A Little Off Base Visit the King
January 28, 2009
BURY ST. EDMUNDS — A tour of the Greene King brewery is like a scene from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
Dense swirls of white smoke whip off the top of the old brick beer plant, smack dab in the middle of this industrial town. Massive copper vats, an impressive system of gurgling pipes, and bags and bags of ingredients complete the look, minus the oompa loompas.
And just like in the tale of the candy maker, the Greene King tour includes tastes galore — from malted hops to the finished product.
Offered throughout the week, Greene King brewery tours last about two hours and are well worth the charge of 8 pounds, even if you’re not a beer lover. Part science and part history, the expedition through the factory is in-depth but far from boring, thanks to folks such as Ann Day, an affable and knowledgeable guide who led a recent afternoon tour.
After Scottish & Newcastle was bought out by Carlsberg and Heineken last year, Greene King became Britian’s largest independent brewer. It has been expanding since 2000, Day said, buying up and closing smaller breweries around the country. Those beers then fall under the Greene King umbrella and are produced at the site.
Greene King produces between 3 million and 4 million pints of beer every week. Its 26 beers are exported to 47 countries around the world. Along with its tried-and-true brews such as IPA and Old Speckled Hen, Greene King also produces seasonal specials. The latest is Abstinence, a low-alcohol ale touted as the perfect beer for the post-holiday haze.
The company dates to 1799 when entrepreneur Ben Greene opened the brewery, which took its current form in 1938. But it was his son, Edward King, who really grew the business in the mid-1800s, embracing the technology of the time to improve production methods and refine flavors, Day said.
"He’s the one we’ve got to thank for the brewery we have today," she said.
One of the highlights of the tour is hitting the roof, where the tower production process starts. (Tower production basically means that the brewing starts out on the factory’s top floors and makes it way down during the process.) Weather permitting, the rooftop stop produces amazing views of the city and its sights.
The tour culminates with a tasting in a small publike room, where Greene King also hosts bi-monthly beer and food events. Sample any and everything you fancy, and then hit the gift shop on the way out and take home a bottle or two of your favorites.
Whether you’re an ale aficionado or not, the Greene King brewery tour is an interesting afternoon out.
Location: Westgate Street, Bury St. Edmunds, IP33 1QT
Hours: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Check Web site for more details and special tours.
Price: 8 pounds
Phone: 01284 714297