Alastair Hook, the founding brewmaster of Meantime Brewing Company, boasts an impressive international pedigree. Training first at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh before enrolling in the University of Munich's brewing program in Weihenstephan. After graduation, Hook bounced between breweries on the continent and back in England before Meantime was born in his apartment in the Prime Meridian-straddling district of Greenwich, London in 1999.
As Hook tells it, Meantime was designed to fill the void left by English brewers' almost exclusive focus on cask-conditioned real ale. Meantime embraces German and Belgian styles--not often made in the British Isles--while working to recover and faithfully reproduce imperial-era British recipes. The result elegantly combines modern cosmopolitan brewing with a historical nostalgia for the heyday of India pale ales and porters in Victorian London. The four beers we tried are obvious heirs to that 18th and 19th Century English tradition, evoking the days when dockhands rolled barrels down the pier and loaded them onto ships bound for the crown's colonies worldwide.
We owe today's unapologetically hoppy West Coast IPAs to the original India Pale Ales brewed in England for transport to colonial India. Brewers knew that hops would preserve the beer during the months-long sea passage, so they added more to the beers bound for export than they ever would to their domestically-consumed brews. The intense hop profile was bound to fade somewhat during the trip, but the beers that arrived in India for the benefit of the colonial bureaucracy were still plenty bitter. Meantime's take on the original English IPA pours a clear tangerine with a fluffy but quickly dissipating head and aromas of honey, caramel malts and strawberry candy. Meantime uses Fuggles and Goldings hops, both English varietals, for a mild overall hoppiness joined by malt bitterness and lemon flavors.
Before IPA and stout seized its mantle, porter was the dominant English style of the 1700s, and colonial records indicate that it was successfully exported decades before IPA. Meantime brews several variants of the style, including traditional English and Baltic porters alongside more modern variants like their Chocolate Porter. The Coffee Porter is a clear chestnut color reminiscent of cherry cola, while the thick head gradually settled to a half-finger. Sweet coffee dominated the nose but was overtaken by strong dark chocolate flavors that defined this direct and drinkable beer.
This English porter commemorates Meantime's reconstruction of the former brewery on the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, which today hosts Meantime's brewpub. A blended combination of young and old porter, the beer is aged in oak barrels for two years before bottling. The Naval College porter discards the reddish tones of the Coffee Porter for an opaque dark brown, and its two-finger tan head leaves behind beautiful lacing. We found that the oak aging left particularly apparent aromas, while roasty peat and smoke flavors reminded us of Scotch. This beer grew on us as it warmed, and the more we sipped it the more we were drawn back to it.
If Meantime's Scotch Ale wasn't quite the unanimous favorite of the lot, it was certainly close. The red-brown cherrywood pour was as clear as could be, and the one-finger head left moderate lacing as we drank. The nose was full of tart cherries and other dark fruits, and the flavor was a study in the art of caramel malt. We cannot overstate how smooth and easy to drink this beer was, with only the subtlest hints of hop bitterness.
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