This is a beer I've bean meaning to review for some time now after it was recommended to me by a beer geek friend. I must admit I was a bit reluctant to trust Marks and Spencers with a Porter, I mean, what do they know? But then a quick Google search landed me with a piece of information that came like ruby red light at the end of a deeply dark tunnel; it's brewed by Meantime.
Based in Greenwich, (get it?) Meantime have built a solid reputation for producing high quality craft beers, and a flare for truly authentic traditional British styles. In other words, they are the perfect brewery to brew this Porter for M&S.
Personally I've had mixed experiences with Meantime beers. For example, I absolutely loved their Meantime London Stout on tap. I spent a good few hours, and a fair few quid, eating fantastic seafood and drinking stout at the unmatchable Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House next to Borough Market. It was perfectly carbonated, smooth and rich with flavours of chocolate, light smoke, coffee and herbal hops - and utterly fantastic pint after pint.
On the other side of the spectrum, I found their Meantime Coffee Beer almost undrinkable. A mess of bitter, washed out filter coffee flavour fighting against a flat and slightly stale tasting body. Whether I got a bad batch I don't know, but from what I tasted it seems fitting that the beer no longer features on the brewery's homepage. That said, the eminently reliable Roger Protz didn't mind the beer when he reviewed it here, although I can detect in his tone a few extra points given for effort rather than achievement.
So on to the matter at hand. Well first of all it has to be said that this is a great looking bottle of beer. I think the meantime designers must have had a hand in the label design for M&S, because compared to their other offerings (Bull silhouettes on the Spanish Lager and a White Rose for the Yorkshire bitter) it's a bloody work of art.
The beer pours with a small bubbly head that quickly dissipates to a thing ring that leaves a small amount of lacing but never quite disappears, spot on for the style I'd say.
It has a crystal black colour that has edges tinged with ruby, almost raspberry red when held to the light, and equally the body actually looks more of a dark mahogany brown when light comes through.
There's a strong roasted smell when you first give it a sniff, but also strong, good milk chocolate and smoked malt come through, along with a very faint whiff of hops, but not strong enough to pin down further than that.
The beer starts very similar to the smell, with a big roasted malt flavour upfront. But then a big hop bitterness comes in and completely lifts the beer before it turns slightly sweet with milk chocolate and malt, then becomes slightly dry and smoky in the finish. It's very complex, and one of those beers which has a very clearly defined begin middle and end.
The mouthfeel is very smooth and rich, but also surprisingly light with a chewy character that manages to never become cloying. It's extremely refreshing for a beer with such strong flavours, and hides it's 5.5% extremely well. For me a porter should be drinkable and refreshing, with a strong hop profile to keep the roasted, malty, chocolatey flavours in check. This porter absolutely achieves that. It's one of the most true to style porters I've ever tasted; and excellent stuff from a great brewery.