Suffer the children, for the Old Brewery belongs to such as these

The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Last weekend I met Chris at the Old Brewery in Greenwich, a place I’d been eagerly waiting to visit since I’d heard plans of its construction a year ago.  I am a fan of Meantime’s beers, and what Alastair Hook the brewer has done in redefining historical beers is truly exciting. With the Old Brewery, Hook has used part of Wren’s grand Old Naval Hospital  for his new brewpub, making beers inspired by the space, including a porter.  It is a glorious idea, but one that, on the afternoon I visited, felt much like stepping into a brochure, a concept rather than a welcoming space. Perhaps this is the problem with so much history– to respect it is to care for it and make it live somehow, but in doing so how do we make room for ourselves in it?

Hook has done a wonderful job surmounting this paradox by brewing traditional London beers but using processes and philosophies from both the German brewing tradition as well as the American craft brewing movement.

I had read much about the brewpub on blogs and other reviews, so I imagined something a little different.  It is a brew pub, in that the beer brewed is served there, and you can even sit near the gorgeous copper vats. Though you will be surrounded by a sea of buggies and families who, though I’d like to think are admiring the shiny beer apparatus, aren’t there for the beer at all, but for the space which they are using as a pit stop on their day out visiting the “interactive learning stations” (this curmudgeon shudders) of the Discover Greenwich exhibition next door.  On the day I visited, this cafe/brew pub felt more like a National Trust tearoom.  In the main room there are aproned staff serving up chocolate muffins and sandwiches, and in the bar there are many very efficient and helpful staff, there’s just not enough space or tables to sit comfortably.  On the rare occasion the weather behaves, the outside beer garden looks promising if a bit overly-groomed.

The Old Brewery

I didn’t take any pictures.  These are promotional photographs.  Much like estate agent documentation, they distort the space slightly, offering a perfect angle. The place just isn’t that big, which shouldn’t be a criticism but if it’s going to be an overblown creche, I would prefer to drink elsewhere.

But drink we did.  Between Chris, Mr. Malting and myself we must have tried almost all the Meantime beers on keg.  They were all quite tasty and refreshing, though in danger of being somewhat interchangeable, their differences were so subtle.  The exception was the wonderfully named Hosptial Porter which was exceptional, and at 8% quite dangerous. A delicious lactose note laced with  lots of deep chocolate, quite balanced with a soft mouthfeel and no sour note or alcohol tang as I had been expecting.  It did seem to have medical properties, lightening my rather grumpy mood.  (It’s not that I don’t like children, I just resent the private space of the parenting endeavor invading on the public space of the pub, which it too often does, becoming an obnoxious spectacle of entitlement, but at the risk of losing my readership I will stop now). Chris commented that Meantime’s dark beers are much better than the lighter ones and I fear he may be right.  The London Pale Ale, so blissfully zingy in the bottle, remained a ghost of itself in the keg (MarkBeer Nut, Knut and I found this to be the case when we visited the Union Pub last year, and our consensus must remain.) However the London Porter as well as the stout are outstanding beers both on keg and in the bottle.

I wonder if in the evenings the cafe is transformed into something closer to the promotional images?Though to be fair I’m a bit put off by the white tablecloths.  That is really taking gastro to the extreme– I look at it and think where’s the awkward wedding seating chart? I don’t know if I would travel the hour and a half it takes for me to get to Greenwich unless I can be promised something between the creche and the precious, upmarket dining experience, no matter how good the beer is.  Though, if they do that Tudor recipe, and put it on keg, the anachronist in me is just going to have to brave the buggies.

12 Responses

  1. Maybe it’s a matter of trying to avoid visits on weekends?
    Yes, the London Pale Ale is not consistent. As far as I remember, it was also dull on cask.

    • Hi Knut– I am not sure when the best time to visit would be– clearly the weekends aren’t the best idea, but that is the case with most pleasurable destinations in London, especially in the summer!

  2. Ally all seems fair comment. I fear the bar has ibeen designed to make sure they get high through put and not for people to linger like we did. I think the beer garden might be the best option if the sun ever comes out!
    I will be after having some of the hospital porter very soon! Not surprising really that a London brewery should make THE London beer style porter so maybe the city trying to tell Meantime something!

    • Hi Chris, I thought the whole “vibe” of the layout was weird. I had a mini panic before you arrived, feeling like there would be no place for us to sit down comfortably and have a civilized session. (OMG I just used the word “session” in reference to beer drinking…what’s happening!?!) And then the next room, the cafe, was transformed around early evening with all those white tablecloths and I thought it was for a wedding or something but now that I see the promo pics, maybe that’s just for the posh punters to come in, the ones who have reservations? Their website doesn’t load on my laptop (grrrr) so it the whole cafe vs. bar and booking system remains a mystery.

      In the dark, paranoid recesses of my brain, this set up for the brew pub that is a creche in the day and a reservations-only fine dining establishment in the evening is just another misguided attempt to buy respect for beer by making it inaccessible.

      If you go back and the place is not full of buggies or full place settings, let me know!

  3. You know I had wondered about this place and it is on my list to visit next time I’m in London, but it seems I better go during the week rather than weekends.

    I’m afraid that I find Meantime beers disappointing, in that they never seem to live up to their promise, or only do when others are drinking them. Excellent and helpful piece.

    • Hi Tandleman,

      If you do go on a weekday, I would be interested to hear how you find it. I was expecting something a bit more relaxed in terms of space, and though I do enjoy Meantime beers the ones I sampled (save the porter) were pleasant but unremarkable. This coming on the fantastic experience I had at the Jolly Butchers just put things in perspective!

  4. Thanks for your review and comments which we at Meantime read with interest. However, I think all of you have somewhat missed the point. The purpose of the venue during the day is to to serve the visitors to Discover Greenwich and the wider World Heritage Site. When this closes in the evening the Old Brewery becomes a different kind of establishment catering for a different kind of customer. We are not a pub catering merely for beer lovers – nor is our other venue the Greenwich Union. We are about putting great beer – matched with great food – in front of as many people as possible, many of whom may not know much about beer, or its history. Our aim is to demystify beer and make it accessible. We are not, and never have been about, preaching to – or pandering to – the converted. It would be great if you guys did come back in the evening and comment on what you see then, and maybe even on the food, and not just the beer.

    • Hi Peter. I’m sorry you feel we have missed the point of the brew pub. Your explanation matches my impression of the venue. I did eat in the bar, but refrained from commenting on the food as one meal was very good but the other we ordered was disappointing.

      I also realize that I may be imposing my idea of a brew pub, based on my travels around Germany and the US where there is already a great deal of respect for craft beer. The restaurant isn’t a casual establishment, which is something I would equate with accessibility– though I suppose the “different kind of customer” the restaurant caters to is one who would like a formal dining experience and is perhaps traditionally a wine drinker.

  5. Hi Peter,
    Firstly can is say I’m a supporter of meantime and have drunk and eaten in Union many times. I am also very interested in beer and food matching.
    You mentioned a review of the food well I had the beef and beer pie and frankly it was poor particular as memory serves it cost £8.95. Firstly as for that price I was surprised it didn’t come with any potatoes or veg; adding chips took the pie to around £11 .50 if memory serves. For this sort of money the pie was very poor value. The crust was more browned than you’d want and the filling was lacklustre; the gravy was thinnish and the beef over cooked to go past silky to fibrous and with an almost dry texture and the whole sauce was under flavoured. The chips were good.
    As to food and beer matching forgive me but I saw no advice on this for customers no mention of which beer went with which dish and no suggestions from the person I ordered my food from. There wasn’t even a sign suggesting we ask fro advice. I have been before to the cafe side and had a roast pork sandwich and IPA which were both good.
    I still hold meantime could prune it’s range of golden ales, lagers and Weiss beers to give clearer definition to range and highlight the best of these styles.
    Anyway I’m sure the bar will do well with Olympics etc coming up and wish you well.
    Lastly I do really like the Hospital porter !

  6. I always thought “Suffer the little children” was an instruction.

    • Haha, Neville…well, if that’s the case the kids in the Old Brewery didn’t look that happy…

  7. […] A couple of times a year, we feel the need to be in Greenwich. Usually, we’re heading for Meantime’s brewery tap, the Greenwich Union. Over the years, it’s delighted and infuriated us, swinging from brilliant to awful from one visit to the next. The last couple of times, it’s been back on form. As well as being the best place to try Meantime’s own range, their selection of bottled beers just keeps getting better. The Old Brewery is Meantime’s new(ish) venture and, the couple of times we’ve been, we’ve loved it. In summer, it’s the nearest London comes to capturing the atmosphere of somewhere like Würzburg or Mainz. (Although not everyone agrees with us.) […]

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