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.

Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar 2012: all windows in one post

Every day for the whole of Advent, I created my own “calendar”, in which each post represented a window, opened to reveal a beer or whisky that made an impression on me during 2012. Posterous’ limitations loomed large but committing to an entry a day was, for me at least, a lot of fun and very fruitful.

Resize_of_advent-calendar-3_sm

Here is the complete list, starting 1 December, linked to the posts.

  1. Summer Wine Brewery Rouge Hop
  2. Compass Box Hedonism
  3. Sharp’s Connoisseurs Choice Honey Spice Triple
  4. Meantime Friesian Pilsener
  5. Magic Rock Clown Juice
  6. Greene King 5x
  7. Thornbridge Tzara
  8. Highland Park Thor /18 year-old
  9. Stone Escondidian 15th anniversary
  10. Hibiki 12
    At which point I hit upon the idea of doing proper headlines.
  11. Stouts: Bristol-fashion
    Bristol Beer Factory 12 Stouts of Christmas
  12. Sweden makes Oktoberfest modern
    Mohawk Unfliltered October
  13. Transported to a Swedish Summer forest
    Mackmyra Special 09 Wild Raspberry
  14. Bishops got me drinking cans
    Ska Modus Hoperandi
  15. Driven to Abstraktion
    BrewDog Abstrakt series
  16. An Epiphany before Christmas
    Oppigårds Coast to Coast
  17. An English Beer from a different Kitchen
    Wadworth Beer Kitchen Wheat Beer
  18. Toasting the Higgs boson
    Hardknott Queboid
  19. The pub with Moor Beer
    So’ Hop/Queens Arms
  20. Buried treasure in IKEA
    Glenmorangie Finealta
  21. Hell’s Bells: a statement of intent
    Camden Town Unfiltered Hells
  22. Christmas Present and Christmas Past
    Great Divide Hibernation 2011/2012
  23. The best cask ale of Summer?
    Fullers Wild River
  24. Prince usurped by Empire
    Harvey’s Imperial Double Stout
  25. Christmas Day: From me to you, inspired by New Year’s Eve 2011

 

Christmas Day. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Raise a glass

Christmas Day: Fra: Maltjerry Til: Y’all. x%ABV
From: Surrey, England. Type: Double Imperial, non-chill-filtered Christmas Wishes. Source: The Nightjar.

The Christmas Day window is not directly about “Fra:… Til:..” but it is inspired by its name and the gloriously off-kilter brewing that is Mikkeller. Fra, Til. which is Danish for “From, To:..” with the label designed as though on a Christmas gift. This is a dark winter ale, and the first beer I drank in 2012, cracked at midnight.

Mikkeller_fra_til_2011

I didn’t want to single out one beer or whisky for special treatment today; everything I’ve listed during Advent is here because I thought it was brilliant or contributed to a great beer moment or whisky mood.

Just a quick mention for some that didn’t quite make it to the Advent Calendar but which really could have: Compass Box: Spice Tree, Evil Twin Yin (and Yang), Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown (perhaps the best name of the year), Sazerac 18 year-old 2011, Mikkeller Jackie Brown, Shepherd Neame Double Stout, Fullers Brewers Reserve No. 4, Ardbeg Galileo…

Good beer and whisky is even better when sharing the occasion with friends. And on Christmas Day, the magic is that whatever you’re drinking, it doesn’t count to your monthly recommended units*.

Cheers! Malty Christmas and a Hoppy New Year!

* Perhaps

Christmas Eve. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Prince usurped by Empire

Christmas Eve: Harveys, Imperial Extra Double Stout. 9% ABV
From: Sussex, England. Type: Russian Imperial Stout, bottle. Source: Harveys online shop

Christmas Eve: Julafton in Sweden, Julaftan in Norway, and Julaften in Denmark, where inspiration for the choice for today should surely have come, as Harvey’s Prince of Denmark was crowned “Supreme Champion” at the International Beer Challenge in London, in September.

Except, I’m choosing another in Harvey’s royal family: the Imperial Extra Double Stout. Fine though the Prince is, and as much as I respect the judges – indeed, I was lucky enough to be one of the judges, this year, as far as I’m concerned, the Imperial strikes black gold. Indeed, it won a gold medal too.

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You might expect the Prince to be the wilder, more rebellious beer, but you’d be wrong. Whether you think 9% ABV warrants an “Extra” and a “Double” in its name as well as the “Imperial”, it’s a rich, intense and demanding beer.

Demanding of your attention with its pitch-like consistency and colour, its sweet – no, sour – no, sweet-and-salty flavour, and its aromas of cocoa and coffee. Wild and slightly sour, from what tastes like barrel-aging and rebellious in its very existence: Russian Imperial stouts all but died out in Britain. A beer fit for any Christmas celebration, whatever day it is.

Harvey’s online beer empire (where you can also find Prince of Denmark)
International Beer Challenge list of winners 2012

23rd Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: The best cask ale of the Summer?

23rd December: Fullers, Wild River. 4.5% ABV
From: London, England. Type: American-style pale ale, cask. Source: The Kings Arms, Guildford

“Fantastic beer!” I thought as I took my first sip, sitting outside my newly-discovered, reachable-by-bus Fullers pub, on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the last day of June. A perfect beer storm of right beer choice meeting a beer in perfect condition.

Like just about every other beer drinker not stuck the 1970s, I am enamoured of American hops. I love their bright, fruity, zesty aromas and the citrussy/resinous/tropical twang they give to beers. I love them most for completely exploding the range of flavours available to beerkind.

Fullers_wild-river-logoBeer_garden_cloud_sq

Float on

It’s by no means new for Fullers to brew with American hops, but it’s the first time that I’m aware of that London’s only remaining large brewer has made a cask beer in an overtly modern American-style. Wild River? I suppose there are plenty of those where those hops came from.

But Fullers being Fullers, and thoroughly British, Wild River is no mere aping of a west coast APA; it is a cask ale: balanced and refreshing, complex and subtle, moreish and satisfying. It reminds me what the fuss is about cask-conditioned beer ale. (If only they could all be served this well.) It’s full of those American hops, but not brashly so.

The best cask ale of the summer? I thought it was easily the best cask ale from a major brewery I’d had all year. And at this, the back end of 2012, I see no reason to change my mind.

22nd Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Christmas present and past

22nd December: Great Divide, Hibernation Ale 2011 and 2012. 8.7% ABV
From: Colorado, USA. Type: Winter Ale, bottle. Source: Systembolaget

Not many have kind words to say about November, but one of its saving graces is looking forward to Christmas and winter beers. Some recipes change with the years. What will Shepherd Neame’s be like this year? Anchor? Some don’t seem to change, but can we really be sure?

It took a will of steel, but I’ve managed to save one of my perennial favourites, from last winter: Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale. How would it compare with the new season’s after a year itself in hibernation?

Great_divide_hibernation_2011_2012

And then, there it is, the 2012, standing on the shelf and the wait is over. I buy it, take it home and… Don’t open it! Dither upon dither. But how and when to taste them? side-by-side, surely, but these sleeping bears are 8.7% of cockle-warming alcohol. Not to be trifled with. It’s December before I find a chance/excuse.

I’m sure its the same recipe. It’s a Rocky Mountain version of an English winter warmer: sweet and comforting, but bigger. Christmassy in its spiciness from both hops and fermentation: orange zest, cloves, more citrus bitterness to balance the syrupy malt.

A year’s extra sleep has toned down the sweetness, replacing it with a sherry-like richness, and adding aromas of chestnuts and old leather armchairs. Is this a fair exchange for the freshness and cocoa of this year’s edition? Here’s a clue: I’m saving one for next November.

Great Divide Brewery

21st Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Hells Bells! A statement of intent

21st December: Camden Town Brewery, (Unfiltered) Hells. 4.6% ABV
From: London, England. Type: Helles-style lager, keg (fresh). Source: Camden Town Brewery bar

We took a wrong turn, walking from Camden Lock up to visit Camden Town Brewery. Kentish Town brewery, more like. But anyway, some who read the brewery’s declaration of intent: to only brew beers suited to craft keg thought a wrong turn had been made by the entire brewery. They were wrong.

I’d had in mind to include the Camden Hells in the Advent Calendar, because it is an exemplary beer proving the wisdom of that statement of intent. In truth, all the beers I’d tried from Camden were very good; including the prototype sour. The Hells: a proper German-style Helles malty lager is almost set up as a challenge to all non-real-ale drinkers in Britain. A test of the craft beer “revolution”.

Camden_hells_bar_sm

The filtered Hells is a great beer to celebrate the end of the working day: refreshing, quaffable yet tasty: a set-me-up. The unfiltered version, though, is on a plane above. Properly herby (just German hops, mind), with a satisfying mouthfeel, tangy and refreshing. One of those beers that, when you take a sip, takes you out of the conversation for a second.

We sat with barman Ferenc a while. He pointed out a simpler direction for us back to Camden Town station. I doubt Camden Town brewery is on a simple path, but I’m sure they haven’t taken a wrong turn.

20th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Buried treasure in IKEA

20th December: Glenmorangie, Finealta. 46% ABV
From: Highlands, Scotland. Type: Single malt Scotch whisky. Source: World of Whiskies, Heathrow

I taunt my Swedish friends that you can buy alcohol in IKEA in the UK. "No,no," they say, "You can buy it in Swedish stores, too". Which is true, but you buy beer or wine in the restaurant, not the shop, which you can in the UK. You can't buy Glenmorangie Finealta, there, though. But why spoil a headline…

No, the treasure to which I'm referring is a limited edition lightly-peated Glenmorangie I rediscovered in my IKEA cabinet. I didn't buy it this year, but one of the joys of keep a small collection of whiskies, is finding a forgotten bottle.

It has a tell-tale amount left: just less than a quarter full. This tale told is one of really liking it and not wanting it to finish. Was it as good as I (now) remember? Oh yes!

Finealta is Gaelic for "elegant" according to the label, by which they mean not very smokey for a peated, and lots of delicious spices, vinous flavours, and rich, creamy vanilla, all from the mix of sherry and bourbon casks. The peat is subtle; but is there on the breath at the finish, almost as if leftover from last night's dram.

I fear for a trip to IKEA at this time of year, but if the prospect of a dram like this could be found there, I would give it serious thought.

World of Whiskies Heathrow has Glenmorangie Artein, if you're passing through…