If you're stuck in a routine that involves buying the same branded lager from your local off-licence, you're missing out on an influx of fine-tasting and available brews from London’s new-wave of full-flavoured lagers, fresh new European brews from beer-making heartlands including Germany and Belgium or craft brews from the US, Australia and beyond.
We asked Rod Jones, head of brewing at Meantime’s Old Brewery Restaurant and Microbrewery in Greenwich, which itself stocks over 60 beers from around the world, for his recommendations of the best bottled brews from around the globe. We also thought that we’d ask him what to drink them with, for man cannot live on beer alone.
Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
Where it's from: Brewed in Alva, Central Scotland, this Porter is almost black, rich, smooth and powerful.
What it tastes like: It has bittersweet, chocolate and liquorice flavours from the roasted malts and the oats from which it is brewed. The malt flavours are complemented, rather than dominated, by the hop bitterness. The nose has smoke, leather and toast, and there are some aniseed, dried fruit, mocha and espresso notes on the palate. The oats in the brew give it a rather chewy mouth-feel.
What to eat it with: This is a worthy match for venison and game, mature British cheese and steak and kidney pudding.
Boon Framboise, Brouwerij F. Boon, Lembeek, Belgium
Where it's from: Only Frank Boon brews in Lembeek, the village that gave this style its name. This beer spends two years in oak vats maturing, with 200 grams of real raspberries (not syrup or concentrate) per litre of beer.
What it tastes like: Boon Framboise is a deep ruby red, with a delicate foamy pink head and an aroma of crisp raspberry fruit. It is refreshingly carbonated and has a balance of natural fruit sweetness and light, slightly sharp, acidic notes.
What to eat it with:This is a beer that goes well with creamy desserts, cheesecake and goat’s cheese, as well as making a perfect spring or summer aperitif.
Anchor Old Foghorn, Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, US
Where it's from: A powerful 8.8% barley wine, Old Foghorn pours a rich red/brown, with an off-white head. It has been brewed in San Francisco since 1975, purely from the undiluted “first runnings” of the brew, before the grain is rinsed with hot water.
What it tastes like: Old Foghorn has caramel and toast on the nose, and both biscuit and roast malt flavours with some chocolate and plums. It gets fruity flavours from the warm, top-fermenting yeast strain used and just a hint of alcohol warmth. It’s full-bodied and smooth, with a little hop bitterness at the finish and relatively low carbonation.
What to eat it with: This is really an after-dinner beer, but would accompany some chocolatey, creamy, desserts well and would be very good with really mature cheeses – for example, a ripened Parmesan.
Negra Modelo, Grupo Modelo, Mexico
Where it's from: A Munich Dunkel-style dark lager and Mexico’s best-selling dark beer. Dark lagers were first brewed in Mexico by Austrian immigrants in the 1860s. Nowadays, Mexican dark lagers are a little lighter in body and mouth-feel than their German and Austrian counterparts.
What it tastes like: This example is medium-bodied and smooth, with roast malt aromas on the nose. Caramel, Demerara sugar, chocolate and dried fruit flavours, with little bitterness and just enough hop flavour offset the malt sweetness. It’s been brewed since 1926 and comes in a very distinctive, wide, stubby brown bottle.
What to eat it with: This beer likes heat, so it’s great with fajitas, chilli, spiced barbeque-grilled meats or jerk chicken.
Marzen Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, Bamberg, Germany
Where it's from: Not for the faint-hearted, this speciality of the baroque Franconian city of Bamberg is made from one hundred beechwood-smoked malt (which the Schlenkerla brewers produce themselves in the shadow of Bamberg’s ancient Cathedral). Its deep mahogany in colour, with ruby highlights and a tan-coloured head. In its native environment, it’s served directly from oak casks in the brewery’s ancient tavern in the Altstadt, having been matured in 700 year old cellars.
What it tastes like: It has smoky ham and bacon on the nose and palate, with intense flavours of bonfire, wood and toast – locals say that you need to drink three steins of Schlenkerla before the taste is acquired. It has a lighter body, and is more drinkable than you would expect from the dense colour and nose. In the brewery tap, they drink this with everything on the menu.
What to eat it with: It goes well with roast shoulder of pork, with lots of crackling, strong mature cheese, dark rye bread with Leberkase, and Nuremburg-style bratwurst – with or without sauerkraut!
Cooper’s Sparkling Ale, Cooper’s Brewery, Australia
Where it's from: Cooper’s was for many years a cult beer with a loyal following who wanted something different from conventional Australian lagers. Now, with a state-of-the-art brewery in Regency Park, South Australia, Cooper’s is a national player down under. Expansion hasn’t meant the abandoning their traditional ales. This one, first brewed in 1862, is hazy from the cloudy yeast sediment from the bottle conditioning that it undergoes. This is a vital part of Sparkling Ale’s flavour.
What it tastes like: It’s a copper coloured beer, with a white head and a fruity, floral aroma. It delivers a combination of soft, fruity, bready malt flavours and restrained hoppiness. It’s medium-bodied, rounded and dry, with a clean lemon peel aftertaste.
What to eat it with: A great accompaniment to barbequed meats and fish, roast chicken with crispy skin, fish and chips and seafood – typical Aussie food for summer drinking.
Meantime London Lager, Meantime Brewing Company, London, England
Where it's from: London Lager is brewed with the most local raw materials available to London – the world’s finest barley malt from East Anglia and world famous Kent hops.
What it tastes like: London Lager is fermented with an authentic Bavarian cold-fermenting yeast that adds no flavour of its own, and therefore allows the ingredients to speak for themselves, producing a beer with rounded, sweet malty flavours perfectly balanced by hop aroma and bitterness on the finish. London Lager is traditionally long-matured and unpasteurised for greater depth of flavour.
What to eat it with: Great with most foods, but especially English cheeses, ham, smoked meats and charcuterie – as well as making a good partner for oily or smoked fish.