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Beer: the expert guide | by Ciaran Giblin

Meantime brew master Ciaran Giblin guides us through the wonderful world of beer, covering top tips for food and beer pairings all the way through to brewing techniques

Craft beer: a brief history

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Craft beer is a relatively new idea in Britain but it has been around in the States for much longer; they’ve been experimenting with beer styles since the mid-60s. My definition of craft beer is ‘modern interpretations of traditional European beer’.

Given that the US has a much shorter history of brewing than most of Europe, they tend to be much more likely to experiment as they don’t have a wealth of tradition holding them back. Imagine asking a monk to change the recipe of the beer his monastery has been making for 500 years – I doubt he’d dignify that with an answer.

In Britain, Meantime is one of the founders of the craft beer movement. Meantime started brewing in 2000 when, inspired by both European and modern American brewing, our brewmaster and founder Alastair Hook wanted to shake up the relatively dull brewing scene in this country. 2000 doesn’t seem long ago, but when Meantime started there were fewer than 10 breweries in London – a city which was once the brewing capital of the world. Now there are close to 100.


So what’s brewing?

beer ingredients
Hops

According to the 500-year-old German purity law, reinheitsgebot, there must only ever be four ingredients in beer; cereal (grain), hops, yeast and water. Hops haven’t always been a key ingredient in beer – they were introduced in the 15th century from Belgium and used as a preservative.

Being the stubborn cluster of islanders we are, the British didn’t take to them straight away. Hops have revolutionised beer for the drinker who wants to try a wide variety of flavours. They can be compared to grapes in wine, where the biodynamics of their growing environment dramatically affects flavour.

Most craft beers tend to favour hops from the West Coast of America, but there are amazing flavours on offer all over the world. When describing hops, I refer to them as the ‘seasoning’ in beer.

At Meantime, we often add interesting and complementary ingredients to give you something new to try; the Raspberry Wheat beer has (you guessed it), raspberries; the Chocolate Porter, chocolate. We produced a beer recently in our Pilot Brewery that included scotch bonnet chillies. We always use the same four principal ingredients; water, malts, hops and yeast, but beyond that the world is your oyster (stout).


How to pair beer with food:

My top tip for beer and food matching is to remember the three C’s; complement, contrast and cut…

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To complement, think about how big the flavours are and try to keep it a similar flavour size. For example, hot curry probably needs a big beer to match the flavours. As much as it’s what we’ve been taught, pale lager isn’t really the beer for a curry: instead pour an IPA to complement the curry rather than washing it out.

To contrast, think about two flavours that might not obviously go together but could be appealing; a great example is blue cheese and dark beer. The roasted notes of the beer contrast with cloying notes in the cheese, almost like a wholegrain cracker would.

To cut, think about scrubbing your palate. For example, wheat beer with risotto – the esters and light carbonation will clear your palate of the starch coating your mouth.


Key styles:

IPA

IPA is pale ale on steroids. During the 19th century, India was very important in Britain’s empire, and lots of troops and traders lived there. Pale ale couldn’t take the nine-month journey on a wooden ship, so brewers upped the hop content and alcohol level – the preservative agents in beer.

Bitter

Up until the end of the 18th century, grain was roasted over an open flame, making the beer so smoky that the bitterness of the hops couldn’t be tasted. When more efficient slow-roasting, with hot air rather than flame, was introduced the bitterness came to the fore. It seems strange now as there are still bitterer beers from the continent, but the name has stuck nevertheless.

beer bottles by meantime brewing

Porter and stout

London was built on dark beer. As the water in the 18th century spread cholera and dysentery, Londoners had two drink options; gin or dark beer. Life expectancy was low if people chose gin, but beer was a much healthier choice. Porter was the original dark beer, named for the ships’ porters and manual labourers who drank
a lot of it. Stout was a higher-alcohol version to drink in the pub. With the taxes and recipe changes of 300 years, the lines have blurred so much that there isn’t any difference; it’s all up to the brewer to decide what they want to call their dark beer.

Saison

A beer style from Belgium and France, this beer was made for farm workers who usually worked during the summer, known as ‘saisonniers’. These are lighter ales that tend to have spicy and fruity notes due to the hybrid yeasts used by the farm brewers of the time.

Pilsner

This was first brewed in the year 1842 in the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic. In 1841 there was a riot in Pilsen; the locals were so unimpressed with their local breweries that they ransacked them, poured the beer away and burnt the breweries down. When the town elders planned a new, central, brewery, they used local yeast and hops coupled with newly developed pale malt to create this style. Pilsners tend to have less flavour than most other beer, but that’s the point. Sometimes an 8% IPA or a super smokey porter can be overwhelming. 93% of the beer drunk on earth is pilsner!

Look out for:

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We’ve only gone and made our own beer! That’s right, we’ve collaborated with the team at Meantime, pioneers of the craft beer movement in the UK, to create a delicious pomegranate porter. A take on their classic London porter full of chocolate, coffee and gentle smoke, the addition of pomegranate gives our Portergranate a unique, tart twist. It’s the perfect, refreshing, moreish pint with a dry finish to get you through the cold months. Find it at the brewery shop, or online at meantimebrewing.com. £22.99/12 x 330ml