassy
  • they got rid of the bitterness and made it more of a mild, just as mild was going out of fashion.

So come 2019 we’ve come a long way and have a lot of beer choice, with ‘craft’ beers (in gassy can or keg form) competing with craft beers. This new brewers of the 21st century (BrewDog, Tiny Rebel and others) aren’t small concerns, but are having a dramatic impact on the way the beer is drunk in pubs and to some extent you’ll see as much craft beer being drunk as you will lager in some places.

This is the first blog (hopefully of a few) as I get my head around the state of brewing and beer in the UK, from a standing start. My own exploration of brewing is beginning to open my eyes to the wider challenges and opportunities of brewing, marketing and potentially selling your own beer. It’s amazing stuff.