Sunday, 9 February 2014

Beers Of London Series 70. Meantime - Union Lager

Beers Of London Series
70. Meantime - Union Lager 4.9%

Just over a week ago when I wrote about Meantime's Barbados Rum Barrel Aged Greenwich Ale I mentioned that I would be going to the re-launch of their Union Lager, and last Tuesday I found myself at The Ship in Wandsworth to do just that.

Union Lager was first produced in April 2000 and was the beer that Meantime used as their debut offering, and gives it's name to the Greenwich Union pub that was opened the following year. It is a Viennese-style lager which the BJCP Style Guidelines describe as a 'light reddish amber to copper colour' with a characteristic 'soft, elegant maltiness that dries out in the finish to avoid becoming sweet although 'European versions tend to be sweeter' than their American counterparts. The Union Lager was the also the first beer that Sainsbury's used for their 'Taste The Difference' range, all of which were brewed by Meantime. I tried to establish when it fell out of production without success although I gather it was still being bottled in 2011 with the keg version possibly disappearing a few years earlier. It was brought back briefly in June 2013 under the name 'Mr Hyde' as a trial and proved so popular that it was decided to establish it as a limited edition seasonal brew, the first of 2014.

It was the first time that I'd visited The Ship as Wandsworth is a bit of a trek from where I live in Essex, but I was rather impressed by the pub itself and the welcome I received there. Situated next to the River Thames and a short walk from Wandsworth Town station, it has been a public house since 1786. Part of the Young's estate, although the beer now comes a little further than it used to since the Ram Brewery closed in 2006, it has one of the longest maintained contracts with Meantime hence it being the choice of venue for the re-launch. The cask beer is all Young's and I had a rather decent and very drinkable if uninspiring pint of the London Gold when I arrived. The food provided throughout the tasting was very good however with carpaccio of beef and horseradish on a peppered rosti and braised ox cheek on a cauliflower cream being particular highlights, and all of which went very nicely with the beer itself.

The Union Lager is very true to the Vienna Lager style it emulates being a reddish amber with a lightly sweet, slightly malty and dry aroma. The mouthfeel is also refreshingly light and smooth and this is carried into the taste where the maltiness is realised with a muscavado sugar sweetness and a hint of roastiness at the back leading to a dry finish as it dries to a delightfully faint dark brown sugary biscuit conclusion. I should also declare that all the beer and food with the exception of the London Gold was provided by free of charge by Meantime however my drinking companions, fellow blogger Paul Bailey and beer historian and writer Martyn Cornell, were all in agreement that this was a very nice beer indeed and a welcome return as it joins the two other lagers, Meantime Pilsner and London Lager, temporarily in the portfolio.

It was a very good and enjoyable evening with good beer and good food in good company, and the employees of Meantime and Hope And Glory being both attentive and informative and it got me thinking about some of the other beers that Meantime produced for Sainsbury's and what labels I have. The 'Vienna style Amber Lager' shown at the top of this review is indeed the same beer as the Union Lager and is also, as you would expect, the first Meantime label I have in scrap books I've collected of beer labels over the years. Looking through further I came across quite a few more of those early beers and wonder if Meantime will revisit these in the not too distant future. For pure indulgence I have decided to show them below for the simple reason that I found them interesting and they brought back memories of the beers.

I'd rather like to see both of these two. Kolsch is a style of beer that I really enjoy and I was intrigued to discover that the Meantime employees were taken to Cologne for their Beer Sommelier training and repeatedly drank this style from the various breweries there, picking out the nuances of each until they could differentiate between them. As for the Bavarian Wheat I can only assume that this is what became Meantime Wheat. It's also interesting to note that these two labels, along with the Vienna style at the top, are the only three I have on which Alastair Hook himself appears, although the reason for him being there or why he was subsequently removed is one I have been unable to ascertain.

I'm afraid to say that I don't remember too much about this beer at all but the change of label design leaves you in no doubt as too what the ingredients are.


I can only think that the plain style of this label was to make it fit in with the rest of Sainsbury's Organic range however I'm afraid it has made the beer rather forgettable, which is a shame as it sounds rather nice from the description.

Now this is a beer that I'd really like to see again so if your reading this Meantime then I hope you can take a hint.

This is the first incarnation of the Raspberry Wheat beer that I could find and it has remained permanently on the range ever since.

This is the first wholly Meantime label that I have and is a dark lager and not the Chocolate Porter as you might expect. It is brewed with 'chocolate' malts, and label says it has gentle chocolate and vanilla flavours too. I only wish I could remember.

Here's another beer I'd like to see again, particularly as I remember it being rather good indeed.

The final label here is the last of the 'Taste The Difference' range I have. As you can see the design is simpler and with a definite focus on the raspberries making it more like a dessert that than a beer, a kind of upside-down raspberry panna cotta, which I think is rather clever marketing.
If anyone has any other labels that they'd like to share from this period for Meantime, particularly if there's any from the 'Taste The Difference' range that I've missed then I'd like to see them. Look out for the Union Lager though, it's rather good, and remember that you're drinking a little bit of Meantime history as you do so.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Beers of London Series 69. Hop Stuff - Renegade IPA

Beers Of London Series
69. Hop Stuff - Renegade IPA 5.6%

I first heard about Hop Stuff brewery towards the end of last year as I was compiling my own personal list of London Breweries so that I could keep up to date with who was open, who had closed, and who was rumoured to be starting up. It was, and continues to be, a very exciting time to be drinking in London with changes happening on an almost daily basis. In fact two of the breweries already featured in this series (Brupond and The Botanist) are no more, but with many more opening the list just continues to grow. I didn't actually get around to publishing my list, however if you'd like to keep up with what's happening on the London beer scene you could do a lot worse than visit Beer Guide London or download Will Hawkes Craft Beer London app for your smartphone, or indeed by the book that goes with it. Well  known beer writer Des De Moor also has a London Breweries page although this is a little out of date however these are all valuable sources of information with twitter being the most up to date (try London Beer Guide, London Beers or New Beer In London) and even I have been known to cover it on occasion.

Hop Stuff brewery was the dream, and now reality of James Yeomans who moved into the Woolwich area in March of 2013. He already had a love of craft beer but noticed that there was a dearth of it in his immediate area and after some thought gave up his job in banking and seized the opportunity he saw before him. He is incredibly proud of the history of the area his brewery is in and uses the cannon symbolism on his bottle label to encompass this. He informs me that there is no connection to Arsenal football club who share the cannon as their emblem and have the nickname 'the Gunners' as they also started 'South Of The River' before migrating North, with rugby being more to his liking. Armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing and explosives research were all carried out at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich until the Ministry Of Defence moved out in 1994, and James sees the brewery as being the next stage in the history of the area.

Originally from Oakham in Rutland he has great admiration for the Grainstore Brewery and their brewpub there, and is particularly delighted by their recent expansion. Further afield he cites Sam Calagione as a role model with regard to the challenges of starting and growing a successful brewery with a focus on consistency of product, something that James is particularly passionate about. Plans for the short term are to maximise the current building's capacity as he is rapidly gaining a reputation for producing good consistent quality beer locally, something he is keenly aware that some small brewers struggle to do.

The current range consists of four beers, Fusilier, a classic English bitter, Pale, a crisp golden ale with a grassy citrus flavour, Gunners Porter, a 7.4% example of the style that I'll be reviewing soon, and Renegade IPA, the beer I'm writing about tonight. He has plans to add a saison to the portfolio in March and plans it to be a Spring beer through and through, although he won't give too much away at present.

As an additional note, I'm reviewing this beer in conjunction with the Beer O'Clock Show podcast who are featuring this beer as their first of Season 4 which I've linked to here. In fact it was Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show who gave me the introduction to James for which I am most grateful. I recommend that you follow them on twitter and download the podcasts, I find them both entertaining and informative.

Time for me to drink the beer. It pours a beautifully deep sunset orange with a thin, lightly carbonated white head and the aroma of passion fruit, lime and freshly peeled oranges, with maybe the slightest notion of desiccated coconut. Initially smooth over the tongue, the carbonation kicks in hard at the back of throat with an explosion of juicy nectarine, tangerine juice and a drop of grapefruit like a cannon shell detonating with a burst of citrus, both bitter and succulent at the same time. It disappears a little thinly into the finish a little quickly after that but nevertheless all those fruity acerbic flavours resonate wonderfully here, quite distinct and without the harsh dryness that often accompanies beers of this style.
This isn't a showy beer. It does indeed have a bitter kick up front but when all that wonderful fruit slides over the tongue it tames it rather nicely, soothing into its long lasting conclusion.

I sincerely hope that you get the chance to taste this beer soon. Perhaps you'll read this review or listen to the Beer O'Clock Show podcast as you drink it, however with James's determination and high production values I'm sure it won't be too long before you get the chance to drink it.