On a recent visit to Greenwich in London I had the opportunity to visit Meantime’s own hotel. A very good little pub it is too. Sitting right next door to a much larger Young’s pub in Royal Hill it’s a very unassuming single-fronted old-style looking traditional English pub from the front – at least to an Australian on their first visit to the UK.
Surprisingly, the weather was amazing and even the small table out the front was packed with punters before lunch time. It’s not often you get a 28C day in London at the start of Spring but when you do people certainly do everything they can to take advantage of it. What better way than to take up residence at the local craft beer pub. Out the back of the pub was a great beer garden too. Once again full with punters on a surprisingly sunny day in London.
Inside the bar it’s all traditional timber panelling and furniture. This is what you want from an English pub as an Australian, it’s everything you expect from a real English pub. Greenwich appears to be a reasonably affluent area but the pub is very down-to-earth. The staff are friendly and pretty knowledgeable about the beer. They didn’t just reel off the standard marketing blurb and could answer a question or two about the beer too. They have a large range of their own beers on tap and cask, but also had a guest cask ale, a couple of guest taps and a cider on tap too.
In bottle there are a bunch of beers from all over the world and even some bottles of Cooper’s Sparkling Ale to help with the home sickness. Due to the vast selection of beers on offer, I didn’t sample the Cooper’s so can’t vouch as to how well it travels. It’s nice to know it’s there for the weary Aussie traveller though.
Most people reading this at home probably aren’t going to make it to the pub in Greenwich but thanks to a great brewery and a local importer we still get to taste the fantastic Meantime beers at home. Meantime has a huge range of beers and goes in directions many microbreweries fear to tread. They make a number of lagers and their ales are really tasty without being over the top hoppy or bitter. Big bitter and hoppy beers are – or can be – good, but it’s nice to see a small brewer going in a different and more subtle direction. Perhaps this is the British way. Whatever the reason, I like it. The lagers are a really nice change for a microbrewery too. It’s not often small breweries can afford the time it takes to produce lagers as it ties up, often scarce, tank space for extended periods of time. It takes a lot of confidence and a real commitment for a small brewer to produce beers that take so much time.
The tasting session started with the lagers and progressed through the stronger flavoured Meantime beers. First up was the very excellent Helles. This beer probably doesn’t hit the style guide exactly for a Helles, but who cares? It’s a great and very drinkable beer. It has a good malt flavour with a touch of fruity citrusy hops hops and a great dry finish. The tasting was done with a non-beer geek and this beer also resonated with them and was a clear favourite. There is something for the real beer geek as well as for the average beer drinker in this beer which is something you don’t find very often but is something it would be good to see more of.
Of a similar style is the London Lager. This is a softer and slightly sweeter beer than the Helles, but still very drinkable. It has enough hops and bitterness to make it drinkable but still retains a soft sweet malt profile. This is the kind of beer you could get any of your mates to drink but give them a little real beer flavour at the same time. If kegs of this beer make it to Australia get your mates to the pub for a pint or two.
Next in the tasting was another lager, but of a darker variety. The Union Lager can be best described as a Vienna-style lager. This is an old style that is not produced by many breweries any more. Surprisingly the centre of Vienna lager production is in Mexico of all places. The story goes that a group of European immigrants brought the style with them and popularised it many years ago. The style has carried on in the region but almost nowhere else in the world, including its original home. Now Meantime are making one in London. This follows Meantime’s theme of making well-crafted and flavourful beers without going over the top into Double Imperial territory. The beer is really malt-driven with great dark sugar and dark dried fruit flavours. Once again Meantime gets the balance of bitterness just right to make the beer very drinkable. This is something that would be equally at home on a cool Autumn evening with a roast dinner or a sunny Sunday afternoon with a barbeque in summer. This is a great way to bring back this style and to help to popularise dark lagers in general.
From here it was onto the ales and started with the current seasonal Yakima Red. This is a red ale made with five hops from the Yakima Valley. This makes it sound like we are starting to head into the territory of the Americans but, while this has a lot of hops, it’s still only 4% ABV. While the hops are prominent they are not palate destroying in the way only the Americans can achieve. Meantime manage to achieve great hop aroma and flavour whiles still being able to maintain a level of subtlety that is the hallmark of this brewery. This beer is unlikely to make it to our shores given it is a seasonal release, but it does speak for what the brewery is all about. If you happen to make it to the UK soon and find yourself in Greenwich make sure you give it a try.
Next tasting was the pale ale off the hand pump and served from the keg. Meantime make this beer as a real ale to be served from the hand pump and keg it to serve off a regular tap. Tasting the two versions side by side really helps to highlight the difference the two serving methods makes. This is a fantastic beer that has everything in perfect balance. The beer has a solid malt backbone with enough complexity to make it interesting but not going too far and making it all about the malt. The hop flavour and bitterness are a little higher than typical for an English pale ale but certainly not in the Sierra Nevada US category of pale ale. This beer does use a number of American hops which makes it a bit of a US/English hybrid but like all the Meantime beers it finds a great balance and manages to get everything into the beer in a much more subtle way than would be expected. The cask version was much smoother and the lower carbonation took the edge off the hop flavour and the bitterness of the beer. It made for a very smooth and easy drinking beer. The keg version comes alive and presents the hops in a better fresher tasting fashion. This makes for two different but both excellent beers.
The session wrapped up with what is probably the most popular Meantime beer in Australia, the IPA. Once again we have a beer style that has been largely co-opted by the Americans to be something other than it was originally known, but Meantime take it back in a spectacular fashion. This beer is on the sweeter side than most IPA’s in the market now days but closer to what history tells us the original IPA’s were. For those not familiar IPA is a style that was developed to last the long ocean voyage from England to India back in the days of sail power and before refrigeration. To last the long ocean voyages the alcohol was increased to increase it’s preservative effect and the hopping rates were increased due to the antibacterial affects offered by the hops. This has resulted in the higher alcohol hoppy beers we have today. The style has now been taken to the extreme with beers the original IPA makers probably wouldn’t even recognise as beer. Meantime heads back in the direction of those original beers. It’s made with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops as the originals probably were. Though not as bitter as many of todays IPA’s it still has a fantastic hop aroma and flavour. The malt backbone is also richer and more complex than most IPA. You can also be sure the product you are getting here in Australia tastes just as good as it does from the breweries own pub in Greenwich.
Meantime make some sensational beers and they do it with their own subtle style. They are all flavoursome well made beers done their own way. If you haven’t already had their beers hunt them out and give them a go. These are some of the best made and drinkable beers around. They don’t smack you over the mead the way a lot of new breweries do but it’s nice to have something a little more subtle. If you get the chance to get to the UK do drop into the Greenwich Union for a pint or two. Besides having all the Meantime beers and an excellent selection of beers from other great breweries it is a fantastic venue in a really interesting part of London.