Keith and I had talked about taking a brewery tour last year, but never managed to work it into our schedule. This year, Keith planned ahead and booked us a tour of the Greene King Brewery in Bury St. Edmunds. After getting up this morning and having a quick breakfast, the four of us drove about an hour and arrived in the beautiful...but rainy...town of Bury St. Edmunds.
After seeing the shopping on the High Street, the girls decided that they would rather shop than take the tour. So, we parted ways and Keith and I headed towards the brewery.
Upon our arrival at Greene King, we learned that we would be the only two in the tour. How cool is that? We were fortunate to have Henry as our knowledgeable and accommodating guide. It was an amazing personal experience.
Since I have dabbled in homebrewing for several years, I was quite keen to see a large scale brewing operation. For two hours, Henry showed us the in's and the out's of the operation. To give some perspective, Greene King is known for their Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale. They purchased Morland Brewery several years ago - which I did not know - and brew Old Speckled Hen and Hen's Tooth. Both of which can be purchased in the US.
Greene King has been brewing beer for over four hundred years and since the 1930's, they have been brewing in their "new" brew house which was built across the street from their original brewery. Henry passed on the fact that Greene King does not license other brewery's to brew their beer. So, when you are at home drinking Old Speckled Hen, check the bottle. It was brewed right here in Bury St. Edmunds!
With over 800 employees, there are only 24 brewmasters. The process today is entirely software driven, but the methods are still based on principles of brewing hundreds of years old. We toured the brewery from the top to the bottom. It is a gravity based operation with water pumped to, and stored on the roof, and then led down the various floors. It was a giant version of a homebrew set-up.
After Henry's tour, we headed over to the Greene King pub for beer tasting...nice! Greene King brews only ales and specializes in real ale. Unfortunately, real ale is a "live" product, so the chances of ever enjoying real ale from the UK in the US is about zero. Beer that is placed into kegs is pasteurized and can then be shipped anywhere. However, to me, the differences between the two are immense. On the average, Greene King brews over three million pints...a week!
In the pub, we enjoyed Abbot, IPA, Old Specked Hen, Strong Suffolk and Hop. Hop is a beer developed by Greene King to compete with people who will typically have a bottle of wine with dinner. It is a lighter ale with hints of citrus. Keith and I found it really enjoyable and I could easily picture it as a great compliment to spicy summertime meal. The Strong Suffolk is brewed in small batches and is a combination of a two year fermented 5X ale that reaches 12% ABV that is then mixed with a BPA, a dark lower ABV beer, before bottling. Henry described it as a great sipping beer and I agreed. I just checked and Strong Suffolk is available in the US under the name Olde Suffolk.
Another interesting bit of trivia provided by Henry: How did Old Speckled Hen get its name? The OSH emblem is based on the emblem of the MG. In the old Moreland brewery, a MG was driven around taking samples to different parts of the brewery. The MG was known as the "Old Specklun". When a commemorative beer was brewed to celebrate an anniversary for MG, it was named "Old Speckled Hen".
After some more tastings and some pictures, we headed back to the gift shop where we picked up a few things to take home. I was literally inundated with information and everything I learned is still swimming around in my head. It was a great, great time and a really good bookend to the end our stay in Colchester. Thanks Keith, thanks Henry, thanks Greene King. I know that from now on, every bottle I have of Old Speckled Hen will seem that much better.