I was sitting in the garden recently trying to enjoy a beer, in total denial of the ‘no-show’ summer we’ve experienced this year, and I realised something was amiss and it wasn’t the lack of sun. Despite being freshly opened, my beer seemed a tad flat. I know I have high expectations but it really was taking me nowhere. I didn’t finish my glass. What I did do was throw it down the sink. I compared it to a glass of wine, where you get two options – the industrial mass-produced wine (that is only worthy for cooking with in my own humble opinion) and the fine wine where smaller vineyards employ artistry, passion, tenacity and expertise in equal measure. Why can’t you get that with beer? Over the years our country has seen a large number of small breweries turn into a small number of large breweries. In order to compete on the worldwide market beer is now produced on a massive scale in a short space of time. In other words, the art of beer is dying. With this in mind the Brewmaster Alastair Hook founded the Meantime Brewing Company of Greenwich in 2000 in order to reconnect quality and a full-flavour beer with the consumer and also to rediscover the cultural and culinary heritage of beer.
In their own words, “…our sole concern is to put before the consumer the most exciting flavours to be found in beer that we are able to create with the wit and technology at our disposal. We do this out of passion for our craft. This passion is both born out of respect for the traditions of the brewers’ mystery , as well as respect for the potential flavours that that mystery can reveal. We are fascinated by the desire to understand and recreate the flavours of the past; beers of immense social significance, that literally changed the world, but about which we, today, understand very little.”
The taste, depth and character of beer really comes from time, something that Meantime Brewery is very willing to invest in. (Almost ironic since we all equate Greenwich with ‘time’) Their beer is matured for 6-8 weeks and even some, like their London Porter beer, for up to a year. Quite something when you compare to commercial beer that takes a grand total of 3 days to produce.
Bottling its first brew in 2000 from its Penhall Road site, they opened their first pub ‘The Greenwich Union’ on Royal Hill in 2001, and more recently ‘The Old Brewery’ at the magnificent Old Royal Naval College which has won rave reviews for its food. Their success has meant a need to expand and a new brewery is under construction, as we speak, on Blackwall Lane just a mile up from the old one.
In the Old Brewery restaurant you can even observe the whole brewing process while you eat. The traditional copper tanks are set on 3 levels: on the ground floor you have the brewing vessels; the 2nd level is for fermentation; whilst the 3rd is for maturing. Take for example their London Porter beer. It is left to mature for a year then blended with young beer. With smokey notes of liquorice, chocolate, caramel and a balancing fruity tone it is complex and multidimensional yet very clean. In essence it has all the intricacy of a fine wine. Other beers they make include the India Pale Ale, (full of fuggles and goldings hops, giving notes of ginger and Seville orange marmalade) Pilsner, (using perle and hallertauer hops, making it in true German style with the correct levels of bitterness) Helles, (German for ‘light’, made with a light malt with notes of citrus and pine for a clean, crisp finish) and the Raspberry Grand Cru. (with a perfect balance of sweet and sour) Being a girl, my favourite is obviously going to be the Raspberry Grand Cru, but there is something to appreciate in all 16 types of beer that they do: the Helles is a great companion to pork, seafood and light cheese; their Pilsner is great with mature cheese, smoked meats and oily fish; whereas the London Porter lends itself more decadently and would go wonderfully with red meats and even chocolate.
These kinds of beers were widely available for many centuries yet I’ve never heard of half of them. This knowledge is something that we’re greatly missing out on. So, merely for research purposes or for those of you who simply want to sample an ‘amazing’ beer, I urge you to venture east to leafy Greenwich and make yourselves wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Check out Meantime Brewery and where to get their beer.
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