A review by Mr Not Delia
We don’t get a great deal of English ale where we’re currently living, so I was delighted to see these three beauties in the supermarket the other day.
Why the title? Well, in spite of whatever the labels might appear to suggest, all three ales are now part of the Greene King group. The Morland Brewery used to be based in Abingdon, historic home of the MG car factory; the Ruddles Brewery was located in Langham near the county town of Rutland, Oakham before being bought out by Morland in 1997. Greene King bought both breweries in 2000 and moved the brewing operations to their home base in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk – and you can’t get much further east than that without getting your feet wet.
Old Golden Hen
This is a new offering from the Morland brand. As you might guess from its colour, this is a relatively light and refreshing ale – it’s got something of the character of a summer ale, although its labelling doesn’t describe it as one, referring simply to “subtle tropical fruit notes”. They are there, but they’re very subtle – you wouldn’t think you’d picked up a can of Lilt by mistake. It’s actually quite sharp-tasting for an ale, and at just 4.1% ABV, this’d certainly be a good choice for an warm, lazy afternoon
snoozing watching cricket. Better than a lager, unless you’re desperate for something really cold and aren’t bothered about whether or not your beer actually tastes of anything. And the bottle has a little bas-relief of a fox near the bottom, which is a nice understated bit of branding.
A stronger (4.8% ABV), maltier ale altogether, with a pronounced bitterness, an almost smoky taste and a distinct reddish tinge. Some real ale connoisseurs point out that as Ruddles is no longer brewed using the water from Langham well, it’s lost its character – indeed, it’s not entitled to claim the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status awarded to Rutland bitter, and some jocularly call it “Ruddles Counterfeit” because of its change of character. Nevertheless, it’s still a tasty and refreshing ale well suited to quaffing by rugby types.
Last up is Greene King’s own offering from our trio, weighing in at a healthy(?) 6.5% ABV. The extra strength comes through in a smoother drink overall than the others, and an additional sweetness. The label notes describe it as “a distinctive full bodied, smooth and mature beer, bursting with fruit cake and toffee flavours”, which seems a fair enough description on drinking it, although the toffee’s perhaps more in the treacle line than a creamy chewy Toffo type of toffee. Perhaps appropriately considering the name, it’s quite similar to a Belgian double beer, only with not so much of a wallop – maybe a one-and-a-half beer, then.
sup sum up…
There are all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t drink beer out of bottles. One is the fact that it’s never quite the same out of the bottle as it is from the tap. Another is the rather more compelling reason that the pub trade is under severe threat: more and more people are drinking at home, and the managers of tied houses are finding it increasingly hard to balance the demands of their customers with those of the pubcos.
However, we don’t have the option of drinking in a pub, and the only beers on tap anywhere near us are nasty lagers and pasteurised Guinness and John Smith’s. In those circumstances, these are three decent ales and we thoroughly enjoyed drinking them. If you’re in similar circumstances, you could easily do worse.