Those Greene King IPA Spin-Offs

Greene King IPA pumpclips in an image from their website.

We recently wrote about Greene King’s new beers, IPA Gold and IPA Reserve, in somewhat positive terms, welcoming cautiously what we saw as the pepping up of their range. As a result, we got an email from John Bexon, their head brewer (did they read this?) offering to send us some bottles, and suggesting where we might find them on cask in Exeter.

We’ve now tried the bottles (thanks, John) and can confirm that:

  • we’d be much happier drinking these than bottles of standard Greene King IPA
  • they are not bland
  • they are not nasty
  • we enjoyed drinking them.

On the other hand:

  • clear bottles really don’t do them any favours
  • nor does the aggressively fizzy carbonation and
  • there are a number of other beers readily available in the supermarket we’d recommend over them.

IPA Gold is the kind of beer other breweries have been making for years — more full-bodied and less dry than we now expect of pale beers, golden rather than white-blonde. It is actually sort of moreish, once the initial fizz has died down, and the slight skunkiness has drifted away. The hops, though they are Slovenian, seem very English to us, all subdued citrus, cut grass and… well, they say tropical fruit, but we’re reminded more of Robinson’s Orange Barley Water. Nonetheless, distinctly lager-like, which is presumably the idea.

IPA Reserve is a crystal malt bomb, toffee with a touch of fruit, but very… finishable. We abandon quite a few beers, but not this one. Nope, definitely nice enough to finish. (Is the phrase ‘damning with faint praise’?) We suspect this will be a lot better from a cask and, with a good whack more alcohol than standard GK IPA, should be better equipped to survive the journey out of Bury St Edmunds.

It’s hard for us to write about Greene King because we know we harbour prejudices towards them. Did we think the beers were a little skunked because we’ve got a thing about clear bottles? Would we have enjoyed them more if they’d come from a new, small, trendier brewery? On the other hand, are we being generous because they sent us samples, or because we don’t want to be seen to be having a knee-jerk reaction to a big, ambitious brewery? So complicated… need therapy.

24 thoughts on “Those Greene King IPA Spin-Offs”

  1. ‘Finishable’ – I love that! I try too many beers which are not finishable so I get this. However, it’s one of those words which I’d apply to a beer that I was expecting to taste and dump but then end up drinking the whole lot…

    Like the idea here but not sure whether the brand line extension helps or hurts Greene King IPA…

    1. Curmudgeon — didn’t get round to trying OGH (they didn’t send us any and we didn’t go looking for it…) but I think that they use different yeast for the Morland beers; and OGH used Galaxy hops (pretty powerful) while this one uses Savinjski Goldings.

      Mark — that’s probably exactly how we are using it here, in fact. In purely commercial terms, it makes total sense to extend the IPA brand, but it’ll play merry hell with any attempts to clarify what IPA does or doesn’t mean. (Or did and didn’t.)

      Steve — yes, and a beer we’re not reviewing at that.

  2. they sent you free beer and told you where to get it…in Exeter!!!,Ive not seen a drop of it for sale yet in Suffolk, in supermarket or in any of their pubs, though I know some freehouses have had deliveries this week.

    But its the East Anglian beer festival in Bury St Edmunds in a few weeks time so maybe it will make a ‘launch’ appearance there as St Edmunds, GKs other golden ale they still make, I think won beer of the festival a few years back.

    Which thinking about it ought to be the nearer comparison to hold Golden IPA up against, albeit again its still a different hop variety, but certainly OGH and SE were definately distinct from each other, and youd assume SE was made with GK yeast.

    Im just happy to hear its not another Ale Fresco 🙂

    as far as the branding thing goes and extending it which I think makes sense for them, even if it does confuse things, Ive seen GK IPA as far afield as Melbourne Australia, sold as “British Beer”, to them GK IPA means “British Beer” you might find that slightly alarming but consider Fosters = Australian beer to us :),but its a brand name thats hitting very high levels of recognition both internationally and in UK non-beer enthusiast circles, which is their major market, and thats a helluva lot of investment to chuck away just to satisfy a naming convention. A beer like GK Ale Fresco wouldnt have anywhere near the same level of recognition that GK IPA would, so I get what they are doing with it.

    oh and if John Bexon is reading this, please send the free beer to Happy Dude,742 Evergreen Terrace…

  3. The clear bottles are inexplicable. ESPECIALLY for export. You send a 3.5% beer to Oregon in a clear bottle, you’re pretty much spending good money to poison people against the brand. I have implored them to switch bottles, at least for export, and the result suggests American bloggers don’t hold a lot of sway.

    On the issue of IPA confusion–it is fascinating. Britain is going its own way there, tacking against headwinds of the biggest current trend in ales. But it’s not that you have a different definition–especially with this GK thing, you have many, contradictory ones.

    1. If you can have Black IPAs and Red Rye IPAs, I don’t see any reason in principle why you can’t have an IPA Gold or IPA Reserve.

      1. As it happens, St Austell Proper Job IPA is paler than IPA Gold.

        But what we are seeing here is definitely reference to “GK IPA” as a brand, rather than IPA as a type of beer.

        Jeff — on clear bottles, they seem hung upon the idea that it helps people to know what colour the beer is, but labels and text can get that across, surely?

        1. You could plausibly argue that IPA is a brand in the US too – all those drinkers who will buy a beer if it says IPA on it.

          1. Bailey: surely so. And since other makers of beautiful pale beers seem to manage selling their product in dark bottles, I have a hard time thinking GK can’t, too.

            Barm: absolutely. IPA is in the process of displacing pale ale as the king of ale styles. We have a pretty narrow definition, too. ABV can vary from the mid fives to mid sevens, but an IPA must be vividly hoppy. In the American fashion, fans are wont to separate these into sub-styles (very bitter, less flavor and aroma in San Diego styles, fuller and rounder on the East Coast, hugely aromatic and juicy in the NW), but that’s fanboy silliness.

  4. That floating Twitter/Facebook/etc toolbar that’s appeared next to the comments doesn’t play well with my main browser (Firefox) – every time I go to look at comments I get a blank page and a “loading” message (it seems to be the link to StumbleUpon that it has particular trouble with). It is a browser thing, as it’s fine with Safari on the same machine (which is what I’m using now). Is anyone else unable to see or respond to comments… oh. Never mind.

    1. Thanks for letting us know, Phil. We’re using Firefox, too, but on PC — guess you’re on a Mac? Anyway, we’ll turn it off and try another social linky widget thing.

      1. Yes, Firefox 3.6 on a Mac. I feel a bit guilty about raising it, because it’s probably a specific version of Firefox / one of my plugins / a specific version of a plugin and I really ought to track it down at this end. But if you’re happy replacing the toolbar, that would work!

      2. I’ve had the same problem. The page works fine in Firefox on my home PC, but it went blank all day on my PC at work (again using Firefox – though I don’t know if it’s the same version). I generally find that floaty thing a bit annoying to be honest anyway…

        I may well try these new Greene King beers next time I see them, though they don’t sound all that thrilling. What odds would I get for betting on a Greene King IPA Black or Green King IPA Single Hop Series being added to the brand any time soon? ;o)

        1. Hello, Anonymous. We’ve deactivated it, so you shouldn’t have a problem.

          Marston’s have just done a single hop series, and St Austell do a black IPA…

  5. Jeff – I don’t know what GK are playing at; they’re a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an echidna. Apart from them, though, I’m not sure there are that many different definitions of IPA around. I grew up knowing “IPAs” as best bitters in the South Coast style, with a bit more strength and a bit more tannic bitterness than the usual. To the extent that brewers are still brewing to that definition, it’s not so much that they’re going against “the biggest current trend”, more that they’re doing what they were doing before and don’t see the need to change.

      1. No, GK are definitely a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an echidna. And the echidna wasn’t pleased.

  6. When ever I see the word reserve, for whatever reason I think of cigarettes.

    The smooth, and satisfying taste of King’s Reserves—Yeah, that’s the stuff.

  7. Like the phrase “finishable”, that is faint praise.

    I suspected here that this would be the kind of result and I am being proved correct.

    The only GK beer I’ve liked at all recently is Old Golden Hen, but it was nothing special. Nothing I’ve read will make me try these two out over other beers.

  8. I dunno, I take a week off work, get on here 8 hours earlier than normal – and am still a day late!

    Anyhoo, re (on topic) GK’s new ales, despite my prejudice, mine is not ostensibly an anti GK family. Wee Fatha often buys their bottles, so I reckon I’ll end up trying these. I wonder though, more especially if I like them, if they’ll ever be seen in cask form anywhere but Suffolk?

    I never saw Hens Tooth or Old Golden Hen or that other one on cask anywhere. Such a shame, when these products, and beers such as Strong Suffolk are comparatively commendable. Maybe putting more of their interesting beer in cask (and making more mild, surely?) would alter the percentage of good GK beers encountered? Instead of seeing dross like IPA, or stolen homogenised beers like Hardy Hansons, more drinkers would see beer that GK could and should be proud of.

    At present ask anyone to name a GK beer and they mention, usually without any enjoyment, their IPA. Changing that would do wonders for their image, even for misery guts anti Greedy King moaners like me.

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