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.
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 (Mark, Beer 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.