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Old Crafty Hen is a very special version of Old Speckled Hen, one of England’s more famous and classic ales. This version is blended with a 12% ABV Greene King brew known as "Old 5X," a vintage Old Ale that is not sold on its own but instead is blended into the ale you have before you now. The brewery ages Old 5X in three old oak foudres (huge barrels) for 2 to 5 years before skillfully blending it with fresh ale to create Old Crafty Hen.
On the pour (even this super beer geek writer drinks from the bottle on occasion, but this is not one of them; please do pour this one), this Hen presents an attractive amber color with a head that drops plenty of lace. Richly malty on the nose, there’s also a distinct fruity quality that only a fine ale can deliver. There’s a sweet impression along with a distinct raisiny note, prominent caramel and some bread dough. Look for a touch of butter to lend a bit of a toffee character, while hops and oak age add some floral, mildly spicy notes with hints of citrus and wood. Complex as hell on the palate, expect a prominent dark fruit character composed of cherry, raisin, and currants, all surrounded by robust, satisfying caramel malts which deliver some honey notes as well. We found this crafty brew fairly sweet, but there’s a moderate hop bitterness and a hint of tartness (thanks to the aged 5X) to balance, along with just a hint of spicy, drying alcohol. A touch of buttery diacetyl is a hallmark of many English ales, and we get some here, as well as mild oak notes and slight hints of oxidation from the prolonged barrel aging, which provide a sherry-like component. A wood-aged beer from England is very unusual these days, and we’re very pleased Morland/Greene King are keeping the tradition alive. Enjoy this fine brew on its own, or pair with a plate of complex cheeses. Cheers!
Morland Brewing was founded in 1711 by farmer John Morland in West Ilsley, a small town in Berkshire less than a mile from Britain’s famous Ridgeway – the oldest road on the island dating back to Neolithic times. As time went on the business expanded, and after purchasing the Abbey Brewery and Eagle Brewery in nearby Abingdon in the 1860s, Morland moved their entire brewing operation to Abingdon about twenty tears later.
In 1885 the brewing company incorporated and changed their name to United Breweries. It was not long afterwards that brewer and businessman Thomas Skurray joined the business. Under his leadership, a period of growth was launched lasting several decades, including the acquisition of several other breweries and the construction of a new malt house which gave them full on-site control over the germination and roasting of their barley.
Around 1944 the brewery embraced their heritage by returning once again to the Morland name. 1979 saw the creation of one of their most iconic beers, Old Speckled Hen, brewed in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Abingdon’s MG automotive factory. Then in 2000 the brewery was acquired by Greene King, another famous and old British brewery. Founded in 1799 by Benjamin Greene (grandfather of British novelist Graham Green), Greene King Brewery has thankfully maintained the Morland brand, brewing Morland’s lineup of Moreland’s Original, Tanner’s Jack, Old Speckled Hen, and Hen’s Tooth at their brewery in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.
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