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Classic Beer of the Month December 2011: Meantime London Porter

Meantime London Porter, 6.5%

When Meantime introduced its India Pale Ale and London Porter in 2005, there were more than a few murmurings of discontent.

Meantime London PorterThe reason was nothing to do with the quality of the beer, far from it, but the fact that the company decided to send the beer almost entirely to the USA, with no provision made for sale in the UK.

The situation was happily soon remedied and both beers – resplendent in their heavy, outsize Champagne bottles – muscled their way onto the shelves of Sainsbury’s supermarkets.

The India Pale Ale is a magnificent beer and will no doubt be featured on these pages at some point in the future, but the focus this time is simply on the London Porter, the beer that showed drinkers just how an authentic porter might have tasted and reminded citizens of the capital that their home town was actually the birthplace of this historic beer style.

It’s tempting to meander down the route of telling the story of how porter came into being, or got its name, with all its red herrings, but I’ll leave that dispute for the historians.

However, I do need to put on the record the fact that porter was the most popular drink in London during the 18th century.

It was the beer on which companies such as Whitbread and Thrale built their fortune, a dark, heady brew that was aged for long periods in wooden casks, the ageing taking away much of the intense smokiness that characterized younger beers of the time because of the inadequacies of the malting process.

Seven Different Grains

The Meantime brewers’ research led them to base their reconstruction on seven different grains in a bid to match the malt profile of the early porters.

Pale malt provides the necessary fermentable sugars to raise the alcohol level to a chunky 6.5%. Alongside this, Munich malt, pale crystal malt, chocolate malt and brown malt add varying degrees of dark malt goodness, chipping in with notes of chocolate and coffee.

A little black malt deepens the colour and brings a hint of espresso coffee, while smoked malt recognizes the smokiness that would have been apparent in the early porters.

With some torrefied wheat thrown in to enhance the body and mouthfeel, this is the complex grist that fills the mash tun.

For the copper boil, Fuggle is the hop of choice, partly because of its Victorian origins but also because of its earthy aroma. Astringency and bitterness in this brew are scheduled to come from the roasted malt, but there’s no shortage of hops in the mix either, helping to balance out the sweeter elements of the grain.

From all of the above, you won’t be surprised to learn that, when it comes to the taste, this is not your average porter.

Ruby-hued, it is truly complex, with an airy, mouthfilling texture from bottle conditioning that lightens the heavy malt load.

Dark chocolate, tart winey notes and hints of tropical fruit all feature in the bittersweet taste, followed by a dry finish of well-roasted grains and their bitter chocolate, nut and coffee flavours.

Ages Remarkably Well

In keeping with the porter tradition, the beer ages remarkably well. Recently, I extracted the cork from a bottle that was more than five years past its best before date.

It drank beautifully, suggestive of a coffee liqueur wrapped in chocolate. Time had mellowed the bitterness while the malt flavours remained rich and velvety.

There are some very enjoyable porters knocking around these days, but many are fairly light in body and character, almost as if they’ve been conceived as slightly sweeter, less bitter versions of dry Irish-style stouts.

Meantime’s beer takes porter back to its roots – and offers a hell of a satisfying drink in the process. Look out for it today in Waitrose.

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