Meantime Yakima Red: a seasonal ale to straddle The Pond

Time was when British breweries had two seasons: Winter and the rest of the year. A winter warmer was always something to look forward to; especially if it was Wethered’s Winter Royal, or Young’s Winter Warmer. Times have changed, thankfully.

There was a time when American craft brewers would proudly proclaim on a label that their British-style ale was made with East Kent Goldings – English hop variety from yer actual East Kent. It was a symbol of authenticity referring back to the old-world traditions. And then they got into home grown hops – mostly from the Yakima Valley.

Then seasonals got seen as A Good Idea. A Winter seasonal was joined by the odd Springtime mild and a Summer golden ale, and soon Fullers, Harveys and others developed something of a year-round range. Something to keep the locals interested, but mostly beers within the same chapter of the Michael Jackson “Beer” book.

Yakima_red_500x290

A few brewers in the vanguard of the New Wave of What Some are Calling British Craft Brewers (NWoWSaCBCB) dared to venture beyond Chapter 2. One of these was the Meantime Brewing Company, founded in 1999 in, you guessed it, Greenwich. Meantime now have an impressively eclectic range of seasonal beers to add to their already pretty eclectic range of year-round beers. I was lucky to be invited to the launch of their seasonal for March and April: Yakima Red.

The launch was an understated affair in the brewery’s own Greenwich Union pub. No song-and-dance, just a tutored tasting led by Peter Haydon – one of very few accredited British beer sommeliers.  I say “understated”, but as well as the launched beer, we did get to sample most of the Meantime range. And I think somebody added an extra zero onto the food order.

Actually, straddling the Pond and an entire continent
The Yakima Valley in Washington state is more known for its wines than its hop growing, apparently. It is, however, the cornerstone of the supply of American varietal hops: Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Citra, and others not beginning with the letter C, like Amarillo. And of these, five varieties have been used to flavour Yakima Red.

So, that’s the “Yakima” bit explained and the “Red” part nearly does it by itself. Yes, it’s a red ale (4.0% ABV), so it has a good wallop of crystal malt and a touch of German caramalt. And as is appropriate to a beer brewed on the Greenwich Meridian at 0 degrees, the beer is neither dominated by hops, citrussy, or piny, as you might expect an American craft beer to be, nor is it dominated by the digestive-biscuity malt.

The aroma of the hops stands out, rather than the bitterness: tropical fruit and mandarin, but it’s no fruit salad. It’s a very quaffable ale with a delicate spicy sweetness to the malt. The bitterness there adds balance, so although it’s not a big, in-your-face beer, it is very more-ish, and perfect for early spring weather. Perhaps a Sassenach cousin to BrewDog’s 5AM Saint.

It worked well with the food on offer, too, including the fish (goujons) and outstanding chips. It would be even better with meats that marry well with sweetness: roast duck, pork ribs, or a nice, thick slice of honey-roasted ham.

Unless you live in Sweden, (or perhaps Washington State), you’ll have to get to a Meantime pub* to sample it, as it’s not available in bottles in the UK. The good thing is, the Greenwich Union and the Old Brewery both have excellent menus, so you’re bound to find something to test out my food suggestions..

There’s a pleasing symmetry here, in these exciting beer times; in a happy reversal, it’s British breweries now who boast their beers’ US hops. Meantime’s Yakima Red adds to the growing Anglo/American special (beer) relationship, and manages to retain its Britishness. Drink it before St George’s day – it’ll be gone by the Fourth of July,

*There appear to be two pubs owned and run by Meantime, which you can find from the link. There are a dozen other outlets in and around London where you can find Yakima Red and other Meantime bees – subject to availability, natch.

Links
Meantime Brewing’s list of seasonal beers
Buy Meantime beers online from Beer Merchants.com
Hops Direct sells hops from Yakima Valley. Some great hop-info here.
More of my photos from the Yakima Red launch at the Greenwich Union pub.