I was trolling Google for beer stories this weekend when I came across a story in Britain's Daily Mail about Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry looking for an unopened can of Watney's Party Seven Draught Bitter. Though a venerable brewer, the name "Watney's" rings though the recent decades for those who care for good beer as a brand that came to represent the anti-Christ of UK brewing. Richard Boston cites Watney's twenty times in his 1976 Beer and Skittles. And there is that Monty Python sketch set in a tourist agency that captured something of the early 70s culture that Watney's came to represent:
What's the point of going abroad if you're just another tourist carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their Sunday Mirrors, complaining about the tea - "Oh they don't make it properly here, do they, not like at home" - and stopping at Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips and Watney's Red Barrel and calamares and two veg and sitting in their cotton frocks squirting Timothy White's suncream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh 'cos they "overdid it on the first day."
I was particularly curious that it was The Royal Society of Chemistry which was looking for the beer because they are the publishers of the greatest beer book I have read to date, Hornsey's A History of Beer and Brewing that I reviewed back here in 2006. Well, helpfully the RSC has a blog and last Wednesday an explanation of the project was published which includes a clear description of their interest in this seven pint can:
...which discipline of natural philosophy is responsible for this nectar of culture, health and prosperity? Well of course I wouldn’t be writing about it if it weren’t chemistry. But therein lies the problem – who these days cracks open a can and thinks to themselves “thank goodness for the clever research chemist who invented a vinyl co-polymer/C-enamel coating for tin cans”? But chemists are the ones behind all these advances in canning technologies and the art of zymurgy (“chemistry of brewing and distilling”, dontcha know).
Looks like they want to study the technology behind the notorious can to see what the chemists were up to at the time. Martyn Cornell's post on bottles briefly reminded us last week in the last paragraph that canning has been one of the biggest changes in how we consume beer over the decades since the days of Monty Python, Richard Boston and Wantey's Red Barrel. So, it sounds like the RSC may be up to a reasonable bit of industrial research worth following which may lead to pointing out that - however horrible the stuff in the can was - it was also something of a breakthrough in the history of the beer canning process.