We need to talk about Greene King IPA

The sign outside a Greene King pub in London.

For a beer many people consider bland and over-exposed, Greene King IPA doesn’t half get talked about a lot. To us, it’s the cask ale equivalent of Budweiser — brewed to be nearly flavourless, not too intoxicating and uncontroversial. It was, in fact, for that reason that it was the first cask ale that Bailey got the taste for, many years ago.

Zak Avery, Paul Garrard and others stick up for it, however, arguing that it is subtle rather than bland, and that it suffers because it is often sold in pubs which don’t know how to look after it. The latter is certainly true, and also applies to, e.g., London Pride when not served in a Fuller’s pub.

Zak suggests that we and others who find GK IPA boring need to recalibrate our tastebuds. We know what he means — a pint of our usual after a fortnight in Spain last year tasted like an extreme hop-monster — but can’t agree that GK IPA is an unfairly neglected classic. If faced with a choice between GK IPA and a cold Cruzcampo, we’d take the latter every time, and that’s saying something.

We recently described GK IPA, rather than ‘craft keg’, as the thin end of the wedge in the battle against crap beer: it’s got more in common with John Smith’s smooth keg ales than it has, say, an exciting brown bitter like Harvey’s Sussex Best.

Which is not to say that people who enjoy it are wrong to do so, or that they’re not really enjoying it, just that it would be a shame if that was as far as they got. It’s like upgrading from Dairylea to mild cheddar and thinking you’re eating ‘proper cheese’. (That sounds snobbish but we can’t find any other way to express this — and beer and cheese aren’t things you need to be rich or Eton-educated to enjoy.)

What’s most frustrating, as Zak also points out, is that Greene King make some interesting beers, but their flagship brew just happens to be their worst.

Another beer which we’re beginning to think about the same way is Sharp’s Doom Bar. It’s hugely popular but, in our experience, often disappointing. We had a great pint of it a couple of years back but, since then, have always been let down by its dusty cardboard flavours and believe us, we keep trying. Recently, we had a pint alongside one each of St Austell HSD and Marston’s Pedigree, and Doom Bar lost. (But now we need to do that taste test blind.)

UPDATE (16/12/2011): we had another good pint of Doom Bar last night — bright, fruity and very alive. Still not a great hit rate but we’re not writing it off yet.

Pleasant Surprise from Greene King

We didn’t have high hopes for a non-bottle-conditioned Greene King beer in a clear bottle, but Suffolk Springer (6%) is actually very decent.

Our bottle wasn’t skunked (luck of the draw?) and the beer was as dark and luscious as any Belgian dubbel. There was sweet, milky chocolate to start, followed by cherries, dates and Christmas pudding. It was also a touch sour which suggests to us that there’s a slug of something complex in the blend. Turns out we were right — it’s blended with some of their famous 5X old ale.

So, thanks to Bailey’s dad for the tip and the gift!

Goes to show you should never write off any brewery altogether.

Here’s what Des de Moor thought; and a slightly Gothic review at the Bottled Beer Year.

Greene King’s London Whatever

Greene King sign

We don’t tend to drink in Greene King pubs so it took us a while to catch up on this latest cynical marketing exercise from the Bury St Edmunds boys — their beer with London in the name, whatever it is.

“Hey guys, we really need to be making the most of our London real estate. We should brew something really bland, call it London Something, and flog it to innocent tourists who don’t know any better.”

It’s like Greene King IPA but worse.

File under “Things not to miss about London”, although we look forward to Greene King Cornish Gold in a pub near us soon.

Greene King Sundance

The Garrick Arms (photo by EwanM, from Flickr)
The Garrick Arms (photo by EwanM, from Flickr)

Every now and then, we have to accept that the choice of venue isn’t up to us. That’s why, last Saturday night, we found ourselves standing outside Britain’s least characterful pub, the Garrick Arms on Charing Cross Road, trying to enjoy a pint of Greene King Sundance.

At first, we were just pleased to find something on offer other than GK IPA, Abbot and Old Speckled Hen, and it did taste fresh. But, by God, this is a boring, derivative beer.

It’s a production-line, by-numbers ‘refreshing summer ale’, which is to say that it’s got far too much sickly hop and honey aroma, no bitterness, and is a bit yellower than a normal ale.

Like drinking an air freshener.

Of course, our bad mood wasn’t helped by the fact that someone in the flat above the pubs was throwing eggs at people in the street, and that a tramp tried to steal our chum’s birthday presents.

The West End on Saturday night is a joy.

GK Sundance is 4.1% and is part of their new range of seasonal beers. It’s on massive discount in our local Sainsburys if, for some reason, you’re desperate to try it. Other bland yellow summer ales may be available.

Photo by EwanM at Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.