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Classic Beer of the Month April 2018: Greene King Abbot Ale

Greene King Abbot Ale, 5%

The reputation of Greene King has taken a knock in recent times.

Greene King Abbot AleWhen I first began to seek out cask ales in the late 1970s and early ’80s, it was a pleasure to travel to East Anglia and discover beers from this regional brewery.

In later years, I appreciated them as guest beers on bars of pubs outside their Suffolk homeland but all that changed when the company embarked on a take-over spree and pubs across large areas of the country were inundated with somewhat lacklustre Greene King beers.

As a result, it’s easy to think that the company has little to offer the beer connoisseur but that would be wrong. Many of the beers it produces are, indeed, not so inspiring but the company still knows how to turn out a beer with character.

I’ve been a huge fan of its aged and blended Strong Suffolk, for instance, and I still have a soft spot for the Hen’s Tooth bottle-conditioned beer inherited from Morland. And among the regular cask offerings, Abbot Ale stands out.

In saying this, I do not damn with faint praise. I really do think that Abbot, when in pristine condition, is a fine example of a premium cask ale.

Ecclesiastical History

Abbot – its name reflecting the ecclesiastical history of its birthplace, Bury St Edmunds – was created in 1951, just as a bottled beer.

It wasn’t launched as a cask beer for another eighteen years and, if you flick through the pages of 1970s Good Beer Guides, it’s one of the relatively few branded ales on sale in the country, most other breweries still sticking doggedly to the tradition of just naming their beers Mild, Bitter or Best Bitter.

Pale and amber malts make up the grist, generating malty sweetness and a touch of caramel. The hops – Challenger, Pilgrim and First Gold for bitterness and, more unusually, Fuggle added late for aroma – counter that sweetness and also add a delicate fruit note that enhances the fruitiness generated by the Greene King yeast during fermentation.

The brewers are fully aware of the esters the yeast can produce as it works away creating alcohol and they deliberately lower the fermentation temperature to slow down the action and keep the exotic fruit and floral notes in check.

But, despite their efforts, Abbot Ale is a notably fruity beer, brimful of orchard fruits and hints of pear drop.

A stronger bottled version known as Abbot Reserve has been added to the range in recent years but it’s the freshness of the cask beer that really makes the sweet, estery flavours sing out.

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