Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, UK is a mediaeval market town which was once a centre of wool manufacturing. Not much is known about Saint Edmund, except that he was probably killed in battle and ‘martyred.’ In his lifetime he had been King of East Anglia. His remains were taken to the monastery at Bury St Edmunds for safe-keeping and this became a centre for pilgrimage by the 12th century. Today it is a busy market town, and one of its attractions (especially for Real Ale aficionados) is the Greene King brewery which is less than a five minutes’ walk from the town centre.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the name Greene King is linked to the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (or the Greene Man of the forest) but that is, perhaps sadly, not the case. The names Greene and King are the family names of the founders of this modern brewery.
There has been a tradition of brewing in Bury St Edmunds since the 11th century, as the local monks, naturally, brewed their own ale. However on the 1st of June, 1887, the St Edmund’s brewery, then owned by Frederick King, merged with the neighbouring brewery, the Westgate brewery, owned by Edward Greene. This made the brewery of Greene King one of the biggest country breweries in England.
Today the Brew House visitors see is the Art Deco one that was built in 1938. There is also a brewery tap, where you can sample the real ales produced by the brewery, which include Old Speckled Hen, (great name and a strong ale), Greene King IPAs and Abbot Ale. The owners are proud that they use only natural ingredients: water from the chalk wells which lie deep below Bury St. Edmunds and the best hops from Kent and Worcestershire, barley from the surrounding farms and yeast which derives from strains begun by the founders of the modern brewery in 1799.
There is a museum on the brewery site which charts the history of brewing and the Greene King brewery in particular, a shop where you can purchase souvenirs and beer of course, and you can also go on a guided tour of the brewery.
The brewery is open for visitors at the following times: Monday to Friday 10:30 until 16:30 and Saturday 10:15 until 16:30. There are guided tours but it is best to book in advance to avoid disappointment. No children under the age of 12 are allowed on the tour, and children over the age of 12 but under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. There is no disabled access in the brewery and it is recommended that anyone who wishes to go on the tour wears flat shoes. (That makes a lot of sense!) You have a magnificent view of Bury St Edmunds from the roof of the brewery, if the weather conditions are good, of course.
If you are in the area, why not visit the Greene King brewery and sample some of the finest real ales in the UK? Don’t drive after the tour though – there are plenty of places to stay in the town and the surrounding area!