Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: Greene King Old Crafty Hen
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Greene King Old Crafty Hen
This might come as a surprise to you, but I don't actually get sent that much beer to review (or otherwise). When 3 bottles of Old Crafty Hen turned up, last week, I mistook the handwriting for my mother's. "Odd", I thought, "I don't remember leaving any beer at my parents' place". Actually now I think of it, I have misplaced a bottle of red wine from the last visit. Is it still in the boot of the car? Even worse, I've remembered that the wine was from my Spanish relatives, who I still haven't thanked for the lovely wine glasses they bought us. I'm a hopeless nephew; I must remedy that situation.
Anyway, back to the beer. Old Crafty Hen is a blend of Greene King's Old Speckled Hen, and Old 5X, the robust, oak-matured, bacterially-soured and complex backbone of their Strong Suffolk Ale. Strong Suffolk Ale is a mix of Old 5X and BPA (Best Pale Ale). We know that Strong Suffolk is 6%abv, Old 5X is 12%abv, and BPA is 5%abv, so you can see that it doesn't take much Old 5X to lend a certain character to a beer - about 10-15% in this case.
I remember when Old Speckled Hen was brewed by Morlands Brewery. It was a lovely, sappy, malty pint, with a light dab of butterscotch, not too dissimilar to its current incarnation. The addition of the 5X to it brings it a new depth, a definite rounded oak character, and in the background, just a suggestion of that slightly sour complexity that lifts this beer out of the ordinary. I think that it's an enjoyable, complex beer that adds something to the marketplace. In a sea of "me too" brands, it's distinctive and different. If it was coincidence that it is released just as we reach autumn, it's a happy coincidence, as it's just the sort of unusual, rounded autumn ale that the market needs.
Some people might snipe about it tasting a bit processed, or slightly sweet. If I have a criticism, it would be that the serving temperature is quite important; too cool and you lose the complexity, too warm and the sweet oakiness is a bit much. But this is splitting hairs; as an entrée into speciality beers, especially given its widely accessible market placement, I think this beer is a success.