Tuesday 25 October 2016

Meantime's minibar takes an arty approach to beer

Inside the pop-up pub
Is Meantime Brewery’s latest publicity wheeze a tiny bar or a bijou art gallery? A bit of both really – the art side is because the 6ft by 8ft (1.8m by 2.4m) bar in the pop-up pub, which is called the Make Time For It after Meantime’s current promo campaign, has been furnished and decorated by six rather excellent artists and craftspeople from around Britain.

The guests – a maximum of three, although I’m sure you could fit more in if they stood – sit on a bench created by from recycled material by furniture designer Liam Hopkins of Manchester’s Lazerian, drink from pint glasses designed by James Adlington and hand-blown at his Bristol Blue Glass workshop, and the bar is lit by a neon installation created in Leeds by Julia Bickerstaff of Neoncraft.

Bottled neon?
Even the wallpaper is bespoke – designed by Marion Parola and Yvonne Elliott of Bespoke Atelier in Glasgow, it features climbing greenery to evoke hopbines, with the trademark Meantime cogwheel peeping out here and there. So too is the bartender’s waistcoat, designed by Brighton tailor Gresham Blake, and including specially woven “brewing process” fabric. The finishing touch is a gorgeous gilded pub mirror from London-based creative signwriter Ged Palmer’s Luminor studio.

Detail of the waistcoat
Equally important, the beer is bespoke as well – Meantime brewer Ciaran Giblin sat down with each of the artists to create a beer around them and brew it on Meantime's pilot brewkit. “I was told ‘You’ve got to get the personality of the craftsman into a beer,’ which I thought was a bit of fun,” he explained.

Sadly, although it’s a temporary pop-up bar and is therefore portable – they claim it fits in the back of a Transit van* – it wasn’t present at last week’s press launch in the clock tower above London St Pancras station. The artworks and beers did though, except for one which had already run out, and so did most of the creators involved, all of whom had enjoyed the process.

“Ciaran talked to us and got a sense of how we work,” said Marion Parola. She added that since she’s French and Yvonne is Scottish, he came up with a dark Scotch ale aged in Cognac barrels and then blended back with young beer – the rich and smooth result, called Maison Hop, was probably the star of the five we got to sample.

Ciaran checks the beer...
One demand Meantime put on the creatives was that they had just six weeks to do the job – this was to tie in with the six weeks that it would take to brew their beer from start to finish, and it’s what the Make Time campaign is about. It seems that brewers everywhere are noticing that fast and cheap may please the accountants, but it doesn’t keep drinkers happy (Anheuser-Busch has even resorted to plagiarising a rival’s advertising campaign on the subject, as Pete Brown angrily and amusingly alleged on his blog last week).

My one problem with the whole project was that the creatives weren’t paid for their work, unless you count getting a few cases of ‘their’ beer. As a freelance, I’m not a big fan of working for ‘exposure’ as it’s quite hard to spend... Sometimes though you do stuff, and it doesn’t matter that it was free because it was fun and you got something else useful out of it – a bit like writing this blog, really.

Luminor Pale Ale
And that’s how signwriter Ged Palmer approached it. “It took me months to get over doing things for exposure,” he laughed. “But at least with this I get a beer with my name on it!” He also got to work with loose gold leaf which he enjoys doing, and like the others he got a gorgeously filmed and edited promotional video showing him at work – you can find these on YouTube or the Meantime website.

If you’d like to visit the Make Time For It pop-up pub and see the artworks – oh, and collect a free pint too – it’s in Peninsula Square, North Greenwich, near the Millennium Dome, until Sunday 30th October. You’ll have to book a 20 minute visit online though, or take pot-luck. Quite what happens to it all after Sunday, I don’t know – I’ll ask...

*Long wheelbase, rather than short, I suspect!

Here's the six beers brewed for the project, as Meantime describes them:

Hop Back (Manchester): A classic mild beer with a spiced berry aroma for a modern twist

Maison Hop (Glasgow): A rich and smoky cognac barrel-aged black ale with hints of smooth vanilla.

Time to Time (Leeds): A Saison de Nuit that will light up your taste buds with vibrant fruit flavours.

Hourglass (Bristol): Crisp, dry pilsner with fresh pressed apple notes inspired by cider. The sugars from the fermentation come from a blend of malt and apple juice, giving a fruity twist to a classic dry pilsner.

The Tweedster (Brighton): Passionfruit wheat beer packed full of punchy, vibrant fruit flavours, well balanced against a beautiful wheat beer backbone.

Luminor (London): a hoppy pale ale with zesty citrus flavours from the wild Sussex Hop.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

A cider-maker hops to it

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that, like hoppy beer, flavoured cider is more than a little bit fashionable. So over in the States, someone had the idea of combining the two – hops and cider that is, not beer and cider, which is Snakebite and can easily get the unwary drinker into all sorts of trouble…

And now England’s Purity Brewing has collaborated with another well-known English name, Westons Cider, to follow suit. The result is Pure Hopped Cider, which combines Herefordshire apples with Worcestershire-grown Target hops – its creators are very proud of its local origins and traceable ingredients. It came out last month and Purity kindly sent me a can to try.

The first surprise was the aromatic hoppy hit on the nose as the can hissed open – it's the smell of uncooked dry hops, not of beer. The liquid pours a cloudy yellow-gold with a light sparkle but no head. In the glass, the aroma is more of scrumpy cider with an unexpected hint of ginger beer – the proper yeasty lemony kind, not the fizzy soda version.

It's sweeter on the palate than I like, but not grossly so. There's a lightly tart apple and lemon note, again a distant note of ginger beer and a touch of hops. It's unusual to get that leafy hoppiness unaccompanied by bitterness – it’s the boiling in brewing that brings out the bitterness, of course.

Would I try it again? Sure – it’s an intriguing mix and a nice cider, even if I normally prefer my ciders a little drier than this. It does make me wonder what a proper dry scrumpy would be like when dry-hopped, though!