(4.5% English make from 500ml bottle) “What preparations to make a jar of porter! What commotion, what cranking and rattling of machinery! Beer barrels larger than a house in the Highlands! Cooling vats as wide as an ocean!” (Johanna Schopenhauer 1810). Cobble stone roads and the trample of horses, the smell of smoke omnipresent with the burgeoning industrial revolution enveloping the City. Scores of immigrants and English alike walk the streets, work the streets, and tire endlessly to put food on the table. The kingdom is building, and imperialism has yet to be redefined by the impact of Great Britain. As important as the machine grease, dark ales lubricate the workers as they toil away.
The porter was born on the streets of 18th century London, and its stronger brother ‘Porter Stout’ (later shortened to just ‘Stout’) was happy to join in the revelry. The history of the stout is intrinsically tied to that of the porter. Both dark ales, the former being a stronger version of the latter, they were the drink of choice for the workers of this fabled City. The porters, the haulers, the movers and shakers who powered commerce and trade by ferrying goods led a difficult and trying life. But the light at the end of dark shift was equally ominous with a pint of porter or a jug of stout awaiting you at the local public house.
The beer on review today, the Meantime Stout, hearkens back to these days before universal suffrage and before the outlawing of slavery. The days before working standards and the dis-empowerment of Europe’s royalty. These were the days of goods being trafficked all over this great City with the main thorough fares being places like Smithfield and Spitalfields. The men who were the mules of their day guzzled the dark stuff, and this recipe is a faithful recreation of that.
When poured, bubbles line the glass with carbonation as the cream coloured head builds over a deep, dark brown/black body. On closer inspection, with your nose to the glass while hoping no one thinks you look a bit mad, you pick up some subtle vanilla hints. On the palate it tastes a little sweet with a slight coffee/vanilla/caramel taste while well-balanced with a good mouth feel and a lasting bitter finish.
So what exactly is different between this and say your average Irish stout? According to Meantime, “Meantime London Stout is made in the original London way, with an 100% malt grist including the original brown malt and no roast barley. This gives the beer a more velvet mouthfeel and greater vanilla notes than Irish alternatives”. Grand, now what does that mean?
- …100% malt grist – To start, what is 100% malt grist? Well, according to my sources this means that the brewer is not using any kind of cost-cutting adjuncts such as corn, rice or any malt extracts which could come as a powder or a syrup. Of note, some adjuncts are added to deliver a specific style and not necessary just to cheat costs. For example, wheat can be added in order to create better head retention. If you think about the difference between a German Weissbier and an English ale, it becomes pretty clear what role an adjunct like wheat can play.
- …the original brown malt – There are many different types of malts used to make beer, but traditionally porters and stouts were made with English brown malts. The brown malt needs to be mashed before it is toasted, which means that it has to be soaked in hot water in order for the enzymes to convert grain starches into sugars which can be fermented. On the contrary, Irish stouts use roasted malts, which are a type of ‘specialty malt’ that does not require mashing. These malts are cooked at high temperatures, and as a results they cook in the husk while retaining a caramel like flavour (for more information and my source here see How to Brew).
- London water – Another important distinction in the flavour profile is the use of water from London. The chemical composition of the water plays a vital role in determining the balance between the hops and malts. London water, along with that of other traditionally dark brewing capitals like Dublin, is more comparatively more alkaline than Burton on Trent. Therefore, when using darker and/or roasted malts that are naturally more acidic (as compared to pale malts), the combination of an alkaline water and an more acidic brew mix well together and more easily than it would with pale malts.
Truth be told, this is an excellent example of the London style stout. As they say, ‘We’re from Grenwich. We know about time’, and after a few sips on this you will be glad that they indeed did take their time to craft another spectacular beer intrinsically tied to London’s great history. This particular bottle was enjoyed in the surreal confines of a nook in the Norman crypt of St Mary le Bow. The church hosts a restaurant called the Cafe Below that served up one excellent rump steak on my last visit.
The church, first built in 1080, was destroyed by the Great Fire and the Blitz, but the rebuilt Wren masterpiece still sends out the bell chimes which famously define the Cockneys. If one was to be born within the bells of the Bow, then you were a true Cockney they say. Many a porter of London could claim such heritage along with enjoying the dark ales of their day. Thanks to Meantime, we too can throw a few back after a long days work and cheers to something that matters.