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About this Brewery
Meantime was founded by visionary Master Brewer, Alastair Hook, who gathered around him like-minded friends, family and his parents' dog to form a brewing company to help him realise his vision to connect with the British drinking public in a way that no one else was doing.
Alastair's mission was simple. To demonstrate the full flavour potential that beer has to offer, and to engage the drinking public with those flavours. Meantime exists for no other reason, (well, that and to make a bit of profit, obviously). Co-founders included South London school friend Ben Joseph, who owns the Carhartt clothing brand in the UK and old university friend Lars Huser, former financial controller of Norwegian television channel TV2, and now with Canal Plus in Oslo.
Other friends invested small amounts, including fellow school friend Ray Richardson, now a leading British artist, and a friend from Alastair's days at The Grist, a brewing trade magazine, Peter Haydon, then General Secretary of the Society of Independent Brewers and drinks author, and now, since making a significant investment, a Meantime director.
The company was founded in Alastair's flat and the search for premises began. This was complicated by the founders' determination to be a Greenwich based company, as that was where Alastair, Ben and Ray had grown up. Premises were found and in December 1999 the concrete floor of Units G & H 2 Penhall Road were dug up to lay drains. By February offices had been built in the Units, and the largest and most expensive start up brewery seen in the UK for almost 100 years was installed and commissioned, complete with bottling line. The first brew was packaged in April.
The early days were all about brewing and bottling for others. Meantime knew it could not walk into the lager market without marketing millions or a tied estate and be taken seriously. It was going to be a long slog to get to the point where it could start to develop its own brands, although own brands there were. The first was Union, a Vienna style dark lager with esoteric label designed by Ray Richardson, the original painting for which now hangs in the Greenwich Union pub. Ray also came up with the name. Meantime, he said, was a 'union' of friends just as the beer was a 'union' of malt and hops. It was an easy sell.
Other beers followed. As Meantime gained a reputation for quality beer, it was able to appeal to the more far-sighted restaurateurs who appreciated the value of offering extra quality to their customers in all aspects of their operation, including the beers, which are so often overlooked.
Oliver Peyton, Alastair's old boss, at Mash was the first, though Donald Storey at Gaucho Grill and Jonathan Downey at the Match bars also decided they wanted beers that were superior to the mass market products, that they would be proud to put their name to.
The company was quickly at capacity, indeed it has always been operating pretty much at capacity, new tanks were soon added and new brewers were employed.
2001 was a watershed year for the company. By a stroke of luck the lease to the Observatory on Royal Hill was swiftly picked up, and after the usual quick but frantic pub refurbishment, the Greenwich Union opened in November 2001 selling a full range of Meantime brewed beers and no national brewers products at all; the only pub in London to do so. Within a few months of opening it was short listed for the Time Out, Evening Standard and Class magazine Pub of the Year awards.
In many respects 2002 was an even more significant year. Firstly, it was announced that after 20 years of lobbying by the Society of Independent Brewers, Peter had been successful in persuading the Chancellor to introduce a system of progressive beer duty for small brewers, which was announced in the Budget, held that year in April not March, because of the sad death of the Chancellor's first child.
The contribution of this tax change to Meantime was immense and allowed further expansion, as well as enabling the replacement of the first bottling line, which soon became inadequate for the company's growing needs.
2002 was also the year in which Alastair negotiated a life saving deal to supply J Sainsbury's plc with their entire Taste the Difference range of beers, a hugely prestigious contract that any regional brewer would give their eye teeth for. Sainsbury's and Meantime developed a close and friendly working relationship which has seen the brand range extended, and Sainsbury's proving very supportive in helping Meantime develop its own brands.
The big news of 2003 was the installation of the new bottling line costing some £600,000, and making Meantime unparalleled in its class for bottling ability, for this we were joined by Julian Herrington, 15 years head brewer at the country's oldest brewing firm Shepherd Neame. Julian's appointment was yet another major coup for Meantime, it was not the last.
The new line enabled Meantime to extend the sophistication of its contract packaging business, contract brewing having been made uneconomic by the Chancellor's tax rules, and in 2004 Meantime managed to sell pretty much all its surplus packaging capacity to Greene King, for whom it bottled IPA and then Beer to Dine for.
2004 was also a year of taking stock, and planning for the future. Financial restructuring took place to accommodate the realities of the growth the firm had achieved.
In the Spring Meantime became the only British brewery win any medals at the World Beer Cup, in San Diego, for its Munich Fest Beer and its Vienna style lager, the original brand No.1 - Union. With this recognition that Meantime were doing something right it was decided, with Meantime's 5th birthday only some nine months away, that the time was right to start phase two of the corporate plan; build the brand.
Alastair's wife, Nina, was able to introduce us to the team at top branding agents No One, and with a blank piece of paper the entire corporate image, was recreated, using research conducted by former Whitbread marketing men, Aubrey Johnson and Brent Smiths(who liked us so much he joined the company in January 2006). The exciting nature of the Meantime project enabling us to retain the services of these highly skilled individuals whose talents we could not have afforded with cash alone. Their passion for the Meantime project has meant new friendships.
2006 saw Meantime fulfil its stated aim to win a gold medal at the world beer cup, and if 2005 was all about rebranding 2006 was all about brand building. 2007 saw this continue with some new and key strategic partnerships - in particular our deal with Adnams - and increased sales through Waitrose in the London area. 207 was also an excellent year for awards, with no fewer than four Meantime beers being claased in the World's Top 50 as compiled by the International Beer Challenge. Meantime picked up an additional 5 awards in the Beers of the World magazine's World Beer Awards. In 2008 Meantime will be working to further improve its branding, plan for new premises and, hopefully, enjoy further success at the World Beer Cup.
2 Penhall Road
London SE7 8RX, United Kingdom