What Meantime Means to Us

'Union', a painting on display at the Greenwich Union, c.2009.

As well as its significance in the ‘rebirth of British beer’, Alastair Hook’s Meantime Brewery has been important to us on a personal level.

Mean­time taught us that lager was­n’t just lager: tast­ing the range side by side, we could tell that ‘Cologne-style’ was not the same as Helles, which was def­i­nite­ly dif­fer­ent to Gold­en Beer.  They were sub­tle, but dis­tinc­tive.

Mean­time put Vien­na-style lager and Kölsch in Sains­burys super­mar­kets where we could buy four bot­tles for £4 and we turned up at many par­ties and bar­be­cues with those packs under our arms c.2004.

Hav­ing read about porter, we want­ed to taste it, but there did­n’t seem to be many around a decade ago; Mean­time fixed that, too. And their big 7.5% IPA was among the first we tast­ed that gave us a glimpse of what had peo­ple so excit­ed about US takes on the style, and so dis­mis­sive of Greene King’s – it was boozy, fruity, juicy and bold.

The Union, Mean­time’s brew­ery tap in Green­wich, was the first British pub where we real­ly noticed beer being treat­ed with respect. Half pints came in stemmed tulip glass­es, bot­tles were served in snifters, and no-one seemed to care how much or how lit­tle you drank as long as you enjoyed it. We crossed Lon­don to get there, time and time again, and there was always some­thing new to try. It was the world of Michael Jack­son’s books brought to life.

In recent years, how­ev­er, our ardour has fad­ed. The brew­ery’s focus seems to have moved from obscure sub-styles to Lon­don Lager (oh, so lager is just lager after all?), Pale Ale and Yaki­ma Red – beers that want so bad­ly to be accept­ed every­where that they blend into the ban­quettes. Alas­tair Hook has always been obsessed with con­sis­ten­cy and con­trol – he is pas­sion­ate and elo­quent on the sub­ject – but per­haps, in recent years, Mean­time has too often crossed the fine line between clean and bland? (We’re not sure, to be hon­est, that they are an upgrade from the main­stream as Pete Brown argues here, though we know what he means.)

This isn’t about demand­ing obscu­ri­ty or ‘extremes’: if we want US-style pale ale, we buy Sier­ra Neva­da. Porter? Sam Smith’s or Anchor. Big IPA? Brew­Dog Punk, or the ubiq­ui­tous Goose Island IPA, at £2 a bot­tle. If we want a British-brewed ver­sion of a clas­sic Ger­man style, we increas­ing­ly find our­selves look­ing to Thorn­bridge. (Where the brew­ing team is led by Rob Lovatt, for­mer­ly of… Mean­time.)

The acqui­si­tion of Mean­time by SAB Miller isn’t cat­a­stroph­ic, just anoth­er step in the direc­tion they’ve been trav­el­ling for some time. We’ll always have a soft spot for Mean­time, and will con­tin­ue to make pil­grim­ages to Green­wich, where the draught lager can still be tran­scen­dent.

2 thoughts on “What Meantime Means to Us”

  1. Was look­ing for reac­tion to this. I agree with every­thing you say. I felt that they have become a lit­tle bor­ing recent­ly but I remem­ber dis­cov­er­ing them and being excit­ed. In lon­don they have become, like cam­den, fair­ly ubiq­ui­tous and the ‘go to’ when any bar or restau­rant is adding a craft beer tap. It is a good thing that you can get lon­don pale or lager on tap in so many places where before you’d be faced the usu­al sus­pects.

    As you guys say it has been about focus­ing on the core range and there­fore apart from how sym­bol­ic the pur­chase it is I dont think any­thing will change.

    Hav­ing said that they are bor­ing the lim­it­ed edi­tion beers they’ve made for marks and Spencer’s have been great

  2. In the main I’ve always found their beers a bit unex­cit­ing. I won­der if it’s the influ­ence of Ger­man brew­ing?

    I once arranged to meet a mate in Mean­time’s Green­wich pub and he man­aged to end up in the Young’s pub next door. Even though I’m not a big fan of Young’s I was hap­py to move over to his side rather than insist he came to mine.

Comments are closed.