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!

    1. Can you real­ly say that any­one who makes GK IPA gets an unfair­ly neg­a­tive press? 😉

  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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