Meantime Brewing Co. -
Barrel Aged Greenwich Hospital Porter 6.0%
I've drunk and reviewed many beers this year and I think it's fair to say that as a drinker, and particularly as a blogger, that it's only natural to get a sense of thrilling anticipation when you're able to obtain and drink a rare beer, or one that hasn't been reviewed before.
This is neither, but I've still got the same feeling as I sit down to write a review of this beer as when I wrote about the Mikkeller - Mexas Ranger or the Red Fox - Foxymoron earlier this year.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that I've not had it before, well it would be the first reason if that were true. It is true to say that I've not had a bottle of this before but I have sampled it, which brings me to my second reason, the last bottle I saw was nearly twice the £9.99 that I paid for this one.
That was at The Rake in Borough Market in London. I was up in town showing a good friend around some of the excellent pubs in the area, (which had included The George, the subject of a recently released and rather good book Shakespeare's Local by beer writer Pete Brown). To cut a longer (and much less interesting) story short, a bottle of this beer was bought by an American visitor and his friend at the next table to us who we had got into conversation with. They began extolling its virtues and passed us their glasses and the bottle to us to taste and view, and whereas I can't remember the beer I do remember spotting that 'Brewed Exclusively for Marks & Spencer' on the bottom of the label had been covered over in black marker. I don't know if the American and his chum ever noticed it but fearing an international incident we made our excuses and went to Brew Wharf instead.
Seeing this beer back in my local Marks and Spencer today brought this all back, so I couldn't resist buying it.
Brewed to an original 1750 recipe using seven different malts it is then aged for four months in Marks and Spencer's own Islay whisky barrels from Ian Macleod Distillers Limited. Brewed at the historic Old Naval Hospital Brewery in Greenwich, whose fascinating history can be viewed here and is well worth taking the time to read.
It's time to meet this beer properly, and on my own terms.
The first thing that is apparent when removed from it's delightful carboard tube is that the 750ml bottle, in common with many of this type of release, is corked and caged. The cork was particularly hard to remove but I was rewarded with a sweet milk chocolate aroma coming from the neck of the bottle. It pours a very dark brown with a lovely sustained cream-coloured head. The aroma is a smooth mix of coffee, burnt toast and chocolate with a nice smoky alcoholic edge coming from the barrel aging. Smooth and a liitle thin over the tongue, the dominant taste is the whisky smokiness from those Islay casks with the merest hint of coffee and chocolate settling at the tip of the tongue. I'm slightly disappointed that the latter flavours aren't a little more dominant and the balance of flavour doesn't seem quite right. The finish has a faint touch of creamy vanilla which dries into more whisky smokiness that lingers in the nose for some time.
I quite like this beer. It hits many of the right (smoky, peaty) notes for me and even though it does remind me a little of Adelscott, a beer I definitely do not like, it is nowhere near as overpowering. I'd have liked more of those chocolate, coffee and vanilla notes I picked up but I have to declare that I do love a good smoky, peaty single malt scotch whisky. The only downside for me is the price. At very nearly ten pounds, this doesn't really taste like a ten pound beer. I was warned by others earlier this today on twitter that this might be the case, and I have certainly found that out for myself.
I'm just glad I didn't pay more !