Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Dianne Tanner
There's something undeniably instinctive about reaching for particular beers at certain times of the year. I try not to let the changing seasons influence my drinking habits but something about the tinge of autumn in the air already has me reaching for darker beers.
I was recently sent a bottle of Meantime Brewing's new limited release, a 7.5% ABV Imperial Stout called Black Russian. It arrived in an elegantly designed black cardboard sleeve with a smart, Champagne style 750ml bottle stuffed inside. On a recent tour of their brewing facility in Greenwich, South London, brewer Rod Jones told me that Meantime owner and founder Alastair Hook didn't think that the UK market was ready for these limited release beers. They tend to be bigger in flavour and more unusual in style than their core output and most of it is exported to the US. The little that remains in the UK is more often than not exclusive to their brewery shop.
The timing of this beers arrival couldn't have been more perfect. I was currently undertaking the rigorous testing of the new Spiegelau stout glass and Black Russian was an ideal candidate for my research. Co-designed by Oregon's Rogue Ales and Left Hand Brewing of Longmont, Colorado the Speigelau stout glass joins their growing range of premium beer glassware.
A recent road test of their IPA glass found that it boosted aroma and enhanced the drinking experience so I was curious to see what the stout glass brought to the party. It's similar in stature to the IPA glass with a thin, tapered base that balloons out into a larger bowl shape. Unlike the IPA glass the base is free of the ridges that made its predecessor so visually recognisable and the upper bowl section is much larger with a wider brim.
In all honesty it looks to me more like an ornamental vase than it does a beer glass but I'm sure fans of the IPA glass will appreciate its unique shape. I went through a variety of porters and stouts from bog standard sub 5%-ers right up to monolithic barrel aged behemoths that poured oubliette black. It's quite a big glass and as a result I personally found that the bigger the beer the more it was lost in the vessel. A brandy snifter seems to work much better with thick, intense, flavour laden beers.
In all honesty I'm not sure I experienced any benefit when using the stout glass but the extremely thin structure seems to help maintain carbonation and thus aroma, it's also quite enjoyable to drink out of. This glass is clearly designed with beers such as Left Hand's Milk Stout in mind and I feel it will only appeal to more zealous beer fans. Interestingly enough the IPA glass has the same effect on any highly aromatic beer be it stout, IPA or whatever, seemingly enhancing this particular property.
Black Russian though, that beer was something else. I've been quick to write off Meantime in the past partly as they don't produce a lot of beers in the styles I like and partly because as a proto-beer geek I automatically wrote off anything that wasn't an out and out hop assault. I pop the cork and already a touch of dark chocolate aroma is creeping into my nose holes. This is much more pronounced once it's in the glass with the deep, dark brown beer also showing a raspberry note, a hint of alcohol and something I can't quite put my finger on.
The flavour is big, robust and hard edged. Boozy notes of roasted coffee, rich dark chocolate and bitter cocoa jostle on the tongue. The finish is bitter, really bitter and there's a green flavour that's connected to the aroma that I was struggling to place. Then it hit me, pine resin, the unmistakable taste of North American c-hops. This beer was deep inside Black IPA territory and incredibly drinkable despite its bold flavours and strength. It was a surprise, an incredibly pleasant one at that but I simply cannot understand why this wasn't a major UK release. It could've been one of this years real success stories.
Disclosure: I was sent the beer and the glass to review by Meantime and Spiegelau respectively and I thank them for this. I don't think this influenced my opinion of either.