When I staggered into The Union boozer in Greenwich my erstwhile drinking companion (and high-flying international political consultant) Peter was ordering at the bar. He told me I’d need a pint of the cask conditioned India Pale Ale and added that I had no conception of the coruscant beer experience that was about to engulf my senses. I’ll get to that shortly, but a bit of background might be in order.
The Meantime Brewery is a small operation based in Greenwich that largely focusses on producing authentic, characterful lagers. The idea that lager can be characterful might come as a bit of a shock to most drinkers of the vapid, piss-boring, prole-fuel that usually carries this moniker, but try a Meantime Pilsner or the Union amber lager and you’ll be exposed to a gustatory revelation. These are beers of class and distinction.
They make other beers as well. I’ve often enjoyed their London Pale Ale and I think the Raspberry Grand Cru wheat beer is a compellingly complex example of fruit beer. The Oktoberfest lager they brew at the appropriate time of year is not to be missed out on. They make some bottle-conditioned beers including a quite enlightening 7.5% IPA which, until earlier today, was my favourite beer of all time. Now even that beer has lost some of its allure. Here is the note:
Cask conditioned India Pale Ale 7.5% from the Meantime Brewery
The production of this cask-conditioned IPA was an experiment by the Meantime Brewery, using different hops to their normal IPA, to see what their customers thought of it. Peter had sampled a pint yesterday and told me he made it abundantly clear that his thoughts were inordinately positive. Even knowing this did not prepare me for the pleasure-engorged gustatory roller-coaster I was about to be dazzled by.
I had a slurp at the bar to prevent spillage on my way to the table and as the incredible panoply of vibrant, energetic, complex flavours stimulated and saturated my entire being I just had to fix the barman with a rapturous gaze and say, “Wow, the entire history of beer brewing has reached its climax in this glass. This is a new zenith for ale”. I took a deep breath, weaved my way to a table, set my mood to ebullient and palate to analytical in order to determine what made that first taste so compelling.
7.5% is reasonably booze-tastic for beer and at this strength they can often taste sweet and soupy. Not so this IPA, it caressed my palate with a light, silken touch as its flavours unravelled. Not a hint of ponderous heaviness, it was a a refreshingly structured drink. The ultra-fresh bitterness added to this quaffable character – it was positively mouth-watering. The bitter hoppy flavours had seductive fruit and floral tones supported by a subtle malt character which resulted in the palate being more complex than I thought possible for beer. Those complex flavours really persisted as well, and just left me wanting another gulp. I ordered a second pint.