Old Speckled Hen

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The Old Speckled Hen logo

Old Speckled Hen is a premium bitter 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 on the 30 November 1979. 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.[1] 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, Old Golden Hen, a golden coloured 4.1% beer, and Old Hoppy Hen, a 4.2% ABV pale ale.


An original bottle of Old Speckled Hen

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 by Ian Williams the personnel officer at the Abingdon factory 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.[2][3][4]

An alternative 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, bumpers, wheel spokes, grill, etc. appear to have no flecks or overspray.

Daniel O'Leary (brewer and former cooper), had developed the recipe for a private beer in his garden shed in Abingdon and the recipe was then used when the brewery decided to release a celebration beer for the MG anniversary.[5][6] The beer, an amber coloured Pale Ale, was then brewed at the brewery. It was brewed at a gravity of 1050 to denote the 50th anniversary. 25 barrels, 1200 dozen half-pints bottles, were produced, mostly for the promotional activities at MG, but also for limited distribution to Morland houses in the Abingdon area. What had been produced as a one-off celebration brew, proved so popular that a second batch had to be brewed in time for the main celebrations which were to be held in Abingdon over the weekend of the actual anniversary.[7]

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.[8][9]

In January 1993, Old Speckled Hen was featured as beer reviewer Michael Jackson's "Beer of the Month" in his regular column for The Independent.[10] The relaunch was thought to be behind an 8.9% interim profits rise for Morland in June 1997.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]


Old Speckled Hen is available in bottles, cans, casks, and kegs. The alcohol by volume of both the canned and bottled versions is 5%,[14] making it a relatively strong, premium ale, however, the cask version was reduced from 5.2% to 4.5% ABV in 2006 to make it more of a "sessionable beer", resulting in a 60% increase in availability.[15][16] Upon acquiring Morland, Greene King almost immediately decided to place emphasis on multi packs, rather than the sale of individual bottles and cans.[17]

Marketing and rebranding[edit]

A glass of Old Speckled Hen and bottle in 2020

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[18][19] and Derbyshire County Cricket Clubs[20] and, most notably, the digital television channel Dave.[21][22] 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".[23][24] The Old Speckled Hen livery also appears on fifteen black cabs in the Central London area.[2]

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.[25] Additionally, the campaign as revamped the brand's website, again aimed at a younger audience.[26] The campaign was masterminded by Fallon Worldwide,[27] although the contract was later taken up by the Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy agency, who devised the television campaign, which cost £3.5 million.[28]
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.[29]

The relaunch was successful, with Greene King reporting "major success".[30]


500 ml can of Old Speckled Hen

The Hen has been exported to over 40 countries, including Singapore, where 200 pints a day are sold in a single pub. In the US, it is available in 32 of the 50 states and reportedly popular in New York City. Old Speckled Hen is also available in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, India, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and Russia.[3]

Old Crafty Hen[edit]

A Glass and bottle of Old Crafty Hen, the super premium version of Speckled 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'.[31] 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.[32] Old Crafty was listed as number three in The Independent's Top Ten Best Winter Ales.[33]

Old Golden Hen[edit]

A bottle of 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.[34]

Old Hoppy Hen[edit]

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.[35]

Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol[edit]

Brewed with Pale and Crystal malts alongside Challenger, First Gold and Goldings hops, Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol attempts to evoke the tastes and aromas of the original Old Speckled Hen but with low ABV.[36]


  1. ^ Greene King growth August 2007 Archived 2012-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b "Old Speckled Hens- the MG Beer". mgroadster.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  3. ^ a b "Old Speckled Hen Exports". Greene King Brewery. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  4. ^ The story behind the brew, The MG Car Club, 2015
  5. ^ @JolyonMaugham (19 August 2019). "@fascinatorfun @ActualRobPerry Your Dad invented Old Speckled Hen? How did we not know this?" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  6. ^ @fascinatorfun (2 June 2019). "4/. In fact one of his beers is Old Speckled Hen (But the original made for one of my sisters' engagement was MUCH…" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  7. ^ https://www.mgcc.co.uk/articles/the-story-behind-the-brew/
  8. ^ Stevenson, Tom (1996-11-26). "Old Speckled Hen takes off". London: The independent. Archived from the original on September 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  9. ^ Michael Jackson (1993-01-02). "Long may the Speckled Hen range free". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  10. ^ Jackson, Michael (1993-01-02). "Long may the Speckled Hen range free". Michael Jackon. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  11. ^ Cope, Nigel (1997-06-13). "Speckled Hen sales boost Morland". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  12. ^ Walsh, Dominic (2003-12-10). "Greene King gets set to brew more". The Times. London. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  13. ^ Harrington, John (2009-04-08). "Old Speckled Hen could be next for dual- pour font". London: Morning Advertiser. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  14. ^ "Age Restriction". Old Speckled Hen. Retrieved 2017-12-24.
  15. ^ "Old Speckled Hen launches ads to back new ABV level". London: Marketing Week. 2006-10-12. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  16. ^ "Old Speckled Hen loses its strength in the on-trade". London: Talking Retail. 2006-08-10. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  17. ^ "SPECKLED HEN FLIES IN PACKS OF THREE". London: The Grocer. 2000-11-11. Retrieved 2009-11-04.[dead link]
  18. ^ Forshaw, Luke (2009-04-09). "Old Speckled Hen signs sponsorship deal with Northants Cricket". London: Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  19. ^ "Cricket, casino and pint of real ale". Northampton: Northamptonshire Chronicle. 2009-11-04. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  20. ^ "Old Speckled Hen nets deal with Derbyshire County Cricket Club". Derby: Derbyshire CCC. 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  21. ^ Hook, Sonya (2009-04-27). "TV debut for Old Speckled Hen". London: Morning Advertiser. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  22. ^ Yates, Nick (2009-04-27). "Old Speckled Hen goes for blokes". London: The Publican. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  23. ^ Charles, Gemma (2009-04-28). "Old Speckled Hen in TV debut". London: Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  24. ^ "Greene King 'Old Speckled Hen' to sponsor Dave". just-drinks.com. 2009-04-28. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  25. ^ Protz, Roger (March 2008). "Not so Old Speckled Hen". beer-pages.com. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  26. ^ Donnelly, Alison (2008-06-23). "Old Speckled Hen sports a new website". London: Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  27. ^ "Old Speckled Hen 'the not so traditional' by Fallon". London: campaignlive.co.uk. 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  28. ^ "MCBD picks up £3.5m Old Speckled Hen creative account". London: campaignlive.co.uk. 2009-04-30. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  29. ^ "Old Speckled Hen appeals to young". London: The Grocer. 2008-03-03. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  30. ^ "Ale hailed as the next big thing as sales soar". London: The Grocer. 2007-07-09. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  31. ^ Weekes, Claire (2008-11-23). "Old Speckled Hen brewers unveil super premium ale". London: Harpers Wine and Spirit. Archived from the original on 2009-09-15. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  32. ^ Protz, Roger (September 2008). "The Old Crafty Hen". beer-pages.com. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  33. ^ "The Ten Best Winter Ales". London: The Independent. 2008-11-27. Archived from the original on September 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  34. ^ GOLD FOR GOLDEN MEANS QUALITY IS ASSURED ACROSS “OLD SPECKLED HEN” RANGE Archived 2015-02-06 at the Wayback Machine, greeneking.co.uk, 24 May 2012
  35. ^ US craft beer-inspired Old Hoppy Hen pale ale joins Greene King coop, The Grocer, 14 April 2014
  36. ^ [1], oldspeckledhen.co.uk, 22 June 2020

External links[edit]