Somebody bought Sam a couple of vouchers for a tour of the Greene King Brewery at Bury St. Edmunds, and last Saturday we decided to use them, as Sam has rather a penchant for IPA beer.
We learned that the brewery was founded by Benjamin Greene in 1799. It was taken over by his son Edward in 1836 and merged with Frederick William King’s brewery in 1887. Greene had a huge house built which stands next to the Theatre Royal to house his second wife and their 13 children (although 8 died in infancy). He made sure his employees were happy by having a community hall built next to his house which on weekends allowed them to socialise and also gave them free beer (not applicable now, as Greene King owns too many breweries)!
The tour guide was very informative. The brewery is built on 3 floors, which are all connected via pipes. First of all, water from 1000 year old chalk wells under the brewery is pumped to storage tanks on the top floor and heated up. There’s a great view of Bury St. Edmunds from the roof of the brewery by the way, although the hot steam up there is a bit overpowering if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction:
Then the water is mixed with crushed malted barley to form a porridge-like substance and pumped to huge copper mashing tuns on the floor below, which run at about 65 degrees and have been in use since 1935.
The ‘sweet wort’ that is produced is then pumped to another vessel where hops are added (see below). Every three cycles the mashing tuns are cleaned from the inside – yes, somebody has to get in there and clean them!
The whole mixture is then boiled for about an hour and then left to cool. It’s then pumped underground to a fermentation tank across the main road where it’s mixed with oxygen and yeast and left to ferment for around 5 days (the fermentation vessel holds a quarter of a million pints!) before being pumped to the bottling plant. Overall the site covers about 40 acres.
After the tour ended there was a beer tasting experience – rather unpleasant for me and the other 3 ladies there, as none of us girls liked the taste of ‘bitter’. Each lady (including me) poured her little cup of beer straight into her partner’s cup, which then seemed to empty at an alarming rate. After this we were all given a token to exchange for a free bottle of beer in the ‘Beer Cafe’ adjoining the brewery. Sam ended up with 2 tokens, but I didn’t care if he had 2 and I had none…
The tour is well worth your time if you’re ever in Bury St. Edmunds.