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India Pale Ale

Meantime Brewing Company Limited
London
United Kingdom
http://www.meantimebrewing.com

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 7.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)


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International Beer Month … what Dork would embrace that more than a true English warrior like Nigel?

Uh … just about all of them. With International Beer Month coming to a close here at BeerDorks.com, Nigel’s four week contribution has amounted to a Red Stripe review (you’ll never let me live that one down) and an ode to my favorite Belgian friend, Tripel Karmeliet. No English brews, no hoppy brews, and frankly, hardly any brews to speak of. Eddie, Jill, and even home brewing guru Jug have lapped me this month, and I have to say I’m somewhat ashamed.

So what gives? Well, like a true Englishman, I have a couple of intelligent excuses. The first is quite simple: my trusty friend of seven years, a pal that helped me achieve great things during college and the subsequent years, my Dell desktop circa 2002, finally gave out in January. Sad for sure, but with death comes life, and Nigel will finally get that long-needed replacement machine, one that’s actually portable and has all the latest bells and whistles (read: faster modem for more porn capabilities). In the meantime, I have sketchy computer access that doesn’t allow me to be as Dorky as I typically like to be. Second, Nigel was recently promoted at his job selling macaroni noodle trinkets to Japanese tourists, leaping from Junior Macaroni Trinket Associate to Director of Macaroni Quality Control and Production, which led to a drastic increase in hours and responsibility, if not pay. So, in short, I’ve been flippin’ busy at work and my computer died, so BACK OFF!

But, alas, I couldn’t let International Beer Month pass for good without touching on a couple of key areas (England and hops), and I think I’ve found the perfect brew to capture all things at once. Meantime Brewing Co. in Greenwich (that’s a neighborhood in London, not a town, for those unfamiliar with the geography of the Isles) calls itself England’s first true craft brewer, though clearly that is one of those claims that can be challenged. What is true is that while England always had and still does have a number of quality brewers, they are typically brewers that have been around for many years and brew bigger batches (not close to approaching American macro batch size, but bigger than most craft brewers). For comparison sake, let’s say England has plenty of Sam Adams, but not too many Bell’s.

Add to the small-batch philosophy the fact that Meantime is a new brewery (founded in 1999) without decades or even centuries of tradition to bog them down, rising at the height of the craft beer movement in America and the beginning of its trickle-down effects on the European market. The time was right for an English brewery that could return to the “authentic” ales that Americans had recently rediscovered and began to perfect and/or alter. Unlike the American beer market, the British market didn’t become a complete joke, but instead was still crafting quality ales of a number of styles, just more so in bulk and not quite up to the original standards (Americans had Bud Light; Brits had Guinness and Harp … they win). Meantime and others are bringing more traditional views back to English brewing, and are working in harmony with the more established brewers to keep the British market relevant and vibrant.

Meantime bottle conditions all their ales, almost all of them coming in champagne-style 750 milliliter bottles. The cork proves to be a tough cookie, as it doesn’t necessarily pull or twist out, but requires significant jockeying that ends with a disappointing muted pop. A slight fog permeates from the bottle neck, with a initial aromatic shot of traditional English hops (Fuggles and Goldings), followed by a nice, earthy undertone that screams English IPA. The pour is fairly boisterous, with the bottle conditioning process providing a lustrous head a full finger deep which slowly dissipates, leaving a creamy white lace throughout.

The aroma is what a true, traditional English IPA should be. The origins of the IPA stem from the 19th century, when British soldiers guarding the Empire in India wanted to enjoy the fine beer brewed back home. Standard English ales (typically English bitters) would be over-hopped, hoping that the added natural preservatives of the hops would keep the beer fresh on a multi-week journey via sail from England to India. Thus, the modern American IPA is a bastardized version of the original, as American versions tend to focus entirely on the hop profile, often overlooking the intricacies of the other elements of the beer. Meantime has brewed an authentic IPA, meaning the aroma is in fact grainy and earthy, with noticeable hints of barley and yeast, as well as plenty of Fuggles and Goldings hops. However, much like German/Czech Noble hops, English hops tend to be far earthier than their American counterparts, so the hop aroma isn’t as sweet and light as it is in an American Cascade/Centennial/Simcoe, etc. Thus, the aroma is wonderfully earthy and bitter, but for those unfamiliar with a fine English IPA, it may seem a bit odd.

The taste is also fantastic, a true testament to the pioneers of the style two centuries ago. Boatloads of English hops inundate the tongue throughout, but they don’t overwhelm as they often can in American IPAs, particularly the “imperial” doubles and triples. The hops are equally sour as they are bitter, giving it a muted citrus profile that is far less sweet and flowery than American versions. A solid malt profile, mainly light caramel with a touch of honey, blends perfectly with the Fuggles and Goldings, giving it the traditional flavor of a fine English bitter, with the elements jacked up a bit to make it an IPA. Don’t get me wrong … Meantime IPA still packs a punch, but it isn’t a monster in any department; rather, it’s a delicately balanced IPA that is a true ode to the original. Medium bodied but remarkably smooth on the palate, Meantime IPA packs a punch at 7.5 percent ABV, but doesn’t overwhelm, making for a pleasant session while indulging a very large bottle.

There’s little doubt in my mind that Meantime has succeeded in creating an authentic, traditional English IPA. The earthy overtones, the muted bitterness, the perfect utilization of real English hops, attention to detail not just in the hop department, but in the beer as a whole … that, in my opinion, is how a true craft beer should be constructed. Meantime distributes about three of their English brews, including India Pale Ale, in the United States, so give it a shot should you see it at your local craft beer retailer. You can expect to pay around $10 for a 25.4-ounce champagne-style bottle, but the ode to the great history of British beer is well worth the price.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 28, 2009.
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