Living in California, I’ve grown up in what is arguably the beer and wine capital of the whole of the United States. California has more wineries and microbreweries than any other state (more than most countries, actually), and as a result, rich traditions have grown around those industries in the past few decades.
I’m here to talk beer, though. One of the things I’ve become accustomed to as a Californian is hops. Hops everywhere. If California were to have a quintessential style of beer, it would undoubtedly be the India Pale Ale. But the thing is, Californian IPA’s taste nothing like their divergent cousins in Britain. By UK standards, our IPA’s are so insanely bitter and floral that they’re probably deserving of a new category, to mark the distinction. British IPA’s are far more mild, and generally easier-drinking. That’s not always a bad thing. But because of the “go big or go home” mentality around beer in California, it’s hard to find genuinely good, middle-of-the-road brews sometimes. Everything is taken to the extreme.
And sometimes I really like that. An insanely bitter imperial IPA can explode with notes of pine, citrus, and a strongly floral bouquet. Beers like Sculpin, Pliny the Elder, and Sierra Nevada Harvest are not to be found outside the US, and are particularly prevalent in the Golden State. Imperial stouts, doppelbocks, tripels, imperial porters, barleywine, American strong ale – we are obsessed with taking beer to the edge.
Sometimes I need a break, though. And in the winter, that usually means something dark. I discovered Meantime Brewing’s London porter at World Market a few years back, and I’ve been a happy (if only occasional) customer ever since. Porters have a storied history in Britain, and Meantime’s interpretation is a classic one. Not too intense, not too crazy – balanced. It’s still rich and smokey, like a good porter should be, but it’s incredibly easy to drink, and is a great warmer served just below room temperature on a winter day. While it achieves a great, but not mindblowing, 90 points on Beer Advocate, I will say firmly that this remains my favorite porter of all time. And yes, I rank it above Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, which is blasphemy to the ears of many a beer lover, I am sure. It’s worth the high cost of entry (usually $8 for a bomber – in a super-heavy champagne bottle) even if only to try it once.
But what if I told you that Meantime made an even better porter. Well, they do. It’s called Meantime Hospital Porter, but you won’t find that label on it anywhere in the US. Apparently the ATF has issues with alcohol being sold with the word “hospital” on the label. What you will find it under is “Naval College Old Porter.” It’s $14 for a bomber, and clocks in at a modest-for-an-aged-beer 8% ABV. It is quite simply the best porter I’ve ever tasted, good enough that this is the third time I’ve purchased an admittedly pricey bottle. Hospital Porter is aged for 18 months in oak barrels, but is then mixed with a younger porter (presumably the standard London Porter) before bottling. The result is a beer that has many of the positive characteristics of oak aging (smoothness, oak flavor influence, warmth), but few of the negatives (not syrupy, sweet, or overly intense). The diluting of vintages works damn near perfectly.
This is one that I suggest you make a note of for future purchase – Meantime suggests it can be aged up to a few years, and that this will improve the smoothness and complexity over time.
I prefer to drink it as soon as I get it home, but hey, to each his own.