Greene King, by most company standards, should be considered a success. Thirty years ago it was a medium sized regional brewery largely unknown outside of its home area. However, over the years,, an astute policy of targeted acquisitions means that it now holds a strong portfolio of nationally recognised bar front brands, while having maintained access to a substantial estate of managed pubs. They, or allied subsidiaries, seemingly own large numbers of pubs in every significant market in the country. Equally, they stepped lightly through the various legislative changes of the last 25 years which seemed to damage most of their rivals, leaving them, very much, first among equals ; by almost every measure, they are an outstanding success.
Yet, if you were to ask most members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) what they think of Greene King’s beers, I’m sure most of the opinions would be quite rude. Aside from their corporate behaviour, which is a subject for a braver day, the beers found in most of their pubs are bland, samey and, really, not very good; their ordinary bitter, IPA, which seems to be available in practically every other pub in the UK, is too often haunting the region between horribly bland and blandly horrible (if such a state exists). The beer is widely dismissed as cheaply brewed rubbish unworthy of attention.
However, I think that Greene King IPA can be a brilliant session bitter which I genuinely enjoy drinking. No, don’t worry, I’ve not lost my senses, I just happen to know a pub which looks after it properly and where it is a genuine pleasure to drink Greene King ales. Yes, even the IPA. Especially the IPA! That pub is the Free Press in Cambridge. Go there and try it. I dare you. Mind you, I wouldn't bother elsewhere.
The point being that, if one pub can consistently deliver a good pint of IPA (and mild and Abbot), then there is absolutely nothing wrong with the rest of the beer that comes out of the brewery. Therefore all their pubs should all be able to deliver a decent pint, but the fact that they don’t (borne out by the general standard of the beer) suggests there is a serious problem with the way Greene King train their staff.
Look, caring for real ale isn't hard, but it requires care. You've actually got to want to do it. When the beer arrives in a landlord's cellar, it should be racked up as soon as possible and allowed to settle. The takesbeer has live yeast in it and that needs to drop out of the beer (it ill look hazy or even lumpy). Also, after initial tapping the beer reacts with the atmospheree to condition and achieve the best flavour. For best results this should take 3 - 5 days, after which you will then have a prectly good product (some beers take longer).
I have heard [anecdote alert] that managers get a 5 day training course from GK which covers all aspects of running a pub. Yet only half a day of that is devoted to caring for beer, and that will include the keg products as well. Equally I am also anecdotally informed that GK free trade sale-people boast that their beer is brewed with yeast which settles so quickly that if they deliver at midday, the beer can be served at 6:00 that evening.
Well, they would say that because they probably won’t have to drink it. It may well drop bright and be clear in about 6 hours, but a beer should be given a few days to settle down and condition if you want it to taste of something pleasant.
So, the question is; if Greene King spend good money on brewing a decent beer (it’s more expensive than making a crap one), why do they allow their sales policies to prevent the majority of their customers from discovering this?
Well, of course the answer is profit; if the punters don’t care or complain then a quick turnaround is just so much more lucrative than one where you wait 5 days before you can even sell the stuff. Which leads to a reformulation of that question: If the search for maximising profit has led to GK, as corporate policy, presenting a beer which, whilst cosmetically acceptable, is, taste-wise, so far from its best, why do they bother brewing it so well in the first place ?