Thursday, 5 January 2012

Greene King Strong Suffolk

The less popular beers from big breweries, to me, often make better drinking. I’ve long suspected that this is because they don’t sell enough for it to be worthwhile reformulating the recipes to save cash.

It’s not often that I have anything good to say about Greene King, but credit where credit is due.

Old people like me who grew up on Michael Jackson’s books will have heard the story of Strong Suffolk. Greene King brew a massively strong barley wine, Old 5X, in Bury St Edmunds, age it for years in oak and blend it with a younger beer to make a strong ale they call Strong Suffolk. None of their surviving contemporaries do that any more. It’s a unique relic in British brewing.

Imagine my surprise when a local pub tweeted that they had it on draught!

This is a real slice of brewing history in a glass, worth trying for that reason alone.

What I like about these old-school strong ales is that the hopping hasn’t been dumbed down to suit the timid palate of neophytes. Rich, winey and treacley though they may be, there is a decent tongue-sucking bitterness on the finish.

I may be imagining things but I think you can taste the aged beer.

The only quibble I have is that the strength has been reduced — down to 5.0% from the old strength of 6.0% in bottle. I suppose this is excessive caution on the part of the pub company, who don’t want people downing six pints of it and throwing up behind the Christmas tree, but it does mean that it is rather more watery than the unctuous bottled version.

Nonetheless it’s a delight to see this on the bar in a pub. There may be microbreweries who are aging beer in wood now, but Greene King – albeit marketing-led blandmongers most of the time — are the only ones in England still doing it continuously since the old days. I’ll salute that.

(Listen to me Greene King. Promote this stuff. You are good at this.)

(Listen to me readers. There may still be some of this beer about in M&B pubs. Drink it if you see it.)


  1. I missed it in the pub I tried sadly. It's a cracking beer in the bottle so I'd love to drink it from cask.

  2. This is stocked in the following Mitchells & Butlers brands:

    Village Pub & Kitchen
    Premium Country Dining Group