Greene King Do The Wrong Thing

A few weeks ago Greene King announced they were rebranding their megalithic flagship IPA and introducing two new beers.
They whisked some beer writers off for a posh dinner and some tasting and they very kindly sent one or two others some bottles for review.
I now think inviting various beer writers around the brewery, myself included, was all part of the build up to this, which I guess is fair enough from a marketing and publicity point of view.
However, I do agree entirely with Boak & Bailey that Greene King may have been better advised to take a group of writers around together instead of luring them in one at a time.
Last night I opened the first of the two new brews which is called IPA Gold (there’s a review below) and reading the label, looking at the bottle and watching what will become the new advert for Greene King IPA on YouTube, I came to the sad conclusion that no matter what is asked of writers, bloggers and drinkers, Greene King just carry on regardless and as a result have missed the mark by a long chalk.
Firstly, as I pointed out to them during my visit, their IPA is a bad beer, insipid, tastless and brewed to market forces. They can argue all they like that it’s the best selling ale in the UK but you can do wonderful things with heavy marketing (the beer of the Rugby World Cup for example) as I found when running record labels and trying to sell my artists’ albums. Expensive promotion through sponsorship goes a long way, as does big discount deals through supermarkets.
I don’t blame Greene King in any way for any of this, they’re a huge business, but I do think that in the light of this remarketing their IPA with the title “Handcrafted” is totally missing the point of how to grab the craft end of the marketplace.
I can’t imagine anybody that I know being taken in by this.
And then there’s the bottles.
The new beers still come in clear bottles, another sign that the marketers at GK haven’t listened to anything that they’ve been told by the people they’ve been talking to or the blogs and articles they’ve been reading.
Even if you’re going to attack this from a marketing point of view, beer seen through clear glass might look nice on the shelves but it sends out entirely the wrong signals to the new area of beer drinkers whose money you’re trying to grab.
(In fact it’s made me wonder if CAMRGB should perhaps start a campaign against clear bottles).
It strikes me that Greene King are acting like beer’s big deaf and stubborn old uncle.
They definitely are interested in what people have to say, but they can’t quite take in that they might be doing something wrong.
And to rub salt into the wounds, as well as sending a bottle each of the new beers, I was sent a Greene King IPA in a Smoothflow can.
Let’s just say I won’t bother reviewing that one.

IPA Gold (4.1%)
Oh dear.
Immediately there’s that Greene King taste that so many of us don’t like.
And unfortunately that’s about all there is here.
I don’t understand, I really don’t.
Greene King have a good brewer and a fantastic brewery but they seem driven by using as few ingredients as possible.
The tasting notes on the bottle talks of the Savinsjki Golding hop variety used but there’s almost no hop presence here at all.
An India Pale Ale, as this and their flagship brew is meant to be, should be hop heavy but this has no balls at all.
Sadly too, there’s already the beginnings of that ashtray taste that I have come to associate with light strike from clear bottles.
If you concentrate really hard there is the merest, and I mean merest hint of something citrusy, but that’s really your lot and I’m afraid that having been to Greene King and taken part in their quality control taste testing and having got some pretty decent marks doing so I can safely say most of the above is reasonably accurate.
I’m not so much disappointed as sadly unsurprised.

IPA Reserve (5.4%)
If I was a more cynical man than I am I’d say this tastes remarkably like Old Speckled Hen hidden in a different bottle.
It has that same aroma tinged with cleaning fluid and a hint of vomit.
It’s the same chestnut brown colour and has the same foamy head.
And taking a drink, there’s that same old Greene King flavour again, something that I can’t quite put my finger on but is present throughout their range and I find vaguely unpleasant.
It’s a mix of limp, flabby almost not-even-there malts and a pinch of hops so slight as to be inconsequential.
With Reserve you also get a nasty alcohol burn too, it’s acidic, acrid, teeth curling.
Right at the back there’s a rounded toffee thing desperately fighting for air but being beaten down by the GK killing machine.
Oh, and this is not an IPA.
It almost makes me physically angry that they’re trying to sell it as such.
What this is is a moderately unpleasant, definitely uninteresting beer with a scouring alcohol that has just started to give me acid burn in the pit of my stomach.

For the record, with both these beers I made sure that I tried them as my first beer of the evening so as to try them with a fresh palate.
I’m afraid that even that didn’t help.
I’m sure the Greene King Marketing Machine will win the day though.

About Simon Williams

Founder of CAMRGB.
Member of The British Guild Of Beer Writers.
Leftist bigmouth.
Old and grumpy.

This entry was posted in Beer Review, Brewery, CAMRGB and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Greene King Do The Wrong Thing

  1. Nice summary of Greene Kings problems at the start, wrong attittude, not listening, making variations of the same old beers, and not very well by your review.

    I’ve always wondered why I truly don’t like GK apart from it travels really poorly and is bland. But you nailed it here “That Greene King Taste” explains it exactly.

    I suspected here that this would be the result and I am being proved correct. BoakandBailey can only muster the phrase “finishable” for the reserve, and their opinion of Gold is its the same as so many other generic offerings.

    Between you two, you sum it up nicely and merely confirmed my choice not to go hunting this out.

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  3. Ross Boss says:

    Blah, Blah, big brewery bashing, blah, blah. I thought the campaign was about really good beer? Who cares if it’s been called an IPA and in your opinion it’s not? Surely it’s the just the taste that matters? In this case you’re not keen, fair enough, equally i wouldn’t really agree with tasting notes such as: “It has that same aroma tinged with cleaning fluid and a hint of vomit.”

    Come on, get some balance.

    In other news – I had a cracking pint of Brewer’s Gold from Pictish Brewery last night – I highly recommend it.

    • It is the taste that matters and these taste terrible.
      That is my opinion and as for the vomit thing, in GK’s own quality tasting notes that I used when I took part in their testing they have a category that mentions those words.
      That’s why I used that description.
      As for Big Brewery bashing, that’s simply not the case.
      You’ll see from previous reviews that I’ve not bashed Fullers who’s beer I really like, or St. Austell who’re pretty big.
      I also believe there is balance.
      The sales and promotion notes for these new beers say that they are experimental beers aimed at the younger beer audience.
      But they’re the same old beer styles in different packaging.
      That’s not beer that’s marketing.
      And finally being an IPA IS about the taste.
      It should taste big and hoppy not weak and insignificant.
      Cheers
      Simon

    • Disagree with GK comments. GK deserve bashing with a big hammer.

      But totally agreed about Pictish Brewers Gold, lovely ale.

  4. Ross Boss says:

    Fair enough. All i’m saying is that this post in particular as a really negative vibe and it’s not just about the beer. You talk about being “lured in” in by their marketing people like it’s some kind of cloak and dagger trap…

    Anyway, whatever, i’m a fan of the blog because the focus is on the beer (good or bad), I implore you to keep it that way. There are too many other blogs out there who focus on the brewer or the or the way it’s made etc. Please don’t get bogged down in that – I want to know about taste.

    Let’s have a bit more cheer, it is Friday after all!

    • Understood but I wrote what I did because I do feel I was lured in back in January and I feel this needs addressing.
      A blog about good beer should still publish a bad review if the beer’s bad otherwise there’s def no balance.
      🙂

  5. Ross Boss says:

    *has

  6. stonojnr says:

    ok couple of things, GKs IPA has never been hop heavy, its not an IPA by any definition any beer enthusiast cares to chuck at it,but thats never going to change so it seems rather pointless to keep worrying about it, its like asking if Brewdog will ever learn to grow up.

    GK IPA has been around for so long now and got so much brand recognition built into it, youd have to be a complete numpty to dismantle that, throw it in the bin & try to build a new brand from scratch, just to satisfy a bunch of people who actually arent your core market anyway.

    simple test of word association, name a Greene King beer, I bet the first one you think of isnt St Edmunds, or Ale Fresco, AlePril Fool or any of the other beer names theyve tried for golden ales (yes theyve been doing them for some while), its going to be IPA.

    then as you say you cant imagine anyone you know being taking in by the latest approach,but why is that a surprise, have you or anyone you know been in a GK pub/ Hungry Horse recently alot?, at all?, they arent places that people sit around discussing IBUs or the latest beer happenings on twitter/blogs. They are pubs that sell predominantly lager/guinness bit of microwaved food and have a selection of bitters which is one or two from GKs vast portfolio.

    GK IPA gold will go into their pubs that are youth/sports bar orientated to pick up lager drinkers, IPA reserve almost certainly end up in the country pubs where Abbott has been more the usual choice to more mature aged drinkers. Again all playing on the word association and branding of IPA.

    these arent beers designed to blow beer enthusiasts away, (and plenty of breweries sell beer in clear bottles, Fullers and Shepherd Neame to name but two) this craft thing isnt aimed at us to try and make us forget all the bad stuff GK do with the tied pubs or that for the most part their beer can often be undrinkable.

    where I disagree with you on that point is that its not undrinkable because their original IPA is a bad beer to start with, its not, its really not, GK IPA if its kept properly cared for properly is flavourful, is rewarding is IMO one of the top beers in the UK.

    the problem that makes it undrinkable is it rarely gets the care and attention it needs, most decent freehouses wont touch it because their customers see GK as “bad” so it wont sell and GK manages to annoy anyone half decent who runs one of their pubs properly. so invariably the only place that serves it well is in Bury St Edmunds, fortunately any beer enthusiast visit that way means a trip to the Nutshell which pretty much guarantees youll get a decent sampling as thats about the only beer they have room to keep.

    but anywhere else outside of Bury and youll get an uncared for unloved sampling of the stuff thats a complete disservice to what IPA should taste like. thats something GK are blindly ignoring and doing nothing about. which just perpetuates the group think myth their beers are designed to taste bad and we go through this loop again and again when they try something different.

    IPA is not a bad beer, you might not like it, it might not be challenging enough for your tastebuds, but that doesnt make it bad, that just makes it something you dont like. and I think that difference is overlooked.

    when GK finally start selling the stuff locally, instead of just giving it away for free, I might actually be able to sample it.

    • I tried IPA at Greene King’s brewery when I visited and thought it was tasteless there too, so I’m afraid I have to disagree on that point with you, though this is all subjective on both sides.
      This article is my feelings on all this and I don’t expect everyone (or even anyone) to agree with my sentiments.
      Currently replying from my phone but will respond in full on Sunday when I get home.
      Cheers and have a good weekend.
      Simon

      • Badge says:

        Williams – what a load of guff you talk. You don’t understand beer to great enough of an extent to have an opinion that matters. You’re not campaigning for anything except showing yourself to be a cynic. This is beer, let’s celebrate it, not knock it. Grow up, stop being paranoid, start smiling and write something positive that’s worth reading.

        • What a lovely way of introducing yourself.
          Cheers.

        • Nick says:

          Hi Badge
          Good on you son, we all like to drink great ales, GK IPA is a darn sight better than john smith’s smooth.
          I’ve been to more beer festivals than most have been alive, get real, enjoy your ale, my local had a barrel of Tim’s Taylor last w/e, I had a lot of trouble getting home.
          Also used to mash the tun & sparge the wart so heads up lets give some credit where it’s due.
          cheers
          Nick

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  8. Looks like a mixed response to the beers, summed it up here. Seems most mark it as average beer at best, but it is not the beer that they market it as on the website. Too soon to have loads of reviews yet I suspect.

    Badge – I recommend that you politely sod off if that is typical of your comments.

  9. Badge says:

    Pleased to meet you, I look forward to you being true to point 2 in your constitution!

    Remember….be positive. This is beer, not war.

    Badge

  10. Badge says:

    Just be cool brother.

    Peace out.

  11. Profesor says:

    Their stuff does taste unpleasant. You’re right it tastes of Greene King.

  12. GreybutGreat says:

    I do wish the endless diatribe of Greene King bashing would cease. I am happy to accept that certain beers may not meet every taste. I am happy to accept that Greene King is a big market force and a massive presence, but bashing them because of some historically routed distaste for the company itself has become infectious and unjustified. Whether we like IPA ourselves (for the record I don’t!) is important but quite obviously does NOT reflect the population as a whole. IPA remains the (or one of the) biggest selling beers in the country and this is not through new business in a contracting market and marketplace but it is due to the fact that the customer genuinely likes it and returns for more. This point, unfortunately for all the IPA knocking that I sense round here is fact, otherwise the pedestal on which IPA perches would have collapsed 10 years prior to this and would NOT be going strong. Further to this point it is worth noting that if this many customers continues to drink it, the product must be of some standard. Therefore the manager/licensee/landlord etc must be looking after it to an acceptable level or we would be reverting to the smaller ale following once more circa 1975 – 1990 (ish). The stronger flavours that a seasoned drinker demands are not present in IPA and for that reason I do not enjoy it, however, for a newbie to ale, this is a great start and non offensive on the palate.

    Please gentleman, stop bashing what you do not like personally. Comment by all means with the wisdom that a new drinker will appreciate and a seasoned drinker will understand. With this sort of ideal we will end up growing the ale market because as the drinker grows he finds more taste sensations and will try more products from more places.

    On another matter… the future of ale is found in the merits of lager. Whether you like lager or not is inconsequential but the continuous 20th century based abuse of a fellow drinker is somewhat irresponsible if you wish your beloved ale to continue and thrive. Promote the benefits of ale but protect the family to which all beer belongs… this will encourage all inherent growth.

    Long live beer!

  13. DaveN says:

    I like Greene King IPA Reserve. It is Old Speckled Hen-ish, but I can’t see how that is a criticism. I grew up surrounded by GK pubs (I still am) and therefore their beer, I am no fan. Their standard IPA is (in my opinion) dreadful. But for me, their IPA Reserve is pretty good.

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  16. Andrew Bowden says:

    I had my first Greene King IPA Reserve today off cask. It’s a pretty good beer off cask. Yes, now you mention it, it shares some similarities with Hen, but it’s different.

    And yes general IPA is not the life and soul of the party but it’s not the worst beer in the world though. Lots of people like it. But ultimately it is a standard session bitter – not that much different to Fullers Chiswick, far superior than Boddies ever was. It’s not designed to be a flavour bomb. It’s designed to be something you can drink several of, be happy and not completely trolleyed.

    It’s even won awards in blind tasting. Treated well I’m sure it can be a good pint (and I came to that conclusion having once had a truly divine Courage Best about 15 years ago. And who says that about Courage Best?)

  17. Ian Davey says:

    I thought it was a very good review of the beers. I rarely drink bottled beers though. I rarely drink cask GK beers as they have that underlying taste. The main reason for this was the poor quality in even their own pubs as a previous writer noted. That said said GK IPA is a National Bland and does obviously have mass appeal as it a largely inoffensive boring beer. i do try them now and again but nothing seems to change, only the marketing and names of the beers.

  18. Nick Williams says:

    The ggod thing about Greene King IPA is the name is printed on the pump clip and we can all avoid it. If it is a pub with several beers, drink the others. If it is the only beer, drink elsewhere.
    My only problem with Greene King IPA is that it degrades the IPA beer type. It isn’t an IPA it is a thin…very thin pale bitter.
    There is usually something better to drink. I would have to be very thirsty before I paid money for a pint of GK IPA.

    • The other problem is that in GK’s own pubs they always have a “guest” on, but if you look closely it’s GK beer under a different brand name.
      One of the two local pubs in my village used to do this and it drove me up the wall.

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