Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Olde and Strong: Green King Strong (Olde) Suffolk

There is a lot to be said about brewing nations and their beer traditions. There are some truly amazing beers out there, some with methods of brewing and a history that many consumers have no idea about. England is a nation of beer drinkers, the Greene King Brewery of Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk, England brews one of the most amazing beers on the plant.

Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale isn’t really one beer, it is a blend of two different beers. This beer is marketed for the U.S. market as Olde Suffolk English Ale. The brewery starts with brewing a beer called Old 5X which is a strong ale weighing in at a mighty 12% abv. They then take the Old 5X, and let it mature for 2-5 years in 100 barrel oak vats at the brewery. This oak aged Old 5X is then blended with a dark, fresh, full bodied beer called BPA just before bottling. The result of the blend of Old 5X and BPA is a dark, fruity, oaky, complex, and delicious beer coming in at 6% abv. That beer is Suffolk Strong Vintage Ale.

One of the most amazing beer experiences of my life happened when I had the honor of sampling cask conditioned, pure, unblended Old 5X, at a beer tasting held at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC. The tasting was conducted by none other than the Beerhunter himself, Michael Jackson. It was the first time Old 5X had ever left the brewery, the unblended 12% oak aged strong ale is not sold to the public, and there are no plans to ever sell it. This beer was amazingly complex, oaky, strong, and warming. I was in awe of this beer. It was one for the ages, but I take comfort in the fact that I can somewhat recapture that experience with a bottle of Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale. This is truly an amazing beer, and is as world class as a beer will ever get.

Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale pours to a beautiful, bright, deep garnet color with a slight tan head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose is amazingly complex and inviting. Deep aromas of oak, sweet malt, toffee, dark malt, estery fruit, and yeast flood the nose. The palate is full with big pale, sweet, and caramel malt flavors. This marries with estery fruity flavors of plum and apple, along with strong notes of oak. Strong Suffolk finishes with more big malty and fruity flavors up front, and ends with a very pleasing, sour/oaky, slightly warming, yet refreshing edge. This is without question one of the most impressive beers that I have ever had the pleasure of drinking in all my years as a beer lover. I would not dare match this with food, this is a beer that is meant to be drank and appreciated by itself in my opinion.

It can be found in the U.S. market in pint bottles retailing for about $4-$5 a bottle. That is a bargain for such a world class beer. The only thing I don't like is Greene King has decided to market this beer is clear glass bottles, where in the past it was marketed in brown glass. Clear glass will allow a beer to be exposed to light, which can make the beer smell skunky in some cases. Beer will be come stale over time and clear glass offers no protection. That being said, if you see this beer, you should snap up as many bottles as you can. It is an amazing beer, and truly world class. For more information visit Greene King's website at:

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