A Suffolk woman who really knows her ale

Meet Maureen Swindles, tour guide at the Greene King brewery, Bury St Edmunds, where her job also involves tutoring visitors in the complex art of tasting beer

Brewery's guiding light


How long have you been a Greene King employee and do you live locally? I have worked at Greene King as a brewery guide for 26 years. I live about 10 minutes from the brewery. 

We assume you like beer!Truthfully, when I first started work at Greene King I didn’t like it, but of course I soon came to love it, which is fortunate given that my job involves tutoring people on brewery tours how to taste beer! My favourite is Abbot Ale (also our head brewer’s best loved beer), closely followed by our wonderful new bottled beer Old Crafty Hen which contains a blend of Old 5X (a strong ale matured in oak barrels for up to two years) and Old Speckled Hen.

We hear you have been taking people on brewery tours for 25 years. It must be a job you love. Is it meeting the people, or the product that you enjoy, or perhaps a combination of both?Definitely a combination of both. I am very lucky to love my job and to really enjoy coming to work. No-one comes on a tour if they aren’t interested in beer, its history, its production or its taste, which means they are willing students – and I get real satisfaction from educating and inspiring them. It’s great to watch their reactions to the beer tasting after they’ve been round the brewery, learned about the natural ingredients, seen how it’s made and been told about the art of tasting.

What does the tour involve? Do you do other jobs with GK?There’s a tour of the brew house, including the roof, where you get a magnificent view of Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding countryside, and the fermenting areas. We cover the history of Greene King as well as ingredients of beer and the brewing process. Everyone goes away understanding that cask-conditioned or ‘real’ ale is a fresh, natural product; that we use the finest local ingredients; and that our brewers are obsessed with quality! Then there’s the tutored tasting in the Brewery Tap, which is of course highly sociable as well as informative.I also worked in customer sales for 12 years, taking the orders from pubs and letting them know about the various promotions and opportunities. 

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Have you had any strange/funny questions or incidents while taking a tour around the brewery?There was one tour that sticks out for me. It was a leaving do for someone from a nearby RAF base, and all the guys dressed up in Elvis costumes, except one of them, who didn’t get the message, and turned up as Wonder Woman! I didn’t know where to look! 

How many pints have you pulled during the course of your work?That’s a tough one to answer. Thousands and thousands – maybe as many as 250,000! 

Tell us something about Greene King our readers might not know.For centuries we have been recycling the ‘spent’ barley we use in the brewing process by sending it to farmers for animal feed – no wonder the animals in Suffolk look so happy!We do themed evenings where we match the food to the beer; they are really popular and very good value! A meal out that educates as well as satisfies your taste buds!

Where are your favourite parts of the county and why?I love Southwold and Aldeburgh, and I enjoy sailing around the River Orwell and  Stour with my husband, in the boat he bought when he retired.  

Favourite book, film and song?Book: Memoirs of a Geisha.Film: Billy Elliott.Song: Have I told you lately that I love you? by Van Morrison. 

Best piece of advice you have been given?“Sleep on it.”

Tours run every day, including weekends, sometimes twice or three times a day. Call the Visitor Centre to book on 01284 714297.

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