Not only is it tasked with making beer, its members have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies such as being involved with the entire brewing operation, refining tastes and ingredient quantities, and being expert in quality control.
Here, head brewer Jack Palmer and apprentice brewer Lianne Bakdur talk to The Morning Advertiser about their roles at the Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk-based brewery.
Palmer studied for a master’s degree in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and worked at Heineken for about eight years before moving onto Buxton Brewery in the Peak District where he “made loads of nice beers”.
From there, he went to Molson Coors for about two and a half years with a role that bridged technical brewer and process manager then to Guinness for a year and worked in research and development.
“One of the good things about brewing is seeing lots of different breweries,” Palmer says. “Everyone does things slightly differently and you can learn a lot from that. Things aren’t always as they are in the textbooks so seeing different places really aids your development and that helps in what you can bring to your next role.”
Lianne adds: “I have always been in the hospitality sector. I started working in pubs then moved on to hotels. My first full-time job was in the Greene King head office in finance.
“About seven months ago, I decided to switch over and become an apprentice brewer because ‘why not?’ and it’s really fun.”
The programme will last 18 months for Bakdur, who goes to Nottingham University to learn in workshops that relate to different part of the brewing process and, of course, she has the advantage of physically working in Greene King’s brewery.
Palmer explains the brewers look after everything brewhouse related from malt coming in the door to sending beer to packaging, and also health and safety, quality, personnel, making sure everything’s all right and all specifications are met. The operation runs 24/7 and has eight people per shift.
The move towards beers made, initially, by craft brewers is something Greene King is specifically targeting. So how does Palmer see the ‘new kids on the block’?
“In a very positive light,” he begins. “So obviously, craft beer has been really positive. It’s got a lot of people that probably weren’t into beer into beer. It’s part of the market we’re very excited about and we’re looking to play in with everything we’ve done.”
Greene King’s relatively recent launches of Flint Eye Dry Hopped Lager (4.5% ABV) and Level head Session IPA (4% ABV) demonstrate the craft sector is one they are keeping up with.
“We probably don’t borrow any ideas [from craft brewers] but the craft market is so exciting, isn’t it? There’s always a new craft brewery popping up somewhere. It’s always quite interesting to go out and do a bit of research to find out what’s going on, what’s tasting good and there’s so many different styles.”
Bakdur interjects: “Coming from a bigger brewery and going into a little brewery is quite nice because you can see the whole process all in one go – and quite often it’s the same person that’s doing all the work from start to finish.”
Tis the season
Greene King’s seasonal cask calendar is a list of beer that are released on a monthly basis throughout the year.
Naturally, Palmer and Bakdur are very closely involved with the products. Palmer explains: “It’s been running a long time but this year it’s really stepped up in terms of the branding and the stories behind it.
“There was a lot of effort put into it last year on developing recipes, developing the brands and names, and we did we did quite a few trials.
“We have a smaller version of the big brewery and it works really well with doing anything seasonal, so you can try out small amounts before we scale up.
“We have some returning specials from last year such as Spring Break and Rockin’ Rudolph at Christmas. There’s one in October or November, which is a collaboration with brewers in Nottingham.”
Some seasonals do better than others. Many pubs take some but one that did really well was Coronation Ale that celebrated King Charles III’s crowning ceremony.
The marketing team help with PoS such as tasting notes, stories on the beers and push more information so pubs can make the most with the seasonals.
The bottom line is Greene King’s cask beers need to engage with a wider audience and therefore making them more appealing is key.
For Palmer, his favourite Greene King cask beer is Abbott Ale and Coronation Ale was his seasonal pick.
Badkur is split between Abbott Ale and Old Speckled Hen “because it’s got that rich estuary aroma and it’s still quite a light and refreshing beer despite looking heavy” as a core option but is a little most certain about here seasonal pick, which is New Tricks, which isn’t available yet – so it’s almost certainly a good idea to keep an eye out for the upcoming seasonals…