In the past here at The Brew Club, I have bemoaned the trend for major brewery corporations to relocate their brews with little regard for the heritage that those brews incorporate. Newcastle Brown (which once enjoyed protected geographic status) is now no longer brewed in Newcastle, and John Smiths Yorkshire Bitter is now brewed in Lancashire.
I raised these concerns when I recently met Steve Magnall, the Commercial Director of Greene King, probably Britain’s largest independent brewer.
Greene King, at their brewery in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, now brew Hardy & Hanson Ales (originally from Nottingham), Ridleys Ales (formerly from Chelmsford, Essex), Ruddles Ales (originally from the tiny county of Rutland) and Morlands Ales (originally from Oxfordshire).
Steve sighed, he’d heard it all before, but observed that while the brews may have relocated, Greene King have kept the recipes as close to the originals as they could. And at the end of the day, a relocated brew is better than no brew – as the other breweries weren’t commercially viable.
Good point, well made.
Steve offered to send me a few samples, and lo and behold a few days later the beer pixies delivered some rather interesting brews to my doorstep. Old Speckled Hen, Greene King Abbot Ale and Greene King Strong Suffolk Ale. Thanks Steve.
Well you might recall that I reviewed both Old Speckled Hen back in April 2009 and gave it 3½ stars, so I’ll look forward to drinking that one at my leisure. As to the others we’ll take them one at a time.
Greene King Abbot Ale – 5% ABV
Greene King can trace their brewing heritage back to 1699, when the Westgate Brewery was founded in Bury St Edmunds. Actually, there are records of brewing in Bury St Edmunds for centuries, indeed the town’s Benedictine Abbey was recorded as having brewers (or “cerevisiarii’) back in the Domesday Book – published in 1086.
I digress, a hundred years after the founding of the Westgate Brewery it was bought by Benjamin Greene, at the tender age of 19. Benjamin had trained under Samuel Whitbread at his Chiswell Street brewery in London, much as a young Arthur Guinness was said to have done at about the same time – whatever became of him?
Benjamin’s son Edward joined up with Frederick King, a rival brewer, in 1887 and Greene King was born.
While we’re mentioning parentage, the English writer Graham Greene was a great, great grandson of Benjamin Greene – who says we’re not educational?
Abbot Ale is one of Green King’s most popular brews, and takes its name from the house that Benjamin Greene lived in on Crown Street in Bury St Edmunds, it had previously been the home of Abbot Reeve, the last Abbot of the Abbey, which fell into disuse in the 16th century. The beer itself was launched in the 1970’s.
Abbot comes in 500ml bottles, which is slightly less than a British pint, slightly more than an American one. In an English pint glass, such as this 2006 GBBF glass, it allows room for a generous head.
Although that pure white head subsides quickly, above a deep bronze ale.
The nose was rich, evoking wholemeal bread and spicy biscuits (cookies).
This is a complex beer, difficult to describe, but that’s why I’m here… it’s dark, rich and malty, dark caramel, toffee flavours, fast followed by rich spiced fruit – there are cherries lurking in there somewhere – and then a final hop bite.
Abbot was described by Michael Jackson, as “one of the great characters of the beer world”, and I have to agree, it’s a rich, malty brew with a satisfying hop bite. But for the 5% ABV strength this would make a good session beer, but I might regret too many the next morning.
I’ll give this 3½ stars – almost 4.
Bob the Brit
This is, I think, the first time I’ve updated a review, but this lunchtime a colleague and I enjoyed a pint (or two) of Greene King Abbot Reserve Ale (6.5% ABV).
I can confirm that this is what ‘Abbot’ should have been from the start, a fine old strong English Ale. The sort of thing you would picture a rustic ploughman enjoying after a day dragging a plough behind a Clydesdale.
It won the “World’s Best Vintage Ale” prize at the “World Beer Awards 2009”. It’s full bodied, full of flavour and worthy of four and a half coveted stars.
It’s a mighty ale, and I’m going back tomorrow to see if they have any left!