‘Born and Brewed in London’ it says on the front of the label on bottles of the flagship beer from Meantime Brewery – London Lager.
On the back of the label it waxes particularly lyrically: ‘The countryside surrounding London provides the world’s finest brewing ingredients: Kentish hops and East Anglian malting barley. At Meantime’s state of the art microbrewery we combine the two to produce a definitive lager.’
But this is not really telling the true story. Rather surprisingly it is sometimes blended with a beer that is brewed at the Grolsch brewery in the town of Enschede in The Netherlands.
Following up on the article written on this website on Aug 11 (London Lager + Grolsch = London Lager) it has now been clarified by Meantime Brewery that although London Lager does not contain Grolsch it does sometimes contain a beer brewed at the Dutch-based brewery.
The brewery goes on to also state: “The liquid was brewed to the precise specification and recipe of London Lager and has the exact profile and microbiological makeup as any batch of London Lager brewed here at our brewery in Greenwich.”
This might well be true but it does come as a bit of a shock because like other any other drinker paying a premium for provenance I’d have expected such a beer to be 100% brewed in London at all times as opposed to being blended with a beer produced in The Netherlands. The name sort of suggests it is a wholly London brewed ale.
Meantime also points out that this blending with a foreign brewed version of the beer is only undertaken when demand outstrips the ability to produce the beer at its London site.
It states: “As you’ll appreciate, like many craft brewers, we do, and have on rare occasion brewed beer to our strict specifications with other brewers to help us only during peak sales periods when we are struggling to meet demand. But this has only been required due to seasonal capacity constraints and ever increasing demand. These constraints will be alleviated somewhat by the large investments we are making at the brewery.”
This is fair enough as it is common practice but as a London brewer (preferring to remain anonymous) pointed out to me this week: “Surely you’d outsource anything else – such as Yakima Red – to The Netherlands before you get London Lager produced there. The name suggests you really need to brew it in the capital.”
The fact is, the world is watching Meantime at the moment as the ink is only just dry on the deal by SAB Miller to buy the brewery. So which person at Meantime had the bright idea to have some batches of London Lager brewed at the SAB-owned Grolsch brewery?
Clearly this arrangement was in place ahead of the acquisition but surely even then alarm bells must have rung in somebody’s head that this would not look too clever if it became public knowledge. It should have been a serious no-no irrespective of SAB Miller buying Meantime in the future.
There was a similar scenario played out (and a subsequent outcry) in June when it was found that bottled versions of Sharp’s Doom Bar have been brewed in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, for the last two years (link to BBC story). The labels on bottles of Doom Bar contain seven references to Rock in Cornwall, but none to Burton-upon-Trent, but the small print reads ‘brewed in the UK’.
Sharp’s is owned by US company Molson Coors. There are clearly some similarities with Meantime’s actions but at least Doom Bar is still brewed in the UK and it’s not called Rock Bar.
What beer drinkers will make of Meantime’s actions remain to be seen. Maybe if they want to ensure they are buying 100% London brewed London Lager then they need to check with the brewery beforehand that the bottle or keg they are considering consuming beer from contains just the London brewed version and is not an Anglo Dutch hybrid production.
What is known right now is that there is some dissatisfaction at the Meantime brewery. There were certainly some serious questions asked when a tanker emblazoned with the logo of Dutch company Van Den Bosch (a logistics firm delivering beer to Meantime) recently turned up at the brewery.
This is possibly evidence that there continues to be growing pains at Meantime. It has certainly had its ups and downs over the years since Alastair Hook pioneered the brewing of interesting European beer styles in the UK at a time when there were few things of any interest coming out of kegs.
Somewhere along the way – rather disappointingly for a classy standard bearer of London brewing – something has gone sadly amiss down in Greenwich.