Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
It's a cold, cold Thursday night and I'm travelling south to Greenwich for an evening with Meantime brewer Rod Jones. It's the first time I've been to the Greenwich Union, one of the Meantime Brewery Taps and I'm pleasantly surprised by the array of beers on display when I enter. As well as a great selection of Meantime beers, all on keg, there are a few guest cask ales and a huge selection of bottles from all over the world with a particularly good stock of Belgian and German beers available for purchase. I start with a pint of Meantime's Saison De Nuit, a delicious black Saison that pleases the palate with it's rustic flavours and sets me up well for the evening ahead.
Tonight Meantime are launching a very special, one off collaborative porter brewed in partnership with Weyermann Malts of Bamburg, Germany. Weyermann are one of the brewing worlds most highly regarded specialist maltsters producing around 50 different types of malt and specialising in caramelised malts. Meantime brewer Rod, who himself is an avid fanatic of German beers, was invited (or challenged as he prefers to tell it) to brew using Weyermann's own pilot brewing facility in Bamburg with the catch being that he was only allowed to use Weyermann malts. This beer was brewed in late August and has spent several months conditioning and now I have the honour of being one of the first people to try it.
Along with a small clutch of real journalists I am soon ushered to a table to meet Rod and before we are served tasters of the beer we are here to try Rod tells us the tale of its inception. It was clear after listening to Rod speak for a few moments how passionate this man is about his profession and how much pride he has for the authenticity of the beers that Meantime produces. He tells us that he feels that Meantime are the 'leading producer of Craft Beer in the United Kingdom' and although there are a few breweries who might contest that statement he utters the words with such vim that it's difficult not to be convinced. He tells us about his love for German beers and how his goal was to produce a London Porter in the German style. Although the British palate is accustomed to rich, roasted and bitter flavours in dark beer this is not to German tastes and so he tells us how he set about designing a malt profile to give all the body of a rich, London Porter but with little to none of the roasted bitterness you would expect from the style.
'Pale, Abbey and Munich malts made for the bulk of the mash' he tells us and the dark malts including the huskless Carafa 3 were added at the end of the mash to provide colour and not flavour. The twist was that around 5% of the grain used was beechwood smoked malt which is widely used in creating Bavarian Rauchbier and gives it that famous smoked, meaty flavour profile. A small amount of East Kent Goldings were used to add balance to the brew but these were only added 10 minutes from the end of the boil to add a little aroma but not to impart bitter flavours into the beer.
The glass of porter sits in front of me, pitch black with a towering head of off white foam. This soon fades away leaving a pleasing halo around the edge of the glass, at first the nose gives very little away, it's arguably been served far too cold. After it warms a little it begins to give away it's secrets, aromas of black treacle and molasses are present and these are accompanied by the faint scent of raisins and sultanas. The beer feels rich and full in the mouth and being a London Porter my mind expects it to be smoke laden and bitter but instead it's incredibly light and slips down faster than a drunk tourist at Oktoberfest after a few to many steins. The more it warms the more those black treacle and dried fruit notes become apparent, the only thing I'm left yearning for is a little more of the advertised smoke but as Rod points out this beer is about balance rather than an in your face drinking experience.
After my first glass glides town with little to no fuss at all I finally enquire about the ABV of the beer. Expecting it to be around to 4-5% mark I was shocked when Rod told me that he thinks it's around 8%, suddenly I go from really liking this beer to being in awe of it, how can something with such a delicate balance of flavours still manage to completely hide such a high level of alcohol. A lightbulb in my head goes 'ding' and I learn the valuable lesson that masses and masses of flavour is not always what makes for a good beer. Rods high level of skill is clear but after I sank my third glass I definitely started to feel that 8% ABV creeping about behind my eyeballs.
So, you're probably wanting to try this one off brew yourself now, right? Well it's only being served on tap at the Greenwich Union and they only have 60 litres of the stuff (well, considerably less now after the dent we made in it last night) so if you want some head to the Union RIGHT NOW before it's gone forever!