Thursday, February 6, 2014

Enjoying a Few Sneaky Beers in Southeast London

This past December I was lucky enough to spend some time in one of the world’s great cities during the holidays. The people I met were in serious holiday mode. The mulled wine was flowing on every street corner. Discussions about everything from holiday shopping, to who was coming home for the season, and of course who would be Christmas Number 1 (traditional choosing of the UK #1 song for Christmas) were happening in every café I stopped in. To say it was a great opportunity and one that I will remember for a lifetime is an understatement of what I got out of this abbreviated trip to London.

Winter-Not Really. Wonderland-Full of mulled wine so check!
Absorbing all of this holiday cheer would have been enough of a getaway on its own. Fortunately for me, I discovered two things that ranked highly on my list of London favorites for this trip. One was a new drinking phrase that I now use (improperly I’m sure) as often as I can. The other was discovering that London brewers are stepping outside their comfort zone of traditional ales and stouts to brew pints of craft goodness.

The Phrase That Pays

So what is this new phrase that I love but have no idea if I am using it properly? How did it enter my lexicon? Why do I feel so compelled to continue using it and get excited when I hear it other places? The phrase is “let’s grab a sneaky beer tonight”. That's it. Could this phrase have different meaning in my English vs the English of kings and queens ? Was it in fact the same as messing up the words "chips" or "biscuits" on either side of the Atlantic? Or was the meaning the same as I what I figured it to be?

Is this Meantime London Porter being sneaky?
I could not and cannot to this day find a definition of grabbing a “sneaky” one. I originally thought it meant grabbing a quick beer before calling it a night versus going on a bender that would leave me asleep on the floor of Paddington Station. Then I heard the phrase used in a much different way than I expected while watching Aussie Open coverage. It came from people who had obviously been drinking all day and they said that in order to stay cool they had been drinking “sneaky beers.” What? Was I using the phrase incorrectly? Could any number of beers in a sitting be “sneaky”? Was I spending way too much time worrying about what constitutes a “sneaky” beer in London instead of drinking the city's great craft beer? Perhaps. So, now I ask that if you know what a sneaky beer is, please leave a comment at the end of this post after you read this next bit about the craft beer revolution in London. Thanks, you may save my brain.

Meantime - The Craft Brewery of Southeast London

Every London travel show or guide book has a section on the public houses (pubs) of London that deserve a stop. They show you pictures of people standing around tall tables enjoying pints of England’s finest while assuring you that a selection of Queen’s greatest hits are playing in the background. The pub culture, like America’s tavern culture, has been dominated by big famous brands. The names Samuel Smith’s, Fullers, Bass, and Carling have graced the tap handles of pubs for years. When planning a trip to the pubs of London, these were the brands I expected to be served.

Fortunately for me the internet exists. While planning my trip I had set aside dedicated time for brew touring and pub hopping. Through my internet browsing I had come about The Meantime Brewing Company. Meantime, a local craft brewer in Greenwich southeast London, was within walking distance of where I planned to lay my head to rest every evening (hopefully).

Meantime has been brewing in Greenwich since 2000. In their 13 years of existence Meantime has accomplished many milestones and won numerous World Beer Cup Gold medals. What they should be held in high esteem for though is their aim to brew an authentic beer that allows drinkers to find out what a real beer should taste like in contrast to mass produced beer. With all of that great beer info in my mind, I had to make a quest to try this award winning brew.

One night after I had spent some time catching up and sharing a few “sneaky” ones (Kingfishers at an Indian Restaurant) in North London with my dear friend Niels (he is the one who started this "sneaky" fiasco), I arrived back in Greenwich. Since it was still before midnight and I knew that I wanted to sample an offering from Meantime and may not have the opportunity the next day, I did what felt right and bellied up to the bar. What I found was a full array of Meantime on tap and in bottles. It had been a long day, so "try a couple and hit the sack" was my plan for the rest of the night.

Too many beers, perhaps?
What ensued was what every person traveling and drinking can hope for, I met a new friend at the bar stool next to me and for double bonus points...he was Irish! Trying to keep up drink-wise with my new friend proved to be quite the challenge. What I didn't miss out on though was the real excellence that Meantime brewed. The IPA was perfectly hoppy but not overwhelmingly bitter. Their Porter was so smooth that my face must have told a story because our bartender ( who became our personal bartender as the night stretched into early morning) just kept pouring without even a nod from me. This lasted for countless hours until finally I checked my phone (drunk texted my lovely wife) and realized just how late it was.

Having past opportunities of being able to try many of the great American craft beers and some of the world's oldest brands in places like Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic to name a few, I can say that the chance to drink the fine brews from Meantime was just as much of a treat. When you get to London look them up, head to Greenwich for a meal at the Old Greenwich Brewery, or get lucky and meet a new friend who you can drink and sing the night away with.

I found out the next night that the more I moved around in the city plus the more time I would spend with Niels and his wonderful wife Jenny ( also dear friend of ours) that I found even more crafty creations in London...