Old Speckled Hen
Old Speckled Hen is an English ale from the Morland Brewery, now owned by Greene King Brewery. Old Speckled Hen was first brewed in 1979 in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the MG car factory there. Since 2000, when Greene King bought Morland and closed down the Abingdon brewery, it has been made in Greene King's Bury St Edmunds brewery. It is available in more than twenty different countries in bottles, cans and on tap from cask and keg. The brand has been expanded to include Old Crafty Hen, a 6.5% abv ale, and Old Golden Hen, a golden coloured 4.1% beer.
Old Speckled Hen took its name from an MG car which was used as a runaround for workers in the MG factory. Over years of service, the car became covered in flecks of paint, gaining it acclaim in the town and earned it the nickname "Owld Speckled 'Un", translated into Old Speckled Hen for the brown ale first brewed by Morland in 1979 when the brewery was asked by MG to create a commemorative beer for the factory's 50th anniversary.
An alternate history of this car is that it was ordered from the factory in 1929 with that "flecked" paint scheme (gold flecks over black on the "canvas" portion of the body) by a lady who lived in Abingdon-on-Thames, and was well-known to residents and patrons of the pub there. It was probably a model 14/18, and there are photos of it with a fashionably dressed woman in the driver's seat. And only the canvas-covered bodywork has the flecked paint. The roof, glass, fenders, wheel spokes, grill, etc. appear to have no flecks or overspray.
Daniel O'Leary, a cooper and former brewer, developed the recipe for the beer. Ian Williams was a personnel officer at the MG factory in Abingdon in 1979 and it was he who thought of using the name for the new ale.
After the MG factory moved in 1980, production declined and Old Speckled Hen was almost exclusively available in pubs operated by Morland due to financial constraints and a different direction being taken by the brewery- believing its future lay in the production of lager. Within a few years, Morland began to re-explore ale production, reviving Old Speckled Hen and launching the draught version in 1990 with considerable success, with Old Speckled Hen proving to be a beer that Morland could market outside their own estate.
In January 1993, Old Speckled Hen was featured as Michael Jackson's "Beer of the Month" in his regular column for The Independent. The relaunch was thought to be behind an 8.9% interim profits rise for Morland in June 1997.
Greene King announced in December 2003 that, in the light of what it called "foaming" sales of Old Speckled Hen in particular, it was expanding its brewing capacity, having previously been operating at 96% capacity.
Fiona Hope, marketing director for Greene King speculated in April 2009 that Old Speckled Hen could follow GK's IPA and be made available in the so-called "dual pour font" whereby the tap version is available in two different styles, though this is, as yet, unconfirmed.
Old Speckled Hen is available in bottles, cans, casks, and kegs. The alcohol by volume of both the canned and bottled versions is 5%, making it a relatively strong, premium ale, however, the cask version was reduced to 4.5% abv in 2006 to make it more of a "sessionable beer", resulting in a 60% increase in availability. Upon acquiring Morland, Greene King almost immediately decided to place emphasis on multi packs, rather than the sale of individual bottles and cans.
Marketing and rebranding
Old Speckled Hen was, in 2008 and 2009, rebranded to appeal to a younger audience. As part of this, Greene King, through the Speckled Hen brand, has embarked on a marketing campaign involving sponsorship of the Northamptonshire and Derbyshire County Cricket Clubs and, most notably, the digital television channel Dave. The ten second adverts, which feature a "crafty fox" seeking out an "elusive hen" and feature the catchphrase "It's different, But it's not a hen.", are shown eight times per hour after 9PM on weekdays. Greene King's marketing director said of the deal, "The fit between Dave and Old Speckled Hen is absolutely spot on. Both offer something a little different, witty, and quintessentially British". The Old Speckled Hen livery also appears on fifteen black cabs in the Central London area.
Old Speckled Hen's advertising was originated by (now defunct) Saatchi Group agency, RPG in 1987. Terry Symonds, head of RPG Design, designed the new label which was based on the MG Octagon to show the link between MG and Morland. After having researched the brand, he discovered that landlords were often asked about the name, so he suggested carrying a label on the reverse of the bottle, that would tell the story. Terry and his team were responsible for rebranding bitter as 1711 (the year of Morland's foundation) and best bitter as 'Old Masters' (a nod to George Morland - a renowned artist and painter). RPG Design also created a new identity to be carried through pub fascias, vehicle livery etc.
Another advertising campaign was part of a drive to appeal to younger drinkers which has also included the weakening of the draught version and the introduction of the advertising slogan "a not so traditional English ale" which featured on an oil painting reproduced in broadsheet newspapers and at 250 London Underground stations. Additionally, the campaign as revamped the brand's website, again aimed at a younger audience. The campaign was masterminded by Fallon Worldwide, although the contract was later taken up by the Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy agency, who devised the television campaign, which cost £3.5 million.
According to Rob Flanagan, brand controller for Old Speckled Hen, the aim of the campaign was to attract up to 3 million new drinkers to the brand, while appearing to retain its "niche" status amongst established customers.
The relaunch was successful, with Greene King reporting "major success".
The Hen has been exported to over 40 countries, including Singapore, where 200 pints a day are sold in a single pub, the USA, where it is available in 32 of the 50 states and reportedly popular in New York City, and Canada. Old Speckled Hen is also available in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, India, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and Russia.
Old Crafty Hen
Old Crafty Hen is a 6.5%abv 'super premium' version of Old Speckled Hen. Released in September 2008, it is marketed as combining the tastes of Speckled Hen and a former Greene King brand, 'Old 5X'. Neil Jardine, of Greene King claims that Crafty Hen is "a genuinely exceptional beer". Crafty Hen is significantly stronger than Speckled Hen, having been matured for several years, giving it a less pronounced flavour that varies from one batch to the next. Old Crafty was listed as number three in The Independent's Top Ten Best Winter Ales.
Old Golden Hen
Old Golden Hen was launched in August 2011, it is a light golden ale. Crafted by the master brewer of "Old Speckled hen", this light golden beer is brewed using pale malts and Tasmanian Galaxy hops giving a light golden colour. A year after being launched in 2011, Old Golden Hen won a Gold Quality Award at the 2012 Monde Selection’s World Quality Selections The brand became the third member of the Old Speckled Hen family to win a Monde Selection Quality Award.
Old Hoppy Hen
Old Hoppy Hen was launched in April 2014, and is a hoppy pale ale, inspired by the US craft beer scene. It is made with pale and crystal malts, as well as rye malt, and Chinook hops.
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- GOLD FOR GOLDEN MEANS QUALITY IS ASSURED ACROSS “OLD SPECKLED HEN” RANGE, greeneking.co.uk, 24 May 2012
- US craft beer-inspired Old Hoppy Hen pale ale joins Greene King coop, The Grocer, 14 April 2014