6th December: Greene King, 5X. 12% ABV.
From: Suffolk, England. Type: Old Ale, cask. Source: Great British Beer Festival, London
If a grenade had been let off at the Greene King stand just after 2 pm on the first day of this year’s Great British Beer Festival, about half of beer writers of Britain would have been wiped out. What had sparked their interest and attracted them to Greene King? A seldom-seen cask release of the fabled Old 5X. It attracted me too.
“Seldom-seen? Oh great! another entry in the Advent Calendar we readers haven’t a hope of finding. Thanks!” I can almost hear it as I write. Well, you might have tasted it already, without knowing, as it is a component of Strong Suffolk Ale: a blend of 5X and another, weaker, fresher ale called BPA or Best Pale Ale. And yes, you rarely find 5X, or “Old 5X” as it is sometimes known, in its native form. Which is a pity.
Old 5X is one of the last-remaining of its style a strong ale, aged for between one and five years in giant oak tuns. As has been the custom, such aged ales were made for blending, and tasting this, you can understand why. It’s musty, really oddly-perfumed, and has a lactic sourness. It is also rich and treacly like an olorosso sherry. Some of the writers I asked loved it and others hated it.
I thought it was great, although as someone pointed out, it could do with a bit of life breathing into it from a spot of carbonation. Trouble is, there are only so many tuns of the stuff, and almost all of it goes into other Greene King beers. It felt like a privilege to be able to drink it.
Barrel-ageing is quite the thing, these days, with the hip, new breweries. The Kernel and others reviving old recipes and methods thought long dead. Perhaps why Greene King let this one out on its own their way of keeping an interest going. Whatever the reason, Old 5X deserves to shine its light again.