Meet the Maker: Ross O’Hara, Head Brewer, Greene King


Q: Where do you work?

A: Greene King Brewery, Bury St Edmunds. It’s a beautiful art deco brew house built in 1938, on the same site we’ve been brewing from for over 220 years.

Q: Which brands do you produce?

A: Greene King IPA, Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Yardbird, Ice Breaker to name just a few. Our sister brewery Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar also brews Scotland’s best-selling ale, Belhaven Best.

Q: How long have you worked there?

A: I joined the business three and a half years ago as a brewing shift manager before becoming new product development brewer for Greene King. One of the first projects I worked on as NPD brewer was a low-alcohol version of one of our best-selling beers, Old Speckled Hen. We’ve been brewing Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol for a little over six months now.

Q: Describe the production process.

A: At Greene King the malted barley is sourced locally from East Anglia whilst the water is sourced from our ancient aquifers sited below the brewery. We have a traditional brewing set up with four roller mills and infusion mash tuns. Firstly we break open the malted barley in the mills and add the hot water to the milled malt in the mash tun. The water is around 65°C and this temperature activates the enzymes within the malt. The enzymes break down the starch from the malt into fermentable sugars. A sugary liquid called wort is produced from the mash tun. At this stage it is very sweet without any bitterness or alcohol. The wort is then boiled and the hops are added. Hops bring bitterness, flavour and aroma. After it has been boiled, the wort is rapidly cooled down to 18°C and yeast is added. Yeast is a living organism which metabolises the sugars produced in the mash tun and ferments them into alcohol, CO2 and flavour compounds. Fermentation takes five to seven days and once complete the beer is cooled to 7°C. The yeast naturally drops to the bottom of the vessel and is removed. The beer is then ready to be finished, either by racking into casks, or by being filtered and packaged into bottle, can or keg.


Q: What’s a typical working day like?

A: The day starts with a review of the previous 24 hours before setting the agenda for the day ahead. We then move to the daily 9am tasting, where a trained panel taste all of the beer packaged the day before. From that point on every day is a different day with a continually-evolving set of challenges coming my way.

Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your product.

A: Refreshing low-alcohol beer brewed to faithfully deliver flavour characteristics reminiscent of the 5.0% ABV Old Speckled Hen but with only 0.5% ABV and 54% fewer calories. Like the original, Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol is brewed with Pale and Crystal malts alongside Challenger, First Gold and Goldings hops allowing the unique toffee malt character and smooth distinctive flavour for which it is known to shine through.

Q: What would you say sets your product apart?

A: Unlike other low-alcohol beers, it boasts distinctive malty and toffee characters.

Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your product?

A: It originates from the UK’s number one premium ale Old Speckled Hen.

Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?

A: Seeing people enjoying beer that our brewing team has worked hard to make.

Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your products?

A: In the pub with some great friends!

Q: What’s your career highlight so far?

A: Becoming the world’s youngest Master Brewer in 2018, aged 28.

Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?

A: The people who help train and give opportunities to young members of the industry are what makes the industry tick. It’s easy to be interested in your own development, but to open doors and pass on knowledge is both vital and admirable.

Q: How do you relax outside of work?

A: Travelling and exploring. Whether it’s around the UK or around the world, I love to explore new places and cultures.

Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?

A: Being from Newcastle and a massive Newcastle United fan, it would have to be Sir Bobby Robson. We’d meet in the centre circle at St. James’ Park and drink a pint of Abbot Ale. Time well spent with a true hero, legend and all-round gentleman!