“Old Speckled Hen”

Morland of Abingdon was bought over 20 years ago by Greene King of Bury St. Edmunds, itself taken over finally by a Hong Kong-based financial powerhouse. While these old regional brewers have lost their independence, and the Abingdon brewery was closed long ago, the beers continue. This is, at final reckoning, what counts for most consumers.

In 1979 Morland’s issued a new beer, “Old Speckled Hen”. Bill Mellor, a former Morland’s brewer, told the story of beer and brewery in this piece,¬†archived on the website of an Abingdon historical society.

It’s salutary when brewers are interested to write on history. Mellor has the knack for it, fittingly so, as one of the founders of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). CAMRA, founded 1971, is of course the consumer group that did so much to kick-start the small brewery revolution, in part through its influence on the first generation of American craft brewers.

I’ve tasted the beer since the 1980s off and on. I’ve had it on cask, on keg, in cans, in bottles. The pint shown is as good as it ever was.

The canned version, bought at the Beer Store in Ontario, has that metallic note characteristic of English yeast – I recall it so well from the bitters at Great British Beer Festival two years ago, but in just measure, for me. The yeastiness of the cask version (all those years ago) seemed more pronounced, but cask can be like that.

Perhaps the degree of filtration canned beer gets explains the difference. I like it when the yeast is an undertone.

The maltiness is quite pronounced. The non-citric hops gather in the aftertaste, more an accent, in the latter-day British way with bitter. When it’s done well I’m fine with it. In historical terms I think it’s more a mild ale, but it’s an excellent beer, so enough said.

Beer like this reminds me more of good red wine than craft pale ale much as I like that too. British bitter and pale ale today have evolved into a different animal than 19th century pale ale. Craft ales connect more to the latter than the former, IMO. But again, when well made, it’s all beer, it’s all grand.

The sample shown is certainly fresh, canned January 31 of this year, which helps too.

A good, sustaining beer, with subtle fruity and other accents.

It’s quite different to the Greene King line, Abbott and all those, and preferable by my lights.

I’d like to try the current cask and keg versions; but when can I get to Britain next?


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