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Mash Beer

Regular guys still boast: "I'm a meat'n'potatoes man". Does that include mashed potatoes? It probably did before mash became stylish. That's what happens with good old classics; they are updated. Mash with peppers, garlic, know the sort of thing.

The fashionability of mash fired a thought in the mind of Irishman Oliver Peyton, who has created some of Britain's most imaginative bars and restaurants. Peyton is also interested in beer -- he credits one of my early books with having led him in that direction. As every beer-lover knows, the first procedure in the brewhouse is also called the mash: the mixing of grain and water.

He decided to open a restaurant that would have fashionable dishes like mash on the menu, but also have its own brewhouse. Though Britain is the country that started the beer renaissance, its brewpubs tend to be very traditional, and mainly to produce cask ales in classic styles. Peyton opened a Mash brewery and restaurant in Manchester, England, in the late 1990s, then a second in London. In both cities, the interior was post-modernist and the fashionable food was accompanied by a diversity of specialities, from fruit beers to abbey-style ales.

The flagship brew was a golden lager called simply Mash Beer. In early tastings, I felt that this beer, especially in its firmness of body, resembled a Dortmunder. In recent samplings, it has reminded me more of the softer, mildly malty, Munich Pale (Helles) style.

No change of character has been intended, but the beer has moved home. After a year or two, the Manchester brewpub closed. The London one still operates, producing the specialities, but Mash Beer outgrew it. This product is now being produced at a new micro.

In both Manchester and London, the consultant brewer was Alastair Hook, and he is the principal of the new micro. At the age of 17, Alastair back-packed across Europe and Asia with my Pocket Guide to Beer. He then decided to study at Britain's principal brewing school, Heriot-Watt (in Edinburgh, Scotland).

While there, he found himself referring to many brewing books that were available only in German. Despite having a German step-mother, and having studied the language at high school, he was not fluent. His interest piqued, he took a further six-month course in German, then successfully applied to study at the famous Bavarian brewing school Weihenstephan. During his studies, he gained practical experience at the historic Spaten and Kaltenberg breweries. His wife Nina is from Lübeck.

In Britain, there are few -- if any -- brewers with as wide a first-hand knowledge of Continental European brewing techniques. Alastair's new micro, in the London borough of Greenwich, is called Meantime. This refers to the role of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in establishing a basis of standard time throughout the world.

Meantime's brewhouse is designed for flexibility, so that a wide variety of styles can be produced by classic methods. Much of its early work has been on behalf of innovative brewers whose products have outgrown their original homes, Mash Beer is an example.

It is brewed from a gravity of 1044 (11 degrees Plato), using three malts (Pilsener, Munich and Carahell, from Weyermann, of Bamberg) in a single decoction. The hop varieties are Bavarian-grown Perle and Hallertau-Hersbruck, with Czech Saaz, in three additions, producing 23-25 units of bitterness. The yeast is a classic lager strain from Weihenstephan, Bavaria. Alcohol content 4.8 by volume (3.8 by weight).

Tasting note: Medium golden color. Dense head. Remarkably fresh, lemony, flowery, hop character, in both aroma and palate. This then gives way to the light, rounded, cookie-like, maltiness that is the beer's salient feature. In the finish, the hop is dry and appetising. Beautifully balanced.

Food pairings: Asparagus with ham and scrambled eggs. Pizza with artichokes and ham. Chicken salad. Pasta with herbs, pesto and toasted pine nuts. Leek sausages - and mashed potatoes, of course.

Published: JULY 25, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online

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