LONDON, ENGLAND – During a springtime visit to London, I was fortunate to be invited to spend a couple of hours touring Meantime Brewing Company’s state of the art facilities in Greenwich. In the company of “Beer Sommelier” and expert brewer Rod Jones, I learned about the history of Meantime, the brewing process, and the obsession with quality which has brought the company the success it is currently enjoying.
Why “Meantime”? Because they are in Greenwich of course. Still not sure what I am talking about? Allow Wikipedia to explain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwich_Mean_Time
Meantime was the brainchild of Alastair Hook, a south Londoner who was lucky enough to have an inspirational teacher, who gave him a passion for beer. A degree at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, the UK’s leading brew school, and postgraduate work at Weihenstephan, the world’s leading brew school, gave Alastair the formal training, plus a stint in the USA gave him the practical training required to turn him into a brewer. Equipped with a much more cosmopolitan outlook than the average British brewer, Alastair was convinced that the British drinker was being short-changed by the brewing industry. He, he determined, would set that right, and he would do so by example.
Alastair's mission was simple. To demonstrate the full flavor potential that beer has to offer and place it before the drinking public. In 1999 the company was founded in Alastair's flat and the search for premises in Greenwich began.
As Meantime gained a reputation for quality beer, it was able to appeal to the more far-sighted restaurateurs who appreciated the value of offering extra quality to their customers in all aspects of their operation, including the beers, which are so often overlooked.
In 2000, the lease to the Observatory pub on Royal Hill became available, and after a quick and frantic pub refurbishment, the Greenwich Union opened in November 2001 selling a full range of Meantime brewed beers and no national brewers products at all; the only pub in London to do so. Within a few months of opening it was short listed for the Time Out, Evening Standard and Class magazine Pub of the Year awards.
In 2006, the company achieved its stated goal of winning a gold medal at that year’s World Beer Cup, for their Coffee Porter. 2007 was also an excellent year for awards, with no fewer than four Meantime beers being classed in the World's Top 50 as compiled by the International Beer Challenge.
2009 was dominated by two major projects; raising finance to fund the investment needed to move the brewery out of its now hopelessly inadequate premises, and preparing for the opening of a second retail outlet. The outlet was to be called The Old Brewery, in recognition of the fact that by installing a three story brewhouse against one wall of the Pepys building, the company was reinstating brewing on a site that had seen brewing take place continuously from around 1717 to 1860.
The new restaurant-brewery opened officially on March 23rd 2010, with London Mayor Boris Johnson pouring the inaugural pint. Rave reviews followed, both for the beer brewed by Rod Jones and for the food, meticulously prepared by Michelin star trained chef, Daniel Doherty.
Today, the company employees around 30 people at the new brewery location, and sources 97% of its grain from within the UK, primarily from the east coast of England, East Anglia, and Scotland. The remaining 3% is imported from the region of Bavaria in Germany. The malt used in production is exactly the same as that used for malt whisky production in Scotland. Top quality malted barley is sourced, which costs up to 50% more than the industry standard barley used by most large scale brewers. At Meantime, they never add fillers such as corn or rice to their brews, preferring to focus on producing a quality product, even if it costs more to do so.
Top quality barley provides flavor, while the natural enzymes break down the starches and turn them into sugar. 90% of the malt is pale – which forms the main ingredient for the brews; other types of malt comprise the remaining 10%, which are needed for certain specialty beers.
A six week maturation process is used (by contrast, many commercial brewers mature their products for as little as two days), during which natural carbonation occurs. The beer is not pasteurized; instead it is micro-filtered to remove any bacteria which could spoil the end product; a process which does not come cheap, costing £5,000 per week in filters alone.
Meantime’s impressive brewery in Greenwich has been located at the current site for 4 years, and more expansion into neighboring space is currently planned. Tours are available; more information and tour times are on their website.
Meantime’s Brewery and Visitors Centre is located in Blackwall Lane, London SE10, accessible by bus, train, and underground. For more information and opening hours, visit their website at http://www.meantimebrewing.com/.
The Greenwich Union pub is located at 56 Royal Hill, London SE10. For more information, visit their website at http://www.greenwichunion.com/
The Old Brewery restaurant, bar, and café is located at The Pepys Building, The Old Royal Naval College, London SE 10. For more information, visit their website at http://www.oldbrewerygreenwich.com/
Meantime’s products are imported into the USA by Artisanal Imports – visit them online for more information and retail outlets: http://artisanalimports.com/