Yes, Greene King — More of This

Greene King Heritage beers -- bottles and vintage beer glasses.

For some years now we’ve been repeating one message: old family brewers should be focusing on their heritage, not trying to keep up with BrewDog. So we were delighted to hear that Greene King has upped its historic beer game.

Their new limited edition bottled heritage range doesn’t quite approach the full-on authenticity of Fuller’s Past Masters series being, as far as we can tell, only vaguely ‘inspired by’ archive recipes rather than painstakingly recreating them. What is notable is their use of a once near-extinct variety of malting barley, Chevallier, the revival of which you can read about here:

Starting a few years ago with only a handful of seeds, by 2013 half a tonne was available for brewing…. Now the 2015 harvest is nudging 200 tonnes and there’s Chevallier malt aplenty. With another 15 tonnes reserved for seed, the expectation is that similar harvests will be possible in future years…. “People that have tasted it say that it has a very rich, malty flavour. We’ve had comments back from the States such as, ‘It’s the most aromatic malt that I’ve ever brewed with.’ … There’s a perception of a difference, of richer maltiness.”

We bought one bottle of each of Greene King’s heritage beers at our local Tesco supermarket for £2.49 each. That’s a touch pricier than many bog standard supermarket ales but then the bottles are full-pint sized and the beers are both relatively strong.

Suffolk Pale Ale at 5% ABV knocked our socks off. We found it vigorously bitter, almost too much so, with a remarkable freshness that suggests the pop of just ripe gooseberries. (It’s bottle-conditioned which perhaps helps.) It has a beautiful aroma which is hard to pin down — a certain sappiness might be the way to describe it, with some suggestion of fresh-baked bread. There’s nothing of the new world about it though the use of German hops (obvious once you read the label) offer a subtle twist, herbal rather than fruity. If you can’t bothered to brew one of the 19th century pale ale recipes from Ron Pattinson’s book this is a decent substitute. It’s delicious, thought provoking, and perhaps the best Greene King beer we’ve ever tasted. In fact, it’s one of the best beers we’ve come across in recent months.

Vintage Fine Ale at 6.5% less brilliant but it’s still very much a step in the right direction for Greene King. Deep red-brown in colour it has a distinct autumnal feel. On the plus side there were the various facets of richness — golden syrup, Christmas pudding and plums. The only things holding it back were a husky stale note (which we suspect might disappear with a few months ageing) and the fact that Fuller’s already makes similar but better beers in this style. On the whole, though, we liked it and would — indeed probably will — buy it again.

Let’s hope these sell well, that the Pale Ale becomes a regular, and that there are more heritage beers to come. But, seriously, when do we get the funk? Bring out the nip bottles of 5X and let’s get some blending going.

13 thoughts on “Yes, Greene King — More of This”

  1. I’d imagined these beers would have contained little more than marketing hype so to find out that the brewers seem to have had a free hand is a welcome surprise, and I’ll make a rare visit to Tesco to nab some.

  2. Sounds promising, I’m particularly impressed that these are available to a wider audience through Tesco.

    1. That’s a good point. Fuller’s Past Masters beers, great as they were, were hard to find and quite expensive.

  3. Chevallier malt is amazing, I now use it in all my historic pale and porter all grain home brewing. A very distinctive taste which I really like. Give it try if you can.

  4. Drinking the vintage one now. It’s absolutely delicious. Wonderful rich malty mouthfeel. I was worried the GK yeast would overpower it, but no. Well done GK, and Tesco, for you can actually buy the beer. Fuller’s seem to be making their Past Masters as difficult as possible to get hold of, I wish I knew why.

  5. Can I send you some beer made with 100% Chevallier malt & Goldings brewed to an 1800’s Burton on trent recipe.

    I tried both the greene king beers,and from I tasted they don’t have a great deal of Chevallier Barley in the, malt bill, they don’t have anything like enough residual body or flavour in them.

    Chevallier is a beast when it comes to presence,but the Vintage Fine Ale tasted like it had quite a bit of Purmalt in it, http://www.puremalt.com/ingredients/brewing/cb220_65 rather than lots of chevallier.

    Id be more than happy to ship some 100% Chevallier Beer for you to sample, just drop me an email.

    cheers

    Shane

    1. I second the above, my pale is 100% Chevallier and Brambling Cross. I think full flavoured is the term!

  6. For me both beers were of a quality I would expect of a slightly better than average supermarket mid range bottle
    however both had issues that detracted from that level.
    The Suffolk Pale had a disturbing aroma, akin to a badly made homebrew that affected the overwise sound if slightly dull flavour.
    The Vintage Fine was timid & thin for the ABV.
    Both beers didn’t bring that Chevallier malt to the palate like the world class Govinda Barrel Aged Chevallier Edition by Cheshire Brewhouse.
    Now you can’t make a direct comparison with the Govinda to either of the GK Heritage beers because the Govinda is intended to be a historically accurate IPA, so you have a far bigger hop profile & also you are talking a bigger price ticket but for the sake of a pleasurable beer experience I would take one Govinda over any number of GK Heritage.

  7. The Suffolk Pale Ale tastes, to me, like a standard half decent lager. The malt is clean to the point of being barely discernable other than as a bland biscuit supporting some crisp lager hops. How much a person enjoys it would depend on where they stand on the malt – hop spectrum. Malt lovers would likely enjoy it somewhat lesser than hop lovers. Those who enjoy pale lager and other such clean pale beers would like it.

    The Vintage Fine Ale is much more malt based, and the hops (which are in evidence) are traditional British, and used to balance the sweetness of the malt. Of the two this is the more interesting for those who like malt, but with the use of crystal malt, it may be difficult to pick out the individual characteristics of the Chevallier. This one is more to my taste, and is the one I really enjoyed, but I didn’t pick up anything here more particularly special than the company’s similar strong malt focused beers such as Abbot Reserve and Hen’s Tooth (which I also had as unfiltered beers). So, on the whole, this is business as usual, despite the hype. To be fair, GK can make drinkable beers if people put aside the Greed Ching perspective.

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