QUICK ONE: Greene King Heritage Beers Pt. 2

Illustration: Victoriana.

A couple of weeks ago we tried Greene King’s ‘Heritage’ beers and gave them what we thought was a quite clearly caveated thumbs-up. But maybe the caveats need to be bigger in future.

Commenting on Facebook, one passerby disagreed bluntly with our assessment, adding: “Saying something is the best Greene King have made isn’t really saying much either.” And, yes, that’s sort of the point we wanted to get across, in our weaselly way. We certainly weren’t saying that Greene King is now our favourite brewery, or that these are contenders for beers of the year. Greene King’s marketing department read it correctly and wisely omitted that line when they used us to blurb the products.

Still, when we tried the pale ale again a few days later it tasted no less impressive, and we’ve seen some positive reactions from others on social media, often along the same lines: people who aren’t normally Greene King boosters, who were prepared to be let down, conceding that these are a step up.

Meanwhile, Greene King’s use of the word ‘heritage’ niggled with Steve Dunkley from Manchester brewery Beer Nouveau. We met Steve once and have followed him on social media for years and what is clear is that he’s the sort of bloke who does things properly, if he’s going to do them at all. Accordingly, his own historic recreations are painstaking to the nth degree, and he is clearly uneasy about the Greene King’s efforts and others of their ilk.

He argues that beers with HERITAGE on the label ought to use both a historic recipe and heritage ingredients; otherwise they are merely ‘inspired by’ or, worse, just normal beers in fancy clothing. We wouldn’t disagree with that, fundamentally. Transparency and clarity are important and consumers shouldn’t have to undertake their own detective work to establish that a product they’re buying is what the packaging implies. But these Greene King beers, we think, are pretty clear that they’re ‘inspired by’ in the explanatory copy. We underlined that in our review, too.

Another point that’s been made to us by brewer Shane Swindells, both directly and elsewhere, including in the comments on our review, is that these beers don’t really express Chevallier malt character. We wouldn’t know about that because we’ve not had chance to try many beers made with Chevallier but his suggestion that GK might have used this specialist product in rather sparing amounts purely for the sake of the label doesn’t seem unlikely, now we reflect on it. Shane makes a couple of heritage malt beers himself which he tells us do express the malt character to an almost challenging degree in case you want to investigate further.

All this has helped us clarify something, anyway: interested as we are in full-on, serious historic recreations, we also just want to see more old-fashioned beers. We’re sure there’s room in the market for both Heritage with a capital H and inspired-bys, and the beers that will be displaced by inspired-bys aren’t Shane and Steve’s — they’re the dull bottled bitters and diminished big brands of the late 20th century that coast by on goodwill, nostalgia and inoffensiveness. If GK’s experiments with heritage beers translate into a bump in bitterness and a change in character for some of their mainline products, that’ll be a good outcome.

The GK Heritage beers got discounted pretty swiftly by Tesco, though, so perhaps the world outside the beerosphere didn’t agree with our assessment. In which case, it’s likely nothing much will change at all.

10 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: Greene King Heritage Beers Pt. 2”

  1. At £2.59 each the GK beers were going out on a limb on pricing, so it’s hardly surprising they ended up being discounted fairly quickly. In fact I never even saw them at the full price.

    Even at £1.87 it takes a bit of a leap of faith when you can get 1863 or Old Crafty Hen for £1.50 each in a 4 for £6 offer.

  2. Irk the purists though they may, I think these are rather good, the ‘Fine Ale’ in particular; I don’t think you’ve got anything to row back from. They’re really not flying off the shelves, though – the OH saw an entire aisle-end display consisting of nothing but marked-down Vintages in Stockport Tesco. She bought six of the ‘Fine’, which – since the till was incorrectly set to charge full price, i.e. £2.49 – we got for £1.25 each; happy days.

  3. I rather enjoyed the stronger one of the pair. Was still heavy on the GK character but definitely a notch above most supermarket fare. The less powerful pale I found to be rather bog standard sadly. Not really related, but I miss Sainsburys’ annual bottled beer “festival”. That seemed a real attempt to engage with selling ale in the supermarket. Whoever ran that clearly has left as the Sainsos non-craft range has been left untouched for years, embarrassingly poor.

  4. Greene King once had a good reputation for an understanding of history. When I first encountered GK in 1974 I was impressed by the range of bottled ales.

  5. Can’t say I’ve ever been GK’s greatest fan but they do get an unfairly negative press . What’s not to like about this attempt to showcase the historic chevallier barley malt? A drop in the ocean of GK beer sales, but I bet the accountants there resent the cost and can’t wait to cancel the heritage project. I think these two beers are great, and hope they make the effort again . It would be a shame if grumpy reviews and poor sales put them off (my local Tesco began discounting them as ‘reduced to clear ‘@1.87 a bottle, before they’d been on the shelves for a fortnight. I made the half hour bus journey again today to stock up , before they sold out, to find the remaining bottles back up to 2.49 again). I say well done Greene King, more please!

  6. Anyone putting “heritage” on their label has clearly never shaped at a branch of nisa that use “heritage” as name for their own brand products. 😉

  7. If 100% Chevallier, id love to know what they have done to remove all the Body & Mouthfeel that should be in the finished beer, but was clearly missing from both these beers.

    I’m wondering if they have use AMG in the mash & use Mash filters to stretch the efficiency of the malt out to the max, they would also assume be high gravity brewing and liquoring back to final ABV on the bottles, if they have done, this could account for the lack of flavour and body, Chevallier malt should have given these two beers.

    They were better than their usual supermarket offerings, but a long way from what I would expect from a 100% Chevallier malted beer.

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