Many of my fellow beer nerds have a very dim view of Greene King, and seem to consider them to be if not the Great Satan, at least part of the Axis of Evil. I think it's down to them having an IPA which is not very exciting and 3.6% ABV. Despite them making it for the best part of a century apparently IPAs are inauthentic unless they're at least 6% ABV and taste of grapefruit. Having had such a wonderful time at Greene King I'm completely biased in their favour and as far as I'm concerned they can call any beer whatever they like.
We were hosted by their QA manager Susan Chisholm, who'd dug out some of their archives for us to look at:
The books on display were only about one percent of the records they have, though sadly at the moment they're not very well organised.
The historian Richard Wilson was given honorary life membership at the AGM. I knew he'd written the history of Greene King, so I'd made a point of reading that before the meeting. Rather
embarrassingly I didn't realise he's also the Wilson half of Gourvish and Wilson, authors of a classic brewing history text I haven't got round to reading yet. He's also written on the history of British lager brewing, which I'm sure if of interest to many, but not me.
Rather foolishly I didn't take a notebook on the tour so there may be fascinating facts I've already forgotten.
The tour starts up on the roof where they have water tanks. They have their own wells but the water is treated with reverse osmosis to strip everything out, before salts are added back to match a particular brewing liquor. Greene King brew beers from the various different breweries they taken over and closed, and they match the liquor and still use the different yeasts from them.
There's a great view from the roof:
And you can see a maltings on the other side of the town:
The brewery dates from the 1930s and is a tower brewery, so as we headed down from the roof the we came to the floor with the four roller mill:
They have pale, amber and crystal malt in silos and the other speciality grains and adjuncts are in sack. The hops are pelletised.
Grist cases are on the floor below:
And the mash tuns are next:
They're copper clad but are relatively modern. When looking to replace their old mash tuns they did look into getting a lauter tun or mash filter but decided that as a traditional ale brewery mash tuns were best. With their microbrewery they have the flexibility to very the brew length from 10 to 1600 barrels.
As we were here about the history we had to have a look at the 5X vats, where a 12% ABV beer is stored for two years. There's barely any change in the ABV during ageing so they can't have many bugs growing. Last time I'd look round I'd seen two vats, but I was delighted to find out they actually have four, and have the space to add some more.
Here's the other two: one new, one old.
old style porter?
We got down to the sample room, where of course we had a taste of the 5X. It is wonderful stuff.
And we had a peek at some old bottles from the 1930s. Sadly this beer was around 4% though apparently some bottles are still drinkable.
I also got to try their XX mild at last, which like I've seen others say, I did prefer to the IPA. They brew 60 bbl a week of it. Having various milds in the portfolio from the breweries they've taken over they rationalised it to just one recipe, and had tasting trials to decide on the best one. Despite the name it's sold under it was actually the Hardys and Hansons mild that won.
Susan Chisholm has found in the Green King archives recipes for all the X beers from one through to five.
|Here she is getting a certificate from BHS chairman Jeff Sechiari|