Things didn't start out too well between CAMRA and Greene King, as despite the company brewing some distinctive and well-regarded beers, they were very much the “villain of the piece” as far as the Campaign was concerned. Their policy of favouring “top-pressure” dispense in the majority of their tied pubs, was a definite no-no in the CAMRA’s eyes, as despite the beer being cask-conditioned, the use of extraneous carbon-dioxide to deliver it from cask to glass, led to the exclusion of many of their houses from CAMRA guides - both local an national.
This policy was slowly relaxed over the years, and relations between CAMRA and Greene King gradually improved, although it wasn’t too long before the Suffolk company again blotted its copy-book, this time in 1987, with the closure of the brewery of Rayment & Co Ltd.
The latter were a small brewery based in the small Hertfordshire village of Furneux Pelham. (See image opposite). Greene King had acquired the brewery in 1928, along with its estate of 35 public houses, but it continued to brew its distinctive “Pelham Ales” right up until closure.
There was no reason to close it, apart from a small, country brewery not fitting in with the image that Greene King saw for itself, of a modern go-ahead company. Ten years later, the group’s much larger subsidiary brewery, at Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, suffered the same fate.
I mentioned this closure in my first post about Greene King, and I again want to look at my own relationship with the Bury St Edmund’s based company, and note how it has changed over the years.
Fast forward from that article, to the mid 1980’s when I was living in Tonbridge with a new wife, and a new job. I’d become involved with the local CAMRA branch which, in those days, only covered Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Things were ticking along on pretty much an even keel, when the news broke that Greene King had bought a number of pubs in Kent and Surrey from Allied Breweries.
Not long after, the company opened a depot on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, to supply their new acquisitions. As secretary of the local CAMRA branch, I received an invite to the official opening, rubbing shoulders with the mayor and other local dignitaries.
Following the opening of the depot, GK beers started appearing in free trade outlets as well, and were generally welcomed. I certainly had no problems with their beer, and even enjoyed a trip around the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds. The visit was organised by the landlord of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” - the Tonbridge pub I used to drink at. The daft name came about as a result of a previous landlord being called "Tom," but after his successor started stocking Greene King beers, the opportunity to visit the brewery came about.
This spate of acquisitions and closures, led to the firm being nick-named “Greedy King,” but now it is the king that has fallen. However, unlike Asahi who purchased Fullers, earlier in the year, CK Asset Holdings are an investment company, not a brewer. They will undoubtedly seek to recoup some of cash they have paid for Greene King, and the concern is, they will start selling off pubs; especially some of the smaller and more traditional ones.
We are unlikely to see the fallout from this deal for a while, as I think I’m right in saying it has still to be approved by Greene King shareholders. But with the pound at an historic low, thanks to you know what, we almost certainly haven’t seen the last of foreign investors snapping up British companies, at bargain basement prices.