Meantime Brewing and a new/old London Porter for Burns Night via Bamberg

If pale and extremely hoppy beers have been the belles of the beer ball for last couple of years, perhaps 2013 is the year that malt strikes back. If so, Meantime Brewing have started us off in the right direction with a collaboration beer: a Weyermann Porter. The nature of such limited editions is, by the time you read this, it will all be gone. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Greenwich Union pub tell you so I can tell you what it was like and how good it was with food.

Collaborating breweries, limited edition bottlings and one-off beers are quite the thing these days, on the craft beer scene. But this is one of the more unusual ones with Greenwich’s finest (only?) brewery collaborating with the German speciality maltsters Weyermann to make a London porter with all-German malts, brewed in Germany.

Meantime_collab_london_porter_med

OK, so before the EU gets on my back perhaps “London-style” porter. But yes, Meantime brewer Rod Jones packed his Lederhosen, last Autumn, went to Germany, and to the Bavarian city of Bamberg, to boot. Now things start to make a bit of sense; Bamberg is famous for its Rauchbiers, “smoked beers”, and porter – the second-most mythologised and misunderstood beer style (all porter used to be a bit smoky. Maybe…)

What followed him back from Bavaria, after several months of maturation, (the beer, that is. Rod Jones? same as ever) was a dark, velvety beer with a nod to chocolatey sweetness and a whiff of bonfire smoke. A beer of 8.5% ABV, too. Not that you could tell.

Rod Jones was at pains to point out what the beer didn’t taste of. As well as the absence of alcohol burn, there was an absence of the bitter, roasted and coffee flavours often associated with very dark beers. This, he explained, was down to the art of the maltster, and I would say, the craft of the brewer to showcase the malts: a blend of pale ale malt, two types of caramelised malt, chocolate wheat malt, with the final 5% of the mix coming from Bamberg’s famous beechwood-smoked malt.

Maltjerry bids for an entry into Pseud’s Corner
There were nibbles – substantial ones, sitting tantalisingly on the table as Rod told of standing in the freezing cold as they tasted the newly-matured porter last November, the only one present in Lederhosen, realising he’d been hoodwinked by his hosts. I felt somewhat sheepish, too, as I tucked into the food, but I had to see if this was beer made for food. Food that was getting cold. If that was rude, it was in the cause of research.

Toasted sourdough bread with hummus, deep-fried white fish goujons, thick-cut chips, samples of charcuterie, and…

“I thought it went particularly well with the pork meatloaf en croute”, I said cringing somewhat as I spoke the words.

“Oh, the slices of jumbo sausage roll, you mean?” responded my table companion. Luckily, the Greenwich Union bar was too dimly lit to reveal my blushes. I was right though, it was a very good pairing. Not a usual one for porter, but the smoke gives it an edge and the sweetness balanced by restrained hopping with East Kent Goldings goes with the herby richness of the sausagemeat.

It was no surprise that the rich malt and restrained smokiness of the beer also fitted the charcuterie very well. The light carbonation lifting the fat. Which it also did on the goujons. Porter and seafood is an old combination. This fish wasn’t as overwhelmed as with some porters. The less harshly-roasted dark malts at play, perhaps.

What was surprising was the combination with hummus and sourdough toast. I suspect the slightly burnt edges were picking up the dark malts and smoke again.

Although we can never know what the old-style porters that were all the rage in 19th-century London really tasted like, I doubt they had the refinement of this modern version. They just didn’t have the technical control of today’s maltsters.

Of course, the march of hops will continue in 2013, but this particular malt-forward collaboraton shows another way. I hope more brewers follow.

Meantime Brewing Company: about the Weyermann Porter

The Greenwich Union pub You might be lucky and find some Weyermann Porter, if not there’s Saison de Nuit and of course, the “standard” but also lovely London Porter.

The history of Weyermann speciality malts

Part 2 of So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

I don’t do resolutions, and I didn’t in 2012. Charlie Brooker doesn’t think it’s cool and neither do I. In fact I wrote about not doing resolutions in Part 1 of “So, 2012: Was it Maltier?” in which I looked at my post: “Wishes for a Maltier 2012” and checked how true the first three wishes came.

Here are the remaining three wishes, with the original comment indented followed by what became of them:

4. Breweries: tell us what’s in the bottle

“Brewed with the finest malt and choicest hops.” It says on far too many labels. Stop it now! Whisky is hardly better: “The purest water flowing down through the glens.” Rubbish. What if my headlines said: “Written with the most descriptive words and crafted punctuation”? Oh, and while I’m dealing with imprecision, stop this “Brewery Conditioned” nonsense. Beer: is it pasteurised? Filtered? Whisky: is it coloured? Chill-filtered?

Wish fulfilment score: 5/10.
Somewhat improved visibility of methods and ingredients. Or perhaps I’m just not buying the type of beer that caused my ire any more. I think this is pretty much essential for craft kegged beers, so people know it’s not Double Diamond. I haven’t seen that.

5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers

When it comes to malt-based beverages, supermarkets are, on the whole, beige with the odd touch of inspiration. And because their ranges are a bit slow moving, you are way better off buying the beer and whisky you really want to drink by going to specialist online beer and whisky shops…

Wish fulfilment score: 6/10 (but jury still out).
Supermarkets still mostly beige with the occasional pink fleck. But really, buy from specialist shops, online or retail, support your local brewery shop. What I’d really like to know is, did people, did you buy more for independent retailers, people like:

Beer Merchants Buy a mixed case in the Januar sales
Ales By Mail Buy Moor beer
Beer Ritz Buy Wild beer
Master of Malt Buy some whisky samples
The Whisky Shop Buy some whiskies of the world
Royal Mile Whiskies Guide to Burns Night
My Brewery Tap’s Pick-and-mix range
The Whisky Tasting Club

There are loads, so no excuse not to.

6. More food and beer together

Writing and talking about beer with food and cooking is the best way of introducing people to the diverse world of beer styles. I received an honourable mention in the Beer and Food category from the British Beer Writers Guild in December, (2011) and this made clear for me a direction for The Nightjar in 2012. I recommend you go to or give a beer dinner; I certainly will.

Wish fulfilment score: 9/10 for media, 4/10 for me and written media.
Ignoring the blindness of Saturday Kitchen, TV and radio covered more beer and more beer and food together than I can previously remember. Jamie Oliver continues to support beer. Dan Saladino’s piece for BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, which I wrote about in “The Day the BBC went beer”, won a Beer Writers’ award, which recognition was very nice to see.

I gave some beer dinners and will continue to do so, but I didn’t write as much about beer and food for The Nightjar as I’d hoped. Beer and food writing is still very patchy, both in terms of quantity and quality. Either cooks don’t know enough about beer or (with a couple of exceptions) the beer writers don’t have the depth of knowledge of food.

Was 2012 a Maltier year?

Yes! Can we do better in 2013? What do we really want to see (or make happen)? Don’t tell Charlie!

So, 2012: Was it Maltier?

Following Charlie (Guardian scourge of the resolution) Brooker, as I was, at the beginning of 2012, I didn’t make predictions, but rather “6 wishes for a maltier 2012”. What happened?

Here’s the original list:
1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs
2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer in pubs
3. Think big, drink small
4. Breweries and distillers: tell us what’s in the bottle
5. Buy stuff from specialist retailers
6. More food and beer together

As we head off into the wild, known-unknown that is 2013, did the wishes come true?
 
1. A bigger range of bottled beers in pubs

(Text from original post indented)

Especially pubs serving food. OK, most of the point of a British pub is to drink the fine draft beers. Increasing the range of bottled beers will allow a pub to serve a much greater diversity of styles to suit the dishes they serve. Take a leaf out of Leeds Brewery/The Midnight Bell collaboration, as seen in my post on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain programme on Channel 4. And pubs: offer beers you can’t get in the supermarket. You’ll be able to charge more. And while I’m on that subject…

Wish-fulfilment score: 2/10.
Outside of the Euston Taps, Casks, and Crafts of this world, I haven’t seen a great deal of change. With the exception of Fullers pubs, where they have taken to often stocking bottled versions of Black Cab Stout and 1845. The point remaining that a diverse range of bottled beers would suit a pub with a halfway-decent food side. I strongly suspect there is margin to be made, here.

2. Hike the price of good (craft) beer in pubs

What do you mean the Chancellor already did? Leave the ordinary stuff alone. but make good cask and craft keg reassuringly expensive, to recall an old campaign. Well, a bit dearer, anyway. What do you mean people will just stay at home and pay supermarket prices? What do people pay for a bottle of Becks in a pub, £3.50?  That’s like seven quid a pint. For Becks. Don’t even get me started on wine. Stand up for being the premium products they are. I’d much rather more money went to the great small breweries we have in the UK. Excellence should be rewarded.

Wish fulfilment score: Match abandoned.
In the wake of the campaign to abolish the beer duty escalator, and the rate of closure of pubs, this is a hard one to reconcile. I am still persuaded that good, modern beer costs more to make, and therefore should cost more to the customer. The problem being how to attract customers to pubs in the first place what with unfair competition from Supermarkets.

3. Think big, drink small

When it comes to the bigger beers, pints are for wimps. Yes, that’s right; it’s halves that are for the daring. And thirds are for superheroes. Don’t chicken out and have a pint for your man/womanhood. Your brain, liver, and palate will thank you for that half of ESB. You can then “afford” a snifter of Magic Rock Human Cannonball. If only pubs and bars had more third pint glasses…

Wish fulfilment score: 8/10.
I, largely, kept my side of the bargain. But have two-third pint and thirds caught on? Not really. Aside from BrewDog bars, where they are very good at serving measures appropriate to the beer strength and style. I still get into conversations where someone remarks how “strong” a 5.7% beer is. It is if you’re drinking 6 pints! (And I’m not doing that!)

Come back tomorrow for Part 2.