Why Greene King doesn’t care that the haters hate its IPA

Hard luck, haters: Greene King knows you don’t like its IPA, you think it’s too bland, “not a real IPA” at 3.6% abv, and it doesn’t care at all. Not the tiniest drop. In fact it’s probably quite pleased you don’t like it. You’re not its target market – it’s after a vastly larger constituency. If you liked its IPA, it’s fairly sure those people that Greene King would most like to capture to and in the cask ale market, young people, people still with a lifetime of drinking ahead of them, wouldn’t like it – and for that reason, the Bury St Edmunds crew have no intention of changing their IPA just to make you happy. In fact they’re not changing it at all – except to shake up its look, and put £2m in media spend behind it.

Greene King IPA new look
The new look

Of course, it’s not just Greene King IPA that has hosepipes of vitriol directed at it by the Camra hardcore. Any widely available  cask ale gets the same – Fuller’s London Pride and Sharp’s DoomBar are equally hated, without the haters apparently being able to work out that the reason why these beers are widely available is because lots of people actually like drinking them, even if the haters don’t.

Indeed, it’s the popularity that is prompting the Bury St Edmunds crew into its current push. To its obvious delight, and, I suspect, slight surprise, Greene King has discovered that the flood of new young drinkers coming into the cask ale market find Greene King IPA just the sort of beer they want: there’s more to it that can be found in a pint of lager, but it’s still reasonably safe and unthreatening.

At a launch on Monday night in a bar near Oxford Circus in London to announce a new look for Greene King IPA, and other initiatives including a new website to educate licensees and bar staff on cellar management and how to serve the perfect pint, Dom South marketing director for brewing and brands at Greene King, quoted figures from a survey done last year for the Campaign for Real Ale showing that 15% of all cask drinkers tried cask ale for the first time in the past three years, and 65% of those new drinkers are aged 16 to 24. “We’re seeing a complete revolutionary shift in the drinker base coming into cask ale, which is exciting, because it means that this category, for the future, is in rude health,” South said. And where does Greene King IPA fit in here? “When you look at what those young drinkers want, from a cask ale brand, or just a beer, the three things a new young entrant wants are, first, something that feels right to them, a reflection of themselves, that makes them feel good about drinking the beer,” South said. “They want something a little bit modern, a little bit contemporary. The second thing is, they expect the beer to taste good – but let’s face it, too many pints in the UK are served sub-standard.

“The third thing is that younger people coming into the market want something that is a bit tastier than the lager market that they’ve left, but they want it to be pretty easy-drinking, the majority of them. They want something that tastes good, not something that needs chewing. That’s where the role of Greene King IPA comes in. There is a real role for a brand to play in the market, one that represents the safe choice when you enter into a product category that’s new to you, one that won’t let you down, that represents taste that is relatively easy drinking versus some of the 20,000-odd beers that you can have in the UK. With Greene King IPA, our simple strategy is to bring many more young people into our brand and the market, and also to stand for a signpost to quality, trust and assurance for people who might be about to come into the market.

Pint of IPA“When we tested ourselves against those key things that young drinkers want, ‘Does it look and feel right for me, make me want to drink it?’, ‘Is it good quality, not going to let me down?’, and three, ‘Is it easy to drink, and something you’d want to have as your first drink?’, we were really excited by the results. We found the number one reason for people drinking Greene King IPA, time after time, is the fact that it’s easy drinking. I know a few people give it a hard time because it’s easy to drink – that’s its strength, that’s its role in the market. It’s the first drink I would recommend to someone if it’s their first time drinking cask ale, because it won’t let them down and it’s not too challenging. We did a load of blind taste tests and Greene King IPA, when it’s served right, is absolutely up there with the world’s largest cask ale brand* in taste tests, and beat significantly most of the leading brands in the cask ale market. So this product doesn’t need changing, it isn’t going to change and we haven’t changed it. It’s absolutely right.”

There we are, then, haters. Greene King has the figures to show that four out of five cask ale drinkers love the fact that Greene King IPA is an easy-drinking pint – which is, after all, the core definition of a session beer, and session beers are, or should be, the pride and pinnacle of British brewing, the beer that makes going to the pub with your mates worthwhile. If you don’t like it – tough. Go and drink something so hoppy your teeth need re-enamelling afterwards.

IPA handpumpNot that everything in the IPA garden is perfectly lovely. There were two problems, the first relatively easy to try to solve, the second far more crucial, and difficult. On the first, South said: “We recognised, and consumers told us, we did need to move forward with the look and feel of the brand. We looked a little bit corporate, and perhaps a little bit traditional to the younger consumer. So we set off on the journey of bringing ourselves really up to date, a modern, contemporary look and feel that won’t alienate people who already enjoy a pint of Greene King IPA but that will genuinely bring younger people into the category and into the brand. I’m confident that this is going to do the job. It’s not a tweak and it’s not a small pigeon step forward, it’s pretty bold and it’s pretty big as a leap forward in terms of look and feel. Ziggurat Brands, the design agency that did it, have stripped it back to bare basics, taking inspiration from things they found in the brewery, so the copper colour is inspired by the copper kettles in the Greene King brewery, the teal colour because we wanted to evolve the green colour of Greene King IPA to something much more modern and contemporary. This is where we needed to make a big change to bring people in. At the same time it shouts heritage, with the crown and the arrows.” Teal – the hipster’s green. I’m never sure about that crown-and-arrows logo Greene King is adopting, though: it commemorates poor King Edmund of East Anglia killed by Viking archers in 869, after whom, of course, Bury St Edmunds is named.

More importantly, South said, “What we do need to focus on is making sure every pint is served perfectly. We are going to carry on with consumer support, advertising, all of those good things. But we feel it’s really important that we shift a lot of our emphasis, and put more money into the brand, with the trade. We’re going to invest heavily in supporting the trade to get quality right, and quality is the number one thing for us to focus on.” There two big initiatives here, the first a quality accreditation drive, with unannounced pub visits made by either Quality & Dispense Services, a senior Greene King representative or a third party quality agency. A pub will be required to pass ten quality tests, which include the taste, aroma and temperature of their Greene King IPA through to whether it is served in the right glass and the ability of bar staff to talk about the beer and describe it accurately. Pubs that are judged to pour a perfect pint of Greene King IPA will be awarded with a plaque and certificate, and crowners for their IPA pumpclips, “all signposts to the consumer to say, ‘This is going to be a safe bet,'” South said. Pubs that do not pass first time will be educated on the importance and benefits of looking after their cask beer range before another visit is made.

beergeniusgreen copy copyYou cannot improve quality in a vacuum, however: and to that end, Greene King has launched a website giving free training, troubleshooting and best practice videos, available at www.beer-genius.co.uk.. “Beer Genius is Greene King’s open access training portal to the industry,” South said. “We recognise that staff turnover is a problem – it’s different for everyone, but let’s make an assumption, 100% every year. How on earth can licensees be expected to make sure every new bar staff member knows even how to serve a pint, let alone clean down the bar and do all the basics? So what this portal is going to do is teach cellar managers, bar managers, operations directors, BDMs, local area managers, but also bar staff, three things: how to manage a cellar, how to make the most money and yield they can out of cask ale, by getting the quality right and the yield up, and why commercially it makes sense, and third, how to serve the perfect pint.

“Why does it matter? It’s not just about giving the consumer the perfect pint – although that’s absolutely key. The benefit of giving the consumer the perfect pint is that yields in pubs will massively skyrocket, because quality and yields go hand-in-hand. A key part of what we’ve got to do is educate bar staff, as well as bar managers that when you get it right, but that tiny bit of extra effort in, your till will start ringing up more money. The numbers astounded me. About 70% of pubs, we estimate, have a yield of 91% or lower on their cask ales. It should be 97, 98, even 99%. When they close that gap, the benefit to that pub in terms of profit is enormous – it’s up to £5,000 through the till, per annum. That’s their benefit: the benefit to the consumer is no more dodgy pints. And therefore you stay in the pub, you tell your friends about that pub, the net promoter score of that pub improves, people come back. So what could be a huge loss to that pub through a dodgy pint becomes a huge gain. So it’s absolutely key that we help licensees with this.”

There we are: get the quality right, your yields from every cask will be up, and so will be your profits. The licensee is happy, the consumer is happy, the brewer is happy. Mind, I doubt the haters would be happy even if Greene King had the head brewer personally deliver every pint to their table in solid gold goblets with a £50 note for use as a beermat. Personally, I’m delighted if young drinkers find Greene King IPA a good gateway into cask ale: as they grow older, and more experienced, it’s likely that some – though not all – will start to experiment, to explore, and discover the kind of beers the haters enjoy, beers which indeed have a great deal to offer those who are ready for them. The quality initiative is excellent – other brewers, please, please copy. And the Beer Genius website, from what I’ve been able to explore so far, is a terrific resource for everybody – including drinkers, who can find out what has to go on to get them that elusive perfect pint.

Does anyone make IPAs likem this one any more?
Does anyone make IPAs like this one any more?

Meanwhile, here’s a small rant directed at all those idiots who keep chuntering on about how Greene King IPA is “not an India Pale Ale” and how IPA has to be “strong and strongly hopped”, so it would survive the long journey to the Indian sub continent, over 200 years ago. You don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Let’s rush past the fact that 19th century IPA wasn’t strong at all, for the time, but comparatively weak, at around 6% abv. Do you complain because today’s porters aren’t matured in 30-feet-high oak vats for 18 months, as they were 200 years ago? Or that today’s stouts are as weak as 19th century porters? Do you complain because today’s milds are nothing at all like the mild ales of 200 years ago, 7% abv and made solely from pale malt? Beers change, and beer styles are not carved on stone tablets. A 19th century IPA would have been kept for up to a year in cask, would have lost all its hop aroma and would have developed a distinctly Brettanomyces flavour. Nobody at all is brewing an IPA like that. American IPAs, in particular, lovely beers though they often are, are nothing whatsoever like 19th century IPAs: totally wrong hops, totally wrong emphasis on hop aroma, often too strong, and meant to be drunk much more quickly after being brewed than 19th century IPAs were. After the First World War, and the huge rise in the tax on beer, all beers, of all styles, were brewed to lower strengths than they had been in the 19th century. What Greene King IPA is, is a perfect example of a mid-20th century IPA, just like those once brewed by Charrington, Palmers, Eldridge Pope, Wadworths, Wethered’s, Youngers and others in the 1960s and 1970s, all 1035 to 1043 OG. Go and get your Camra Good Beer Guide 2015 edition and look up Phipps IPA (page 844, column 2): OG 1042, abv 4.2%, “recreated from old recipes”: recreated from genuine 20th century recipes, as a genuine 20th century IPA. Just like Greene King IPA.

*Meaning DoomBar, presumably

122 thoughts on “Why Greene King doesn’t care that the haters hate its IPA

  1. The focus on quality as dispensed over the bar is very welcome – far too many pub operators still don’t seem to get this and are happy to serve up flat, tired, borderline off cask beer.

    I made a similar point about 20th century IPAs in this blogpost. Most, as you say, were of moderate strength, easy-drinking and not particularly bitter.

  2. I think Greene King’s main problem has been the standard of the beer quality across their vast tied estate. More so than whatever foibles people may have about specific beers. GKIPA is what it is, and as noted they sell a hell of a lot of it. In my area Greene King are known mainly for: bad quality pubs, shutting pubs down, selling pubs to developers, turning pubs into Tesco Express… which in CAMRA circles makes them the devil incarnate.

    I hope the whole Beer Genius thing represents a new focus on cellarmanship by Greene King. If the vast GK estate could get much better at keeping their beer, just Wetherspoons standard for instance, it’d be a good thing for beer in general – IMO. But not sure it’ll work unless they can start attracting people who actually give a crap to run their pubs. (There are some truly fantastic GK landlords out there, but they’re few and far between. One of my favourite pubs is a GK pub. Which sounds a bit like “one of my best friends is…” but hey ho.)

    Also I don’t think many folk hate London Pride, not in cask form anyway, it seems well loved (or at least respected) in both CAMRA and ‘craft’ beer circles. And most CAMRA folk I know are pretty accepting of a pint of well kept GK IPA, though they’ll grumble about “Greedy King”. However Doombar *is* more firmly relegated to the trash heap by almost everyone I know. (Going way back before the Molson Coors buy-out.) Yet it is the highest volume selling cask ale. So goes to show what that matters! 🙂

    I’d be happier if GK just stuck to their guns… as they say, there’s no need to change GK IPA. It’d be nice if they stopped trying to be “craft” (whatever that is), stopped releasing beers with lots of rhetoric about how “hoppy” they are, new world hops, US-inspired, etc… then when you try the beer what you find is a relatively standard golden ale, maybe a strong golden ale. It is a little irritating. (Why I keep buying and drinking them I don’t know… I live in hope?)

  3. “without the haters apparently being able to work out that the reason why these beers are widely available is because lots of people actually like drinking them, even if the haters don’t.”

    I don’t actually think that’s true though. A lot of people drink GKIPA not because they like it, but because they have no other option because there local pub doesn’t sell anything else.

    Living in Cambridge, I see lots of people drinking GKIPA, I’ve never seen anyone actually enjoy it. As any economist will tell you, large sales figures do not necessary imply a popular product.

    1. “Living in Cambridge, I see lots of people drinking GKIPA, I’ve never seen anyone actually enjoy it.”

      So you’ve asked them all? And having just been to Cambridge, and found massive amounts of choice in the city, I’m puzzled why you should claim that people have “no other option” but to drink GK IP{A there.

      1. Because the pub you have gone to, for whatever reason, is a greene king pub. Even I’m not such a snob as to force the group I’m with to move pub simply because I don’t happen to like the beer there.

        You can tell by the disgusted/resigned look on their face, and the way they mutter under their breath and peer into the glass, and you can ask them if you haven’t already figured it out. Its not difficult. TBH, you really don’t have to be in Cambridge long to find out what people think of greene king and their disgusting beers.

          1. No Martyn, many have other offers, for example they may show sports (eg the White Swan), or offer cheap food, (eg the Avery) or cheap lager, or discounts aimed at students (eg Duke of Cambridge) or they are famous tourist pubs (eg the Eagle), or they simply attract passers by who don’t know any better. Often they are the only pub in the village where the locals don’t have any other option – its either Green King or stay at home.

            No-one in Cambridge goes out for a pint of ale and deliberately picks a Greene King pub. We’re not stupid.

    2. “large sales figures do not necessary imply a popular product.” In a competitive market, surely they DEFINE a popular product. Look up “revealed preference” – people should be judged by what they actually do, not what they say they prefer.

      The old “captive market” argument is surely dead and buried nowadays. If you don’t think IPA is worth drinking, you won’t drink it.

      1. A village with one pub that only sells one beer is about as far from a competitive market as it is possible to get. Its a monopoly. A genuinely competitive market is actually an extremely rare thing. Firms aren’t stupid, they know that the only way to make decent profits is to get some kind of advantage over their rivals, and there are plenty more effective ways out there than improving your product. One of the more popular ways is to attempt to create localised monopolies. I’m surrounded where I live with tescos and greene king pubs. You’d be naïve to think it was coincidence.

        “If you don’t think IPA is worth drinking, you won’t drink it.”

        Well that’s nice snappy soundbite, but unfortunately its complete nonsense. I hate Fosters with a passion, yet just the other night I drank 5 pints of it because there was no other option.

        1. But relatively few GK pubs enjoy anything like a local monopoly, and certainly none of the ones around here do. And even if you can’t stand it, you can still drink lager or cider or Guinness, or for that matter stay at home with a bottle of craaaaaft.

          Surely if you hate Fosters with a passion, you wouldn’t drink it at all. You must have thought it offered you something to shell out for five pints of it. If it’s that bad, stick to soft drinks or make your excuses and leave early. If it was a free bar then obviously things are different 😉

          1. Fosters: just about better than a soft drink.

            they should use that as their new marketing slogan.

            and many, many GK pubs have an effective local monopoly in Cambridgeshire.

            On another level, a GK pub may be attractive for other reasons: there are a couple that have a good atmosphere when the rugby is on and will sell lots of pints of GKIPA because its the only beery option. However, that does not in any sense imply that all those people actually like GKIPA, it simply tells us that its the lesser of the various evils on offer at the bar.

            Competitive markets are a myth; they don’t exist in reality other than in a handful of extremely tightly regulated circumstances (frozen orange pulp anyone?). Any economist could tell you this.

  4. This reads like an article from a magazine – one in which GK advertise! (I used to edit – and write for – that kind of magazine, so I’m not really knocking it.)

    I don’t hate London Pride, and the only time I had Doom Bar I rather liked it (this was before the takeover, but I doubt that means very much). What I really hate is people going on about ‘haters’. Haters are, after all, defined as people who gonna hate – they’re irrational, they just hate (whatever it is) for no good reason. Calling your antagonists ‘haters’ excuses you from arguing with them – you’re effectively skipping the argument and going straight for the ad hom.

    But I so agree with the last paragraph. I got into real ale as soon as I was old enough to drink, then had a break from beer (or at least from taking beer seriously) between about 1980 and 2000. Coming back into a vastly changed (and rapidly changing) beer scene, one of the things I remembered clearly from ‘before’ was how an IPA ought to taste. Imagine my surprise (among other reactions) when I first tasted one of the new breed of IPAs. I’m not about to start drinking GK IPA in preference to Bengal Lancer et al – that ship has sailed – but I’m sure my 18-year-old self would have recognised & liked it, and fair play to them on those grounds.

    And – although I think you concede too much to GK on the ‘easy drinking’ front – fair play to them for trying to put a cask ale out there that lots of people will want to drink; it’s not a dishonourable ambition! “Tastes like beer, goes down easily” is always going to have a market; the supermarkets shift lots of SpitBombGoblinBar, and it’s not all down to advertising.

    1. “This reads like an article from a magazine – one in which GK advertise!”

      I wish they did advertise – I might make some money from this blog. But is it reads that way, Phil, then that’s because it’s a straightforward transcription of what Dom South said on Monday, because I thought it was interesting. If you look at my previous post, it’s a complete slag-off of Rooney Anand …

  5. A lot of marketing speak bullshit in this post Martyn, not actually a lot of facts.

    “We did a load of blind taste tests and Greene King IPA, when it’s served right, is absolutely up there with the world’s largest cask ale brand* ”

    So it tastes just as shite as that godforsaken filth Doom Bar. Which everyone here already knows. Which is funny, because they are the two beers on in my local pub, and the reason everyone drinks Guinness.

    1. You should change your pub. Looked after properly, Greene King IPA is indeed a perfectly fine beer: and DoomBar is entirely drinkable. No, if you’re used to more adventurous beers, you won’t find them particularly satisfying – but if you’re used to single-estate coffee, you won’t find Starbucks up to much. However, millions happily drink both Starbucks and Greene King IPA, and it’s snobbish and elitist of you to diss their choice. Pubs are catering for a wider range of people than just you.

      1. I don’t want adventurous beers, I just want a beer that doesn’t actively taste like a mouthful of soil.

        I doubt millions of people happily drink GKIPA. More like begrudgingly because there is no other alternative because GK own every pub for 30 miles.

      2. One of the points here, is that Greene King are careful not to put their flagship up against like-for-like products in their own boozers. You correctly make the point that an accessible session beer is what most new ale drinkers want – not one of the many over-flavoured niche brews. When placed against a genuine contender (of which we, in Norwich, are fortunate enough to have plenty of), Greene King IPA sales crash.

        A large number of Freehouses in our city offer a range of just such the quaffable, easy-drinking, gently-hopped ‘introductory’ bitters as you call for in the article. Is it purely some anti-GK conspiracy that means GK IPA is so rarely chosen as a guest session ale?

        I believe all of the mission statements made by Mr. Greene King man could be achieved whilst delivering a higher quality, tastier product. ‘Inoffensive, when well kept’ shouldn’t be the level of the bar set for a company with the history and resources of Greene King. Perhaps it would cost too much to drive such a radical proposal forward?

        1. “an accessible session beer is what most new ale drinkers want ”

          This is very true, however a beer that tastes very strongly of mud is not many people’s idea of an “accessible session beer”.

          Most potential new ale drinkers find the strong and unpleasant taste of beers like Doombar and GKIPA extremely unpalatable and off-putting. They try them once and go straight back to lager.

          To a new ale drinker, an accessible session beer would be something like a Brew Dog Dead Pony Club or a Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold. Something light and drinkable, like a more flavourful version of a lager, not some muddy brown and soily old man’s beer.

          The idea that the “yoof” like GKIPA is so obviously untrue that its laughable. How come the number of young people drinking real ale continued to fall year on year on year whilst that beer and similar muck remained the predominant style of ale available in pubs across the country, and then suddenly lurched upwards as soon as they were replaced with more pleasant tasting beers?

  6. I was drinking with Dom of GK and Adrian of Ziggurat Brands at Craft Beer Rising on Thursday. Adrian, head of Ziggurat, was one of my most loyal regulars at the Gunmakers during my five years as landlord – we were the office local for the agency. Indeed the staff always used to call him “Jeff’s favourite customer” as he always cheered me up! Lovely man and I’m tickled that his latest client work brings him right into the heart of my own industry.

  7. “Personally, I’m delighted if young drinkers find Greene King IPA a good gateway into cask ale.”

    Well yes, but what evidence is there that they do? There certainly isn’t any evidence in this article, just a handful of spurious and unverifiable marketing claims.

    GKIPA was around for years whilst cask ale sales were falling, especially amongst young people. Its only now with the advent of craft beer and cask ales that actually have an enjoyable flavour that sales are starting to pick up and young people are getting into cask beer.

    I think the argument could easily be made that the reason cask ale did so poorly in the 90s and 2000s was precisely because of the preponderance of unpleasant tasting muck like GKIPA. I know it put me and my friends off who were starting to try different drinks in those years. It was probably responsible for putting a whole generation of drinkers off cask ale for life.

    1. A well-kept Pride is still one of the best beers in England. Only had Doom Bar once so I shouldn’t perhaps rely on that, but it seemed fine, good balance to it.

      Greene King’s beers to my taste are rather strong-tasting and not in a way optimal for me – I get a lot of minerally, sulphur character in them. It’s one subset of the old Burton pale taste (inspired by that I mean), some of Wells Young’s beers have it too, the funky note. I wouldn’t call it bland at all, but that’s one opinion. In the end I think the marketers take what is handed down and do their work on it from their perspective, which is fine. But from a sheer palate point of view I think GK is rather down in the league-table while acknowledging all the other merits of this sizeable and energetic old regional.


      1. I like London Pride as well. I vehemently dislike GKIPA and Doom Bar but there are many excellent examples of excellent beers in the traditional English bitter style, from TT Landlord to Stonehouse bitter.

        However, even when referring to beers I like, I would be very reticent to propose this style as one that is “attractive to young people”, as the evidence points in the exact opposite direction. Its been the shift away from this style of beer towards more bright, citrusy, hoppy flavours that has made cask ale more attractive to young people.

        GK IPA doesn’t need to be any good, because that is not GK’s business strategy, which is built around producing huge quantities of low quality beer in the cheapest manner possible, and then flogging it to a captive audience by monopolising all the pubs in a certain area. The fact that they sell the same beer under a number of different pumpclips is a genius method of giving the illusion of choice without having to go through the hassle of actually brewing different beers.

        1. “GK IPA doesn’t need to be any good, because that is not GK’s business strategy, which is built around producing huge quantities of low quality beer in the cheapest manner possible, and then flogging it to a captive audience by monopolising all the pubs in a certain area.”

          I wouldn’t say that to Greene King’s head brewer, unless you don’t want to keep your teeth. (I’ve met him – he looks handy with his fists.) Seriously, what you are suggesting is nonsense – any such “strategy” would quickly see a company destroy itself. Indeed, one American brewer, Schlitz, followed just that strategy and did destroy itself – you can read about it here

          1. I’d happily say it to his face. If he wants to prove me wrong, he can sell half his pubs in the East of England to prove how much they like local competition.
            But he won’t, because my analysis of his operating strategy is 100% accurate, and without a captive audience with no option but to buy his dreadful beer, his sales would collapse.

          2. I remember visiting one of the many free houses in my locality which had GK IPA as one of its guests. It was a busy night and when I spoke to him later about it he said he’d sold an 18 of GKIPA, a 9 of some other beer and one pint of Young’s Special.It sticks in my mind as I was the one who had the Young’s.
            Fact is that GKIPA sells extremely well even when there’s a wide choice of cask beers on the bar.

            Will people please stop calling beers THEY don’t like “bad beers” ? GK brew easy drinking popular beer , they brew it well and give enjoyment to a lot of people.Not everybody wants to be “blown away” by a beer, they would rather just have a few pints of something which slips down nicely. And which preferably in my view doesn’t taste of grapefruit.

          3. A well-made point, but I’m interested in whether there were other factors in play? Young’s Special is up a bracket in the strength stakes, perhaps also in price, on the night in question? It will always be difficult to rely on anecdotal evidence without having all the variables to hand.

            Some years ago, our boozer sold buckets and buckets of Charlie Well’s Bombardier – simply because it was sold to us at a price which made it 30p a pint cheaper than anything else. People were attracted by price first and stuck with it (as many drinkers do today) merely out of habit. It certainly wasn’t a winner on taste alone – as was proved, when the Adnam’s rep cut a better deal and tripled his sales in our bar overnight, at the expense of poor old Bombardier…

          4. Well if people preferred it to Youngs Special, it MUST be good.

            Given the choice between piss and rainwater, I would drink rainwater too.

  8. I’ve always liked GK IPA. I cut my drinking teeth on it and it has always remained a yardstick and a comfortable fall-back beer – when it’s well kept. I like nearly all GK’s cask and bottled beers, despite Old Speckled Hen and Ruddles losing their authenticity for tasting like generic GK beers now. But GK IPA Reserve, packed with Styrian dry-hopped character, for me is as close to a perfect flavour of ale that I have found – and is far and away my favourite at the moment.

  9. I’m ambivalent about GKIPA. I don’t generally buy it when there are others available but when it’s the only option I find I enjoy it rather a lot! Mind you, well kept beer is the norm round these parts, even an indifferent pint is a rarity.
    I’m glad you wrote the last paragraph or two; a riposte to those ignorant people who say it “isn’t an IPA” As you say, no beer is like it was 200 or even 100 years ago , the names stay the same but the beers certainly don’t. GKIPA is a pretty good example of a mid 20th century IPA , a time which had seen beers totally altered by shortages and high taxation.Has anybody mentioned Flowers IPA ? It was the regular beer in a local pub until a few years ago and I loved it.
    When will people stop misusing “craft”? It was introduced in the US where it was a reaction to the megabrews.
    Why people here apply “craft” only to keg products is beyond me.In this country there always have beer small independent brewers and an infrastrucure favouring cask beer.This the US hadn’t got so it goes into bottles, cans and kegs.GK would be a mid sized craft brewery if transplanted into the US.

  10. Greene King already have an easy-drinking beer for people who don’t like hops: XX Mild. It’s a far better one than IPA. They should try promoting that.

  11. Here in the cask beer wasteland of Wirral a number of Greene King pubs serve beer of excellent quality. Personally, I like Green King IPA and find it a nice change from the plethora of Blonde ales and American style IPAs. Plus my wife works for the company that has formulated the Beer Genius portal!

  12. I would have to say that the repetitive use of the word ‘haters’ is nonsensical. People are surely allowed to dislike a product without hating – it is suggestive of a more widely-organised campaign of derogation against Greene King IPA, than I believe truly exists.

    In the same tone, it is somewhat childish (having slagged off the ‘haters’ for an unthinking negativity towards GK IPA) to suggest that they stick to a ‘Craaaaaft’ beer – why the snide dragging out of the word?

    The point about overly-hopped beer stripping the enamel from your teeth is, however, well made!

    1. “it is suggestive of a more widely-organised campaign of derogation against Greene King IPA, than I believe truly exists.”

      You’ve not been reading the Facebok unofficial Camra page, either, then? Really, the attacks on GK there are pretty continual.

      1. I’m confused. I just wasted far too much time on the CAMRA Unofficial FB page, but found only one anti-GK post going back over the past 3 months.

        I tried the CAMRA page (also unofficial), where there were 2 posts in the past month – one was plainly tongue-in-cheek, as ‘Troll-bait’ – but lost the will to live, looking at hundreds of pictures of bottled beer.

        Either way, it hardly smacks of a concerted campaign. There really seems little basis for any claim of massive anti-GK bias amongst drinkers. There is more, if anything, simple acknowledgement that several people find the product bland – a charge which is hard to refute, since it is basically what Greene King have just said is their aim, in this article…

        I still believe that Greene King should be able to produce an accessible-to-the-newcomer, not overly-hopped, low strength beer, of significantly higher quality that their IPA. They could then spend the marketing budget on promoting a fabulous new product, from a brewer steeped in history. Would this not be a better way forward – with the by-product of pulling the rug from under the feet of any genuine ‘Haters’ who might lurk in the shadows?

        1. they could do that, but they don’t need to. so why would they?

          airports and motorway services stations could also provide a far better selection of restaurants and food outlets with better quality at a better price. But they don’t need to, because like GK, they have a captive market right there to be exploited.

          I would also say that “bland” is a generous term for GKIPA. If only it were bland it would be drinkable. Most people I know consider it to be extremely strongly unpleasant tasting.

  13. Though I enjoy your well researched articles Martyn, I think you’ve missed the mark in that last paragraph. I hardly think believers in beer style need to be referred to as ‘chuntering idiots’ because they don’t agree with what they perceive to be the less than rigorous approach of a large operator that values its own marketing identity over the greater heritage of the style. You kind of said it yourself – 6% abv is significantly higher than 3.6%. The fact is, a bitter referred to as an IPA helps neither style. It’s just confusion.

    Not quite the same thing, but here in the Southern Hemisphere we have a brewery referring to a 6% ale as a dopplebock. As you’d expect, it certainly doesn’t drink like one. What’s the point? Dollars, that’s all….

    1. “a bitter referred to as an IPA helps neither style. It’s just confusion.”

      That’s not the point. Greene King IPA has been around for, I believe, at least 60 years. It was one of a number of similar beers brewed in Britain and called IPAs. Until the Americans started – entirely ahistorically – ramming loads of highly flavoured hops into strong beers meant to be drunk soon after being brewed, nobody complained about GK’s version. Really, GK should be complaining about Sierra Nevada and the like stealing the IPA name, since it was there first.

      1. but still language is a democracy and IPA now has a quite distinct meaning that is completely at odds to the taste and style of GKIPA. I’m sure they are quite well aware of this. Its now bordering on false advertising.

        Can you imagine some new young drinker being recommended to try this new delicious “IPA style” of beer, and being unfortunate enough to wander into a GK pub and mistakenly thinking that this GK IPA stuff was an example of that style. My god, the sheer horror of the situation is unimaginable. They’d probably never touch beer ever again.

        1. This is nonsense.IPA (often also called Pale Ale or even Bitter in Victorian days) suffered from the shortages and taxation resulting from two world wars.They suffered a reduction in strength and hopping just like all other styles.Many breweries sold an IPA such as Greene King do today, it became an established style. That is what IPA evolved into and everybody accepted this.There are still many established beers of this type sold as IPA to this day. For somebody to say that they aren’t IPAs because our American friends have a diffent view of the style makes no sense; these were here first and are firmly established.Add to this that US IPAs bear no more resemblance to those beers giving rise to the name than does GKIPA.

          1. Its 2015, IPA stands for “tastes of grapefruit”. If your beer does not taste of grapefruit it is not an IPA.

            Language is a democracy, you can’t fight it. etymology does not control a word’s definition.

    2. Daniel, Martyn is right in his reply and I’d as well that bitter and IPA are not two styles, they are one style. Bitter, pale ale, India Pale Ale have the same origin and history and there was never a clear dividing line between them. Dropping an alcohol level does not of itself change a style. The style here is reasonably well-attenuated pale ale, therefore on the dry side, reasonably hopped for bitterness and aroma. GK’s IPA meets that test and is different in this regard (as every pale or bitter is) from a mild ale or of course a porter or stout. Whether one likes GK’s particular take on the style is neither here nor there. In fact, I can tell you that in Canada we get occasionally a 5% GK IPA and it is quite similar to its weaker brother in England, just a little more kick. Same family, it’s all IPA.


        1. I fully understand, as Martyn pointed out in the article, that brewers have been using “IPA” to refer to their bitters, or whatever we want to call them, for decades. I got all that. My point is that a lot of careful work has been done, by Michael Jackson and the BJCP amongst others, to separate IPA as a style from bitter and other pale ales. Sure, call it revisionist if you like, but I’m in agreement with the view that the style should be credibly linked to the concept of a highly hopped beer of 40+ IBUs and preferably above 6%. And sure, there may be some out there just parroting the contemporary IPA rhetoric, but others have a considered position behind their claims.

          1. Michael Jackson and the BJCP (especially the BJCP, who have no rights to anything except home brewing competitions in the US – actually, especially Michael Jackson too, who would have been horrified at the idea) are not the beer style police. You are not the beer style police. Nobody is the beer style police. You can shout as hard as you like about what a beer given a particular name “ought” to taste like, but the fact is that beer styles have always been very fluid and will always be very fluid. Porter, for example, went through at least six different forms between 1720 and 1940 – which one is “correct”?

          2. Interestingly, Martyn, you are quoted in the draft 2014 BJCP style guidelines regarding British IPAs: “Many modern examples labeled IPA are quite weak in strength. According to CAMRA, “so-called IPAs with strengths of around 3.5% are not true to style.” English beer historian Martyn Cornell has commented that beers like this are “not really distinguishable from an ordinary bitter.” So we choose to agree with these sources rather than what some modern English breweries are calling an IPA.” Perhaps you’ve been taken out of context?

          3. No, I’d still agree that they’re not really distinguishable from an ordinary bitter. But a 4.4% beer a brewer today is calling a stout, eg the very first one I looked up in the 2015 GBG, from Uncle Stuart’s Brewery in Norwich, is pretty indistinguishable from the kind of porters being made in the 1930s, and, indeed, is weaker than Fuller’s London Porter (5.6%) – are we going to say Uncle Stuart can’t call his beer a stout, because it’s too weak? I’m not, personally, prepared to be so rigidly prescriptivist, because I don’t think there’s any historical justification for it. The BJCP, however, has to have rules when trying to judge competitions, and that’s fair enough. But those rules cannot be made to apply to the world of commercial brewing.

        1. It IS reasonably hopped for bitterness and aroma in relative terms though (relative to a mild ale, or a British lager), and that is the point I was making. The fact that it tastes different from American IPAs is not its fault so to speak, it was there first as Martyn has pointed out. 🙂

          Some other points: Jackson did not clearly separate IPA, pale ale and bitter, he would never make an error like that. His 1977 World Guide has a chapter just on Pale Ale, not India Pale Ale (although this term is briefly mentioned in the chapter). He knew bitter was simply the drinker’s term for the draft version of pale ale and the draft version was so important in his time it warranted its own chapter. The pale ale discussion was devoted to the bottled version of the style (mainly Bass IIRC), and fair enough as the two forms of drink differed in carbonation and other respects especially in his time.

          As to the taste of Greene King IPA, opinions will differ and fair enough. I am on the strong soil side of the argument. I must say it’s been about 4 years since I’ve had GK IPA in England and perhaps it is blander now than it was, I can’t say. The 5% export certainly is not, it has a strong mineral, banana and clovey note – earthy too – that I would not call bland.


          1. I didn’t actually say “clearly” separate, I just said separate. I’m referring to his later writings, around the turn of the millennium, like the Pocket Guide to beer and the Great Beer Guide. He doesn’t give any space to standard bitters (GKIPA) in the IPA guise. A few beers in the best bitter abv range, like Fuller’s IPA (cask) or Caledonian Deuchars get a favourable mention, and then Ushers IPA (5%), but he saves the praise for the likes of Freeminer Trafalgar at 6% (with 60ibus), and Burton Bridge Empire Ale at 7.5%. Do we want to try and call these American IPAs? I don’t. They are better thought of as English beers attempting to correctly revive the style that MAY HAVE BEEN shipped to India (seeing as we’re on the forensic path).

          2. The style was shipped to India, and the precise characteristics of the beers that were are well-known and have been analyzed in the writings of Ron Pattinson, in particular. Numerous 19th century textbooks also contain detailed descriptions of the beer prepared for export to India and elsewhere. They were very well-hopped (5-7 lbs hops per barrel), attenuated quite high, and long aged in wood before being bottled. They were 5.5-6.5% ABV, a bit more sometimes. The domestic versions were the same but in general less hopped because they had less to travel, but these too had a period of stocking prior to bottling, and many had a brett character. Burton Bridge Empire might get close to some of these characteristics, but so might (except for the brett) any number of bitter but weaker beers. You can’t cut it off at any one point and say it becomes something different, that’s all I’m trying to say.

            The American ones of today might in some cases approximate the 1800’s versions, especially barrel-aged ones, but most that I’ve had have the big Pacific Northwest hop character that Victorian beers didn’t have. English brewers didn’t want the taste, they used the hops occasionally in small amounts but not for aroma or as a signature in any other way.

            Jackson did get more taxonomic, I agree, but this was similar to what BJCP did, it assists discussion and classification to do it, and indeed BJCP was probably much influenced by Jackson’s work. But this contemporary work cannot change the main classifications handed down by history…


  14. It seems that CAMRA is concerned that may of its members are not computer literate enough to use Beer Genius. Why does that not surprise me?
    AB is talking rubbish. He’s entitles to think that IPAs should taste of (too much) grapefruit but those of us who have been drinking IPAs for 40 years are equally entitled to think that it shouldn’t. How about the comparatively new Meantime IPA? I’ll grant that it’s a strong ale but tastes like bitter to me.

    1. I suppose you’re one of these people that insist that gay means “carefree” because that’s what it used to mean 40 years ago.

      The meaning of words change. If you don’t like it, tough. Go live on Antarctica and pretend its still the 1970s.

      1. The word “gay” can mean carefree, one has to look at the context to judge the meaning.Many words have more than one interpretation.Does “fast” mean moving quickly or stuck in one place?
        The overriding fallacy of your argument lies in the fact that Greene King and lots of other breweries have been creating IPAs of this type for the best part of a century.They are already in posession of the term.They got their feet under the table first.As are very many other brewers. Looking at the latest GBG I have to hand I see Anchor springs,Belhaven,Brentwood,Copper Dragon, Dartmoor and Doghouse without getting past the letter “D” A mixture of long established and more interestingly new breweries continuing the tradition.

        1. There is no such thing as “in possession of the term”. You cannot own words. Its not a trademark.

          You need to do some research into descriptive vs prescriptive linguistics.

          1. They are in posession in the way that they were already using the word; more than that the term “IPA” has for a long time been accepted as a description for this sort of beer.GKIPA and Deuchars IPA are found, and have been found,for a long time in a vast number of pubs, clubs and also on supermarket shelves.Each is the leading seller for their respective brewery.Now you tell them after the best part of a century that they’ve got in wrong?

          2. Indeed – so, given that several widely-sold “light bitters” have the title IPA, you can’t complain it’s a misuse of the term. Greene King IPA probably outsells all “new-wave” IPAs many times over.

  15. That’s a bit derogatory about people who don’t like GK IPA – no I don’t like Greene King as a company or its beers but I don’t hate them, and I would not insult people for liking GK IPA. Horses for courses as they say.

    I think the important point here is that IPA is bringing more younger people into the world of cask ale, and that increasing market is a vital thing for the industry we all love.

  16. It’s entertaining and saddening in equal measure to watch this debate unfurl. Entertaining because it’s great that beer is a product that creates such diverse and undoubtedly, subjective points of view. But saddening because at the end of the day, this sort of nonsense is how a category pulls itself apart. From a drinker’s perspective, and as consumers, we need choice – not just because we like choice, but because it helps frames the decisions we make. If you are bothered about cask beer, then Greene King IPA is a good thing for beer and cask in general. There have to be entry beers: and here we are, one that brings people into cask beer who might otherwise drink a pint of something else. The fact that many of those commenting above don’t like it is perfectly fine (learn to live with it, you’ll feel happier). The fact that it exists though can make you feel better about your ‘more informed’ choice when you come to it. But commercially, what the success of brands like GKIPA, London Pride, Pedigree and Doom Bar do is create a positive environment for all current and potential brewers of cask beer. It gets licensees thinking, “I need to stock cask’, it persuades drinkers of beer generally to consider cask, and it allows bodies like CAMRA to proclaim what a great job they are doing, when really it is largely down to the success of these big cask brands. And ‘styles’? Well they just help drinkers navigate their way. If they have GKIPA, then Sierra Nevada Torpedo and get confused… well that will happen. But if you drink Carling and then PU it might happen too. Let’s credit people with sufficient intelligence to work it out and not get hoisted by our own petards.

    1. “There have to be entry beers: and here we are, one that brings people into cask beer who might otherwise drink a pint of something else”

      Except it doesn’t. All the evidence suggests that GKIPA is not a good entry beer at all as it has a very strong soily taste that most newly converted drinkers find extremely unpleasant. If it is the first cask ale that people try, they are very unlikely to ever try cask ale again. I know dozens of people who didn’t drink cask beer because they tried GKIPA or Doombar and assumed all cask beer was equally revolting. Of course, I pushed them in the direction of something more appropriate and now they don’t drink anything else.

      What we need to do is present a unified message: don’t stock GKIPA, don’t drink it, don’t recommend it. Take every opportunity you can to warn people away from it. CAMRA should insist it comes with a warning label “warning, this is an extremely strongly flavoured and unpleasant beer for experienced drinkers only”.

      Anyone who cares about beer should be 100% behind this message.

      1. “All the evidence suggests that GKIPA is not a good entry beer at all as it has a very strong soily taste that most newly converted drinkers find extremely unpleasant.”

        There’s a difference in beliefs based on fact and dogma.

        1. LOOK AT THE FACTS.

          For over a decade between the 90s and the late 2000s, GKIPA and similarly strong flavoured beers dominated pub bars around the country. Every year, less and less young people took up drinking cask ale. Look up the statistics yourself if you don’t believe me, there have been some blog articles looking back at what was happening in 2004 recently.

          In the past 5 years, the “craft beer revolution” (call it what you like) has pushed beers like GKIPA off the bar and replaced them with a new style of paler, hoppier, more accessible beer. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, young people are taking up drinking cask ale again, with sales of these new citrusy ales rocketing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on.

          This is not a matter of opinion or dogma, whether or not you or I personally like GKIPA is utterly irrelevant. This is merely a verifiable and undeniable fact that a beer like GKIPA with such a strong and divisive flavour makes an extremely poor entry level cask ale, and is widely disliked by young drinkers around the country.

          1. I’d very much like to see your ‘facts’. The facts are that the cask ale market as measured by A C Nielsen (today CGA Strategy), is in modest single figure growth (measured on an Moving Annual Total (MAT) basis). Per capita consumption of all alcohol, including beer, has been falling since the early 2000’s. Greene King IPA was the cask ale leader until recently and has now lost that position. The majority of volume growth in the cask market is not driven by the vast number of start ups that beguile our perceptions, but the few top brands, GKIPA included, which drive volume. Those are not just facts, they are brutal truths which those involved with the ‘craft beer revolution’ don’t like to hear. But the big point you are missing is this. It is, as Lance Armstrong may say were he a brewer, “not about the beer”. It’s about the brand. And Greene King IPA is a strong brand, instantly recognisable to many, and sufficiently trusted by those less familiar with the beer category as you and I. The fact that you consider it to have a “soily taste” which you find “unpleasant” is, in fact, utterly irrelevant.

      2. ” it has a very strong soily taste that most newly converted drinkers find extremely unpleasant.” – You have no evidence for this at all. In fact people who don’t like GKIPA complain that it’s the blandness that piuts them off.

        1. I simply don’t get this “strong soily taste” that py complains about. If asked to describe it in a disparaging way I would say it was “sweetish and bland”. And the alternative entry-level beers that people have been going for have not been the mega-hoppy ones, but more generic “golden ales”, some of which are more bland and wishy-washy than any boring brown bitter.

        2. The evidence is there in the statistics. Young people simply do not like GKIPA and do not drink it when given the choice. There is a reason it is widely despised and ridiculed. There is a reason its only ever sold in Greene King pubs and never as a guest ale. There is a reason its the cheapest beer in Tesco that doesn’t have “economy” written on the can. Its because its extremely low quality and if it wasn’t cheap as chips it wouldn’t sell. Greene King know this, Tesco know this, pubs know this, beer drinkers know this. Everyone appears to know this apart from you.

          What may seem “bland” to your burnt out palate certainly won’t seem bland to someone used to nothing more flavourful than Carling or Fosters.

          Gary Gillman, a man who knows a thing or two about beer, said

          “Greene King’s beers to my taste are rather strong-tasting”

          are you calling him a fool?

          1. Let’s see the ‘statistics’. Let’s see the statistically significant evidence that ‘young people do not drink it when given the choice’ or indeed, that ‘it’s the cheapest beer in Tesco’. Show us facts, not claims. That we you may become persuasive. Otherwise, it’s a just a strong personal viewpoint built on foundations of sand.

          2. go into Tesco and look for yourself. It is £1.20 for a 500ml bottle in my nearest Tesco, whereas all the other bottled ales were in the £1.80 to £2.20 region (albeit some of them are currently on a 3 for £5 offer)

            I’ve already directed you towards statistics on cask ale take-up amongst young drinkers over the past 20 years, I’m not going to hold your hand and read them out to you, you’re going to have to take some level of responsibility for your own education David.

            If you can’t be bothered to do the research, fine, simply keep your mouth shut.

          3. If you have nothing more useful to contribute than insults, you know you have already lost the argument David. You have two options, either go and look up the statistics as I have, or simply admit that you’re out of your depth and apologise for wasting our time.

          4. “you’re going to have to take some level of responsibility for your own education David. If you can’t be bothered to do the research, fine, simply keep your mouth shut”

            Py, please buy a mirror this weekend. If you feel insulted by my comments, then you should reflect on your own. And I don’t think I’m alone on this comments trail who is struggling to understand that your definition of ‘statistics’ is ‘opinions’. I’m sorry if understanding the data from the industry recognised market statistics company isn’t good enough for you. If that’s the case nothing will be (no insult intended, for clarity). Signing off.

          5. “There is a reason its only ever sold in Greene King pubs and never as a guest ale.”
            It’s sold in Wetherspoon’s pubs, alongside other trad. bitters and modern pale/hoppy/grapefruity bitters, many of which are sold at lower prices. Nonetheless, people choose GKIPA. And drink it. Then return to the bar and choose it again.

          6. A local pub (North East London) features it as a “guest” (they’re not GK, or GK leased, and I don’t believe they’ve taken the GK shilling for a cellar refit, like some do).

            But I do know what they have been willing to pay for a cask of beer, from other suppliers, so I would venture it’s because it’s cheap enough to be able to sell at their desired price.

            We usually end up drinking the Guinness, or branded lager

      3. “What we need to do is present a unified message: don’t stock GKIPA, don’t drink it, don’t recommend it. Take every opportunity you can to warn people away from it. CAMRA should insist it comes with a warning label “warning, this is an extremely strongly flavoured and unpleasant beer for experienced drinkers only”.
        “Anyone who cares about beer should be 100% behind this message”.

        Except those who actually like it. And we don’t need beer Nazis putting labels on things telling people what they think people should be drinking.

        1. Its fair warning. A beer like GKIPA marketed as an modern IPA with a pump clip clearly ripped off of BrewDog is egregious false advertising, and could potentially be extremely damaging for British beer.

  17. I love how the GK marketing bloke says “Greene King IPA is a great entry level beer”, and every moron in the comments section just parrots this without even stopping to think for a second whether its actually true or not. Its like a some kind of nightmarish modern day parody on the gullibility of the masses.

    I suppose you also believe that a Double Diamond works wonders, that Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers can’t reach, that Carlsberg is probably the best beer in the world, and that Fosters actually IS Australian for “beer”.

    There’s a blogpost to be written on how easily people in the beer blogging community are so easily taken in by even the most flimsiest bit of marketing when it agrees with their personal prejudices and gives them an excuse to have a pop at “craft beer”.

    1. When we say we regard GKIPA as a great entry level beer it’s because we think that’s just what it is.Nothing to do with marketing , the GK spokesman was merely repeating what many of us have been saying for a long time.
      It’s a well balanced, easy drinking beer which is low in ABV and therefore it can be consumed in some quantity without dire ill effects.Easy drinking and low ABV make it a good entry level beer.
      I must say that in our many free houses , a lot of which search the kingdom for different beers , whenever GKIPA comes onto the bar it “flies out”

      1. which is why, I suppose, cask ale really took off in the decade either side of the millennium where GKIPA was so prevalent around the country?

        Oh wait, no it didn’t, sales continued to fall. It appears you’re talking out of your arse.

        I would also humbly suggest that “tastes nice” is probably a more important criteria that either “easy drinking” (a truly meaningless phrase) or low ABV.

        1. You wrote this about me ;”You need to do some research into descriptive vs prescriptive linguistics.”
          Might I suggest in return you do some research into singulars and plurals? It “is a more important criterion . Criteria is the plural of criterion.

          1. remind me again, what is it they call pedantry, “the refuge of the intellectually inferior”? something like that.

          2. Not at all. Its quite a fundamental point that GK is lying to us (that’s what marketing execs do) and so many people are just lapping it up its positively embarrassing.

            GKIPA had its chance, cask ale sales declined disastrously. The world has moved on. Trying to rebrand like some BrewDog rip-off fools no-one.

          3. Apologies, its not an intentional sockpuppet Martyn, its just wordpress being stupid and mixing up my accounts and me not noticing before hitting post.

  18. Who knew a three and a half session ale could be so controversial? 🙂
    Greene King run a successful business and GK IPA has been part of that for many years. In the same way Budweiser is well aware of US craft beer as Beer Author, Cicerone director and general beer evangelist Ray Daniels said to me recently “If all the craft beer lovers all spat at Bud, they wouldn’t notice the change in humidity”

    There might be ‘Haters’ out there but they are small in number and loud in nature and I’m very sure it won’t make a dot of difference to their bottom line.

    It’s an average beer from a company that may be argued to have hard capitalist morals (shock!). If you don’t like it avoid it, If you hate the company, avoid their pubs (admittedly hard to do in some East Anglian towns!)

  19. One thing I have noticed is that beer enthusiasts go to pubs for the beer. Everyone else goes because it is a convivial social environment they feel comfortable in. It is more about the social class they belong to and the company they like to keep than the products sold. Most people like middle of the road mainstream stuff, it doesn’t make them stupid or ignorant. Most mainstream beer is palatable and pleasant and will get you just as pissed as full on flavour grog.

    I happen to like knocking about with beer geeks from time to time, but I have had more actual fun necking mainstream beer with regular people that care more about their families, jobs, new kitchen, football team or the new lass at work they want to ask out than I have ever had discussing IPA with beer geeks.

    It is rare to find a bar where nothing is drinkable. You don’t have to have a beer. Other drinks are available.

    1. The greks aren’t really all the same though. Some focus on tasting something new all the time (the ticker-type). Some only like one or two styles. Some don’t have a very good palate. I saw one guy in a bar repeatedly order a (craft) brand which in my experience is frequently damp paper oxidized. The server told me he will drink nothing else and is very particular on the subject of beer. Some people want to drink only cask, it matters little what type, as long as the price and alcohol level are right it’s fine. Then there’s my type. I want to like the taste a lot of the pint. I can drink anything but I focus a lot on flavor and what it to be as good as possible. Therefore, I get tastes when I can, or ask the server’s opinion, or others I may know at the bar (“oh I had that last week, it’s okay”).

      So the enthusiast crowd is kind of disparate and anyway we talk about the regular stuff too. In fact mostly so, the beer chat only lasts a short time.

      I must say too though that if having more than one (rare these days), I really don’t care what I drink. The reason is, you can’t taste it well after the first one. Connoisseurship is limited to the first drink, IMO.


  20. The problem I have with the likes of GKIPA and Doom Bar is not so much tthat they are bland (though I think they are) but that they get everywhere. All too often the only other choice on the bar is something that tastes of grapefruit that you’ve never heard of and will never see again.

  21. Regarding the historical base of IPA, perhaps this extract from 1867 may be of interest;
    “ALE, PALE OR BITTER; brewed chiefly for the Indian market and for other
    tropical countries.—It is a light beverage, with much aroma, and, in consequence of the regulations regarding the malt duty, is commonly brewed from a wort of specific gravity 1055 or upwards; for no drawback is allowed by the Excise on the exportation of beer brewed from worts of a lower gravity than 1054. This impolitic interference with the operations of trade compels the manufacturer of bitter beer to employ wort of a much greater density than he otherwise would do; for beer made from wort of the specific gravity 1042 is not only better calculated to resist secondary fermentation and the other effects of a hot climate, but is also more pleasant and salubrious to the consumer.”
    Had it not been for the fact that brewers couldn’t claim back the tax on exports unless they were of a certain strength, 19th century IPA would probably have been in the low 4%s ABV and then where would the “too weak to be an IPA” brigade be?

    1. Right. Of course that’s one view, and I don’t know that the market in India would generally have accepted a drink around 5% ABV. I believe the October or stock beer roots of IPA – as Martyn has persuasively argued the case for – were in a fairly strong pale beer and some earlier 1800’s sources suggest IPA was “heady”. But the quote does prove the point that strength in and of itself was not determinative. What was, was a pronounced hop character, a dry quality (not sweet like mild ale), and a “ripe” or aged quality. Bitter still has this, if not often the last, but if you want to see what it’s like, pour a few ounces of Orval into your pint of bitter or bottled pale ale the next time…


      1. I own up, that’s where I found it.
        If more people read his blog perhaps there would be much fewer ill informed comments.

  22. […] Martyn’s recent post on the relaunch of Greene King IPA strayed, for me, a little too close to following the GK party line – a view shared, and stated rather emphatically, by some contributors to the ensuing comments thread. But I thoroughly agree with the final point: […]

    1. “strayed, for me, a little too close to following the GK party line” – if journalism, that is to say, accurately repeating what someone said, is merely “repeating the party line”, we’re going to see a lot of that in the run-up to the election in May.

  23. While I appreciate the historical accuracy on what IPAs used to be (and Martyn, you do an excellent job educating people on myths – including me, after perusing your site), I have 2 problems with this article; 1) The marketing aspects, and 2) Nomenclature of Beer Styles.

    First, beer, in my opinion, is art, and if you’re going to hack on “haters”, I would like equal time for hacking on people who drink beer as an accessory. Whenever I see a representative of a company say, “‘Does it look and feel right for me?” I have to ask, is this person drinking beer, or are they buying a shirt?

    On the second point, I’ve read and been part of conversations regarding proper nomenclature. While, historically, IPAs weren’t like they are today, when I go into a place and see IPA on a tap handle I’ve never had, then I have certain expectations. Have you heard of Alexander Keith’s IPA? It’s Canadian. Which is fine, but it’s definitely not an IPA. Tastes more like a fizzy, yellow lager. When I had one the first time, I was not amused. The bad news is that a couple years later, someone told me another apricot ale was an “IPA”. This was also not true, since the waiter’s point of reference was Keith’s. Therein lies the concern I have.

    I’m going to go ahead and make a beer with pilsner and wheat malt, put a nice charge of Perle hops in at the boil, and ferment it with a German ale yeast. I think I’ll call it an Imperial Stout. Seems logical based on what Greene King is doing.

    1. Greene King was calling its beer IPA long before American brewers decided to call their highly hopped, super-strong, meant-to-be-drunk-young beers IPA, and Greene King’s IPA follows far more in a line of direct descent from 19th century IPAs than Sierra Nevada’s does. So if you want to argue about it …

      The truth is, beer nomenclature is now a mess, and there is no way it will ever be cleared up. So we’ll all just have to lump it, to use a British expression …

  24. Hello, I discovered you blog now and I’m loving it.

    I have been in UK last year, and I had never had a cask ale so far, so I was looking forward to discover that class of ales, or at least, that aspect of the beer culture and distribution/storage/conditioning. But, to be honest, I came back home very disapointed with it. The vast majority of cask ales I had there were completely loaded with off-flavours, acetaldehyde being the most present, almost all the time. I even had a crappy vinegar-like Wychwood’s HobGoblet in an old pub in Inverness that tasted more like a belgian flanders red than anything else. So, by the second week, I started to avoid the hand-pumps and go only for the taps, what proved to be safer regarding quality, indeed.
    I even found myself wondering: don’t that people over there have real taste buds? how can they bear crappy beers like that? don’t they taste that strong ruining green apple taste and aroma in ther pints? Well, I think it’s something about habits or the way you face beer, not like a holy beverage to be analysed and everything, but just something to entertain.
    So, Green King’s iniciative is a great thing, and I hope it’s something that becomes a main concern in the whole industry and market.
    Dou you have any opinion about that? Do you, being a native, also have that perception about off-flavours on cask-conditioned ales, specially the more traditional and widely distributed ones? Do you know why cask tend to develop those off-flavour more than kegs?
    Thank you.

    1. Cask beer is “supposed” to alow the oxygen into the cask – which will inevitably bring you off flavours, either quickly, if the person in charge of the cellar doesn’t know what they are doing, or slowly, if they do. If the DO know what they’re doing, you will go through a stage where the beer matures to a beautiful unsurpassable peak, before declining into undrinkability. If they don’t know what they’re doing, you will never reach that peak, and you will decline rapidly into undrinkability.

  25. “all those idiots who keep chuntering on about how… IPA has to be “strong and strongly hopped”, so it would survive the long journey to the Indian sub continent, over 200 years ago. You don’t have a clue what you are talking about.”

    Which is embarrassing for Greene King then, as they repeat the myth on their website dedicated to the beer: http://www.greenekingipa.co.uk/our-story

    “IPA was brewed with an unusually high volume of hops so they could preserve the ale during the long voyage to India.”

  26. There’s no getting away from the fact that it tastes like dishwater. You have openly said that you have designed it for the student market. That is fine, but in your own pubs please put a decent cask on, you know, for the non-newbies who would like their beer to taste like it always has – to them, becuase comparing the IPA to that of our lifetimes is what we are going to do, not take your word for it that 200 years ago things were diffrent and so we should not drink dishwater because 20 year olds are being conditioned to like it..

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