Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Unholy Alliance?

I like Ossett Brewery. I've always liked them, from their early days operating in little more than an out-house at the back of the Brewers Pride producing some experimental ground-breaking beers, to their recent emergence as pub owners. I like them for the important role they've played in the local real ale revolution and for reintroducing comfortable, stylish yet traditional environments in which to enjoy beer. I like the people they employ, their managers, their admin and not forgetting their knowledgeable and entertaining bar staff. I also like the way they've unswirvingly established the Ossett 'brand' by developing a very distinctive style of ale, and not least, I like them for the enormity of their balls in realising (just before everyone else) that their name is a perfect anagram of 'Worst Beers Yet' - but going ahead with it regardless. Yes - I like them a lot!

However there's something disturbing afoot. A cursory glance along the bar at any of the brewery's ten pubs will reveal a quiet infiltration taking place - and unnervingly, it's from those not so jolly giants, Greene King. I have no idea what the deal is between the breweries and doubtless there'll be a very simple and probably innocuous explanation as to why GK have arrived on the scene at this juncture. And I'm sure(ish) that if it's beneficial to Ossett then it should benefit us patrons too - but, like anyone who's followed or read about Greene King's aggressive growth strategy over the years, I can't help feeling ever so slightly apprehensive.

Then of course there's that beer. I've spent a fair amount of time in Suffolk & Norfolk and gotten used to the peculiar smell and taste that permeates everything from the illogically named IPA, via the once fabulous H&H Olde Trip and Morland Speckled Hen (amongst countless others), to the over-rated flagship Abbot Ale. I've even managed to enjoy some of it when needs must. But then it feels and tastes right down there. It just doesn't up here. It could well be a sparkler issue, it might possibly be to do with the water or even the air pressure due to altitude above sea-level (it can make a difference you know!) but Greene King beer I'm afraid is something northern drinkers struggle with. Personally I already begrudge it depriving local micros of valuable space on the bar and consequently, regardless of my affection for Ossett, will not be drinking the stuff in their pubs. It seems to me we've managed perfectly well without GK in this neck of the woods for long enough so please Ossett, for heaven's sake, don't go doing anything rash - 'cos I'm not sure I could ever forgive you!

On a more up-beat note Ossett Excelsior (5.2%) won top spot at SIBA's northern region final last month and now goes forward to the national competition on Valentine's Day, where five years ago it ran out overall supreme champion. Read the brewery's roll of honour here.


Paul Garrard said...

I understand your concern regarding the mighty GK. I also agree with you about Abbot Ale, it was once a really good beer but now a pale shaddow of its former self. A ubiquitous real ale is not what is needed in this country, it's variety that is and particularly regional variety. I would feel equally disgruntled if a Yorkshire bitter made inroads into East Anglia, as in the main I can't stand most Yorkshire beer. I hope GK IPA disappears from your locale soon. We don't want every pub in the land to be the same.

a swift one... said...

I hope I didn't sound too disparaging about GKs beers, I have had some enjoyable sessions on them when visiting family in Norfolk & rate the Ale Fresco for example up there with the best. But as you point out it's this standardisation we must beware of. Tastes do vary from region to region and we must do our best to support our own.

Paul Garrard said...

"I hope I didn't sound too disparaging about GKs beers"

No you made some fair points, difference needs to be celebrated. We certainly don't need standardisation - next step would be the return of Watneys Red Barrel!

Andy Holmes said...

The GK dilema again. Since I also live in East Anglia I resent the constant search for pubs selling beers other than GK, it's similar to the common German problem of regional beer where although the beer changes region by region it's hard to find variety locally. The choice is certainly limited! As the old Nationals go International GK seem to see themselves as a new National Brewer, help!