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, 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.



    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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