Caught by the River

Pint By The River – Meantime Brewery: London Porter

17th February 2011

by Roger Clapham

The Meantime Brewery in Greenwich has long been a contender for this column, being based as they are a stone’s throw from the Thames in Greenwich. They started production in the year 2000, in what was then the largest new brewery premises built in London since the former Guinness brewery at Park Royal opened in 1936 (it closed in 2005). Under the watchful eye of head brewer and owner Alastair Hook, a South Londoner who knows his ale inside out, they’ve gone from strength to strength, winning numerous awards and producing some great beer ever since. In 2010 they repeated the trick, moving to even newer and grander premises, and once again became the biggest new brewery to open in the capital for nearly 80 years.

The beers Meantime have been producing are the key reason for their success. These include their own take on some classic and European styles, including their Pale Ale and London Lager (a genuine, properly aged lager that tastes as lager is supposed to), as well as some fantastic brews from times past – a drinker’s version of a historical re-enactment society if you will – in their India Pale Ale and London Porter.

London Porter as a style of beer had long been forgotten until recent years, but it’s now coming firmly back into fashion amongst London brewers and beyond. The theory goes that the original porter was brewed in Shoreditch in 1722 to replace a blended beer known as “three threads”, and quickly became exceedingly popular. It became a beer for the industrial Revolution, and by the mid-eighteenth century was being produced in vast quantities – brewed in enormous vats such as those then housed in the Griffin Brewery (now Fullers) at Chiswick. The origins of the name are less clear, but the strongest claim is that it was named after the market porters of the capital who loved the drink and would have it for breakfast after night-shifts at Billingsgate, Covent Garden and the like. It’s also worth noting that stout, including the ubiquitous Guinness, is a direct descendent of porter and was even known as “double porter” at one stage. So, in the same way as you might trace the lineage of a band or musical genre back to its inspirations, a pint of porter is well worth seeking out. Have a look here if you want to read more about the history…

Meantime’s version of porter is based on a recipe from 1750, and is probably as close as we can get to what those eighteenth century Londoners were drinking. It comes in a corked and wired champagne bottle (which is perhaps less like the genuine article might have been), and when poured is a ruby-come-black shade reminiscent of the night sky over the city. It’s a great drink for the winter, with a rich and heady concoction of flavours including dark chocolate, coffee, and rum, with a vague sweetness followed by a bitter finish. However, it does pack a punch at 6.5%, and at not far off a fiver for a 750ml bottle you’re not likely to have more than one of these, although it does come highly recommended. That said, if you don’t fancy the Meantime version, numerous other brewers are now producing porters, and its popularity and availability is on the rise – in fact, it’s worth knowing that Marks & Spencers have a 5.5% porter now, brewed and bottled in Greenwich, by Meantime. Cheers…