Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Under the clock with Meantime

Last Thursday, for the second time in a fortnight, I found myself on a London-bound train. My destination was the Clock Tower at St Pancras Station, where I had been invited to attend a special beer presentation organised by Meantime Brewery. A week on, and I’m still uncertain about the purpose behind the event. The number “6” played a prominent part, as did “Time”, and it is this latter concept which appeared to be the main driving force behind the presentation.

Given the company name, and its location in Greenwich, close to the Prime Meridian, Meantime place considerable emphasis on time; claiming that Time is their “5th ingredient”. It takes six weeks to brew their beer; six weeks in which to brew a beer which is full of flavour.

The slogan “Make Time for It”, was therefore a very appropriate title for their recent advertising campaign, and as the ultimate tribute to the concept of time, they challenged six talented craftsmen from six cities to each create one element of a pop up bar. The craftsmen had six weeks to make something special and the brewery had six weeks to brew each of them a special beer; each inspired by the shared values of tradition, technology and time.

Meantime claim that this “pop-up bar” is the smallest in the world, with space for just two people, plus the barman/woman. The craftsmen contributed items like the pub sign, a specially-designed bench seat for two people, some elaborate screen-prints, plus several other elements. However, I wasn’t paying as much attention as I possibly should have, but the venue was packed, and we were hemmed in rather more than I would have liked.
The Tower Room

I mentioned earlier that the event took place at the Clock Tower at St Pancras Station, but we were actually in the tower itself; hence the crush! The Clock Tower is the apartment beneath the clock at St Pancras Station. The ornate Victorian building which fronts the station was originally constructed as the flagship hotel for the Midland Railway Company. It was designed by the renowned architect George Gilbert Scott as the accompaniment to the railway station shed, but the hotel only operated until 1935. It was then converted into railway offices and scandalously allowed to fall into decay; so much so that British Rail actually wanted to demolish it during the 1960’s!

Fortunately common sense prevailed, but only after a concerted campaign to save this iconic building, led by the poet, John Betjeman and a formidable lady called Jane Hughes Fawcett, who was the secretary of the Victorian Society. In 2005 the dilapidated former hotel was converted into a combination of apartments and a new hotel. The famous Clock Tower was included in this scheme, and the section we were in was the impressive Tower Room, with a ceiling rising some 10 metres above our heads.
After the crowds had left

This was originally a dark gloomy room, shut off from the outside world by sets of wooden louvres, mimicking those used in bell towers to direct the sound of bells to the streets beneath. However, the hotel clock never had any bells, and the bell chamber was a folly, designed by Scott to look like the tower on top of a gothic cathedral.Today the wooden louvres have been replaced by glass windows, and a number of other features have been added, including a gallery with its own small library.

The Clock Tower is now part of an apartment which consists of a Kitchen/Dining Room and two double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. The latter are available to rent on an individual basis. The Clock Tower is available to hire for functions such as receptions, anniversary celebrations, drinks parties and special dinners and for events like photo shoots and beer presentations!

There were originally six beers scheduled for the evening’s presentation, but one wasn’t available. Again, I wasn’t really paying attention, so I can’t say what the beer was, or why it didn’t put in an appearance. I drank four of the other beers, and managed to blag a bottle of the fifth to take home with me. I haven’t opened it yet, but from the description it should be a cracker.

All six beers which originally featured in the “Make Time for It” project were brewed using Meantime’s pilot-scale plant. All were experimental in nature, which meant that some were better than others but, as with everything, it’s all a matter of individual taste.

First up was Luminor, a 4.5% ABV hoppy pale ale, brewed using a wild hop, harvested from a Sussex Hop Garden. This beer, for me, was the best of the evening. The 5.0% ABV Hourglass came next. This was a Pilsner with “fresh pressed apple notes”, designed as a sort of hybrid between a lager and a cider. Unfortunately, for me at least, it didn’t work at all, but I suppose combinations like this have to be attempted, even if it’s just to demonstrate that beer and cider aren’t meant to be mixed like this!

Next up was Time to Time; a 4.0% ABV “saison de nuit”, (black saison to you and I).  As with that bastardised stout/pale ale hybrid, known as Black IPA, this beer didn’t float my boat either (I’m a miserable old so and so, I know), but it did work a lot better than the Hourglass. I thought I heard someone say there were blackberries included in the beer, which would have been appropriate for autumn.

The last beer was The Tweedster, a 4.5% ABV wheat beer and passion fruit combination, packed full of “sweet and sour tropical fruit flavours”. Now somewhat surprisingly, this beer was really good; so much so that before the evening was out, I had a second glass.

There were some rather good pulled-pork, gourmet burgers to accompany the beer, and some not quite as good fish-burgers. There were plenty of people to chat to, including several luminaries from the world of beer and brewing. There were also several beer bloggers and writers I knew and it was good to catch up with them.

As far as the purpose behind the evening, I don’t think any of us came away much the wiser. The question was put to Meantime as to whether any of these beers were destined to become regular brews, but the answer was "no". The opportunity to spend some time in the iconic Clock Tower though, was not one to be missed, and the evening was worth that alone. It was also good to meet up with other beer enthusiasts and sample these unusual and experimental beers in some equally unusual surroundings.

The bottle I brought home is Maison Hop 5.9% ABV; a “rich and smoky barrel-aged black ale, with hints of smooth vanilla”. Sounds pretty good to me!
Addendum: I stated in the post that I came away unsure of the purpose behind the Meantime presentation. I also mentioned that I wasn’t really paying attention to what was being said; but fortunately BryanB, who blogs under the name BeerViking was. I remember seeing him taking notes, and asking questions of the various PR personnel who were present on behalf of Meantime.

Bryan has produced an excellent write-up of the evening, which goes into detail about the six craftsmen (and women), whose work not only inspired the new beers, but which also formed integral parts of Meantime’s “pop-up” pub project. You can read more, by clicking on the link here.


David Harrison said...

Beer and Cider?Best (worst) thing for a thick head. Avoid!

Paul Bailey said...

Beer and cider are not a good combination David, especially in excess. Trying to create a hybrid between two very different drinks is also not a good idea. The Pilsner-apple combination I sampled the other night, didn’t work at all.

Even worse was a green-hop cider, which was spotted at last month’s Green Hop Festival in Canterbury. I didn’t try it, but those who did found it particularly unpleasant. Certainly not a drink for the faint-hearted!