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Greene Kingís issues with beer quality

by Helen Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 10:37:29 AM EST

Their beer is good, but why do they bother ?


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 Kingís beers, Iím 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, donít worry, Iíve 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 donít (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 wonít 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 (itís 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 donít 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 ?

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Well written. in some research I did for Guinness many years ago we discovered what factors influenced customers to order Guiness when they entered the pub. These factors were, in order of importance: 1) If the barman gave them a prompt like "it's a good day for a Guinness"; 2) If they saw lots of other customers drinking Guinness (indicating the pub has a good reputation for Guinness and a good beer flow through its lines and you weren't going to get a stale pint that had been in the line overnight) and 3) If the pub had a traditional rather than a modern Irish pub decor and atmosphere. It was this research which led to the "Irish Pub" decor concept being invented and eventually going global. In beer terms, a travesty, I know, but in marketing terms, one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:13:56 AM EST
You bastard! So it's all your fault!

(Having said that, I have an "Irish pub concept" joint where I hang out occasionally in Lyon.)

As for Guinness, it remains a complete mystery to me, can't get over the overwhelming caramel. But probably that's because I don't know where/how to drink it.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:26:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Six Nations is coming up.
Need to find a beer-drinking rugby fan or two to hang out with.

Sadly, said "themed" pub has two Irish (Guinness and Kilkenny) and ZERO English beers, the rest being reasonable Belgian or globalized eurodross. I drink Kilkenny, for sentimental reasons.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:53:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So !! It's all your fault.

fortunately the profusion of non-Guinness pubs in Dublin and the real ale world suggests they missed a trick somewhere

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:27:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Technically no - I did the research and the marketing people decided how to implement the findings. But it was always a concept intended for export -like how many "Pizza Hut Italian Pizzerias" are there in Italy anyway? I was amused to find them ordering vast quantities of specially aged "antiques" and "memorabilia" to furnish all their Irish themed pubs abroad.

Guinness does not own a significant estate of Pubs in Ireland and Irish pub owners are notoriously independent and resentful of Guinness as a near monopoly supplier. (It's a V. long story). So they were always, understandably, anxious to diversify beyond Guinness group products, and wouldn't take too much advice on how to furnish their establishments unless Guinness was offering merchandise and equipment for free.

No doubt today's marketeers are studying how they can create a chain of "free", "independent", "real" ale pubs world-wide...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:48:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the marketers have realised that craft beer (quality keg) can be used as a wedge product against real ale and are promoting that.

An essay will be forthcoming

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 12:20:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yay! It's under way!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:41:12 AM EST
finally

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 11:47:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't get it. So Greene King brews two different IPA beers? Or does Free Press in Cambridge just manage to nick the good stuff that happened to sit or the weekend?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 02:09:37 PM EST
No, I think maybe I should edit the essay so that non=Brits understand.

Real ale is a bit of a fragile beastie, there's bit of yeast floating in it (and sometimes other things) and you want to give it time to settle.

This also allows the beer to condition so that all the harshness of  "young" beer comes out of the beer. This is a process that takes 3 - 5 days.

However GK have perfected a process where the beer "drops bright", ie looks cosmetically acceptable, in just a few hours. However, the beer thus served is pretty kack and that, sadly, is the GK real ale IPA you'll get served in most pubs in the UK.

What i'm saying is that, if you give it time to settle, it's actually a really good beer, but GK don't do this.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 02:29:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of the factors which determine the variability of quality of draught beer drunk in pubs relate to the pub rather than the Brewer. How regularly does the publican clean his lines? Is the cooler working correctly? Are the first few pints pulled each day wasted so that you don't get a pint that's been slightly oxidised sitting in the line overnight? Does the publican have sufficient throughput of a particular beer so that it is relatively fresh and hasn't been sitting in a half full keg for weeks? Are the kegs stored in a relatively cool cellar?

Formerly, pulling a pint of Guinness was a bit of an art form as well, although modern dispense technology has reduced variability in this. I'm not an expert on the technical side of brewing but I would imagine beer coming out of microbreweries would be much more variable. Perhaps that is part of its charm and attraction.

Most large scale brewery produced beer - as far as I am aware - is pre-filtered and doesn't have the yeast floating issues discussed by Helen in relation to real or craft beers. Finings are used to settle or accelerate settling of sediments (yeasts and proteins) prior to bottling/kegging. Not all finings are vegetarian and so, technically, not all beers are vegetarian as trace elements may remain in beer.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 03:40:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I see. I think we only have dead beers in Sweden.

Helen:

However GK have perfected a process where the beer "drops bright", ie looks cosmetically acceptable, in just a few hours. However, the beer thus served is pretty kack and that, sadly, is the GK real ale IPA you'll get served in most pubs in the UK.

What i'm saying is that, if you give it time to settle, it's actually a really good beer, but GK don't do this.

So it is GK in their role as pub chain that is the real problem. Ok, another non-brit question: Is the UK pub market to a large part owned by breweries?

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 02:58:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's GK distribution and sales that is at fault.

No the UK pub market is now largely in the hands of independent owners who are doing their best to destroy the pubs as businesses. (It's more lucrative to sell off the building for other purposes)

An essay on this subject is being built

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 03:06:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have they ruined Olde Trip?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 07:07:06 PM EST
It's difficult to say as I didn't know the beer before they bought the original brewery.

My feeling is, that like all GK beers, it's served too young

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 03:04:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My feeling is, that like all GK beers, it's served too young

An intriguing parallel with France's national drink :

Typically, people drink their wines too young. It's sort of a fact of modern life. Because :

  1. The wines that will benefit from careful ageing are typically sold very young, several years before their best (this is mostly a cashflow problem for the producers who, in this day'n'age, don't want to tie up a substantial chunk of capital in their cellars by only releasing the wine when it's ready)
  2. most wine drinkers don't have a cellar where they can age their wines for several years, or can't be bothered. (There's also a cash-flow problem for the consumer, I know I run my cellar down when money is tight.)

On the other hand, probably the bulk of all wines have always been made for rapid consumption. These used to be rubbish, and acknowledged as such, sold cheap for the masses, and quite distinct from the noble wines destined for the upper strata of society. These days they are mostly pretty good, straightforward unsubtle wines, and the frontiers are blurred.

So when people go upmarket, they will typically buy an expensive wine and waste it by drinking it straight away. The alternative is to buy it at twice the price, in a vintage which is ready to drink, in a wine shop.

The most pernicious trend, to my mind, is winemakers who are working with a "noble" raw material that deserves to age, and deliberately make it in a ready-to-drink style.

Nothing to do with beer really, just a rant triggered by the age question. But we're talking years, not days.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 04:29:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"(There's also a cash-flow problem for the consumer, I know I run my cellar down when money is tight.)"

I do it with the wines to be drunk young (typically the Australian ones, I buy 5-6 when there is a discount, and only then, as I know there'll be another one down the line). Then I switch to water, or something else, until it gets better (which I hope it will soon).

But I wouldn't waste one to keep -I might drink it early in his right age period, as after all it might have aged faster than expected so drinking the first bottle earlyish makes sense. But that's about it.
Actually, I am struggling to drink my best bottles, as I'd like to do it for a special occasion with other people who care for good wine, and they are few and far between (and I sure don't want to try to finish a good bottle on my own).

As a result, I still have a few bottles that are my age...

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 06:21:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is a state monopoly.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 07:20:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, too, I was with you up to the mention of Abbot.  Far and away the worst beer I've ever had.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 07:10:37 PM EST
You never had it in the Free Press.

That said, the beer isn't what it was and the suspicion falls on the accountants.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 03:02:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What? Far and away the worst?

You must have lived a fairly privileged life.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 03:28:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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