29 September 2014


It's the sense of energy that is my lasting impression from visiting the BrewDog brewery: a relentless dynamism and a restless drive towards change and improvement in all things. I'm used to breweries as being cold and quiet spaces but BrewDog is hot and -- with two simultaneous bottling lines running -- very loud. The brewhouse is enormous but densely packed with brewkit, the fermentation vessels spilling beyond the walls and roof into the back yard. The plant runs 24 hours a day, five days a week and even though it's mostly dedicated to the production of a single beer, Punk IPA, there is change everywhere. More tanks are on the way; a corner of the warehouse has been set aside for a still; the endless parade on one Punk bottling line was showing the new pale blue livery, the other the tail end of the classic version. Co-founder Martin Dickie brought our group around and everywhere was action, activity, energy. Employees over 40 are thin on the ground.

Adjoining the brewery is DogTap, a recent addition to the complex which includes a bar, giftshop and even a 1000L pilot brewkit, though the whirlwind of change had yet to blow through here and commission it. For a pub situated in a remote Scottish industrial estate, DogTap was doing quite a bit of trade. Normal people too, not like the group of 17 writers the company had invited to its Aberdeenshire locations for the day. And it was a normal people's beer that was my first choice to drink.

Fake Lager is a mainstay in BrewDog's chain of pubs, designed I suspect for the reluctant member of the party who was dragged in by more enthusiastic friends. I held out a little hope that some of the BrewDog magic had been sprinkled over it, but it's really quite average: golden, a little grainy, showing more than a touch of diacetyl butteriness and without any of the high notes that can make good pilsner really stand out. The name is only half joking, I reckon. And of course no sooner than I'd finished my pint, the beer was retired permanently. I haven't tried its replacement -- This. Is. Lager. -- but it talks a good game.

The other new tick on the DogTap bar which I needed to scratch was Magic Stone Dog, a three-brewery collaboration where San Diego meets Huddersfield in Ellon. It's a bright and happy gold and has an approachable 5% ABV. I did zero research into what sort of a beer it is before lifting the glass and was a little surprised to find the estery aromas of a Belgian blonde ale. They say there's some saison pedigree in here but it was all luscious sweet fruits for me: apricots and honeydew melons in particular, making me think of a junior edition of Flying Dog's magnificent Raging Bitch. Lots of fun and very pintable.

We were summoned from the bar back to the meeting and media room in the administrative wing of BrewDog HQ. Here, James and Martin took us through a selection of their beers, beginning with Punk, of course. The newest addition to the brewery's "Headliners" family is Brixton Porter. It's quite a dry offering, even a little ashen, and would have little difficulty passing for an Irish-style stout. The grain bill includes chocolate, brown and amber malts but I was unable to detect much by way of coffee or chocolate flavours in here. A more severe liquorice sharpness is the only real complexity. It's good that there's a dark malt-forward beer in the core line-up, but why couldn't it have been Zeitgeist? That's the downside of running business in a constant state of renewal: old farts like me want stuff you don't make any more.

Presented, oddly, before Brixton was Black Eyed King Imp, an 11.8% ABV imperial stout which started out as a test batch of Cocoa Psycho before getting two years in two different whisky barrels. It's thick and smooth and luscious, as all the best of this sort are. The aroma strongly suggests that some autolysis has been going on: it's a savoury umami air, with a pinch or two of salt. While not tasting of oak per se, there's a slightly tannic red wine edge to it, but the main act is a huge hit of Irish coffee: extra creamy with lots of brown sugar and a billow of boozy fumes up the back of the nose. It tastes a lot stronger than it is, so very much a sipper. When the tasting broke up I mineswept what was left on the tables and session-sipped my way through as much as I could. The autolytic Bovril quality does build as it goes but it's still a magnificent example of how complex recipes and expensive processes can leave wonderful results.

We reassembled down in Aberdeen itself at BrewDog's city bar, standing room only at 6.30 on a Friday evening. I grabbed a very quick Blitz, one of a series of Berliner weisses with added fruit, this time redcurrant. It's a lot cleaner than any Berliner weisse has a right to be with a clear, sharp, puckering acidity singing out and not a trace of wateryness, despite a piffling 2.6% ABV. The currants are more than an afterthought, adding a very distinct summer fruit flavour to the whole. Beautifully refreshing and I could drink a lot.

But a lot wasn't an option. We were off to the third BrewDog establishment of the day, their restaurant Musa. Here we were treated to a fantastic beer-paired tasting menu of pig's cheek, salmon, grouse and whatnot, again with Martin and James doing the intros and musical-chairing around the tables so everyone got spoken with.

New beers in the line-up included Russian Doll IPA, part of a four-pack of sequential brews using the same ingredients but in different quantities to create four different styles of ascending strength. At 6% ABV the IPA is second from the bottom of the pecking order but still gets full value out of its Simcoe, Citra, Cascade and Centennial, particularly the first two. A big grapefruit bitterness opens its account, followed quickly by a rich and funky dankness. I guess it's supposed to be appreciated next to its dollmates but it works perfectly well by itself.

A baltic porter to finish, the new BrewDog / Victory collaboration U-Boat. This black lager is a massive 8.4% ABV but, like its namesake, is very good at concealing the danger. Baltic porters can be a bit severe with their liquorice bitterness and chewy malts but this is a much lighter and sweeter affair with milk chocolate at its centre, plus bitterer cocoa powder at the edges. It's no Black Eyed King Imp but it is a very nicely nuanced dark beer.

A big thanks to James, Martin and the rest of the crew of the BrewDog mothership for letting us get in their way for a day. And a special thanks to Sarah who put in all the hard work organising and herding a ragtag bunch of misfit beer writers. Thanks also to said ragtag bunch of beer writers for adding to the fun and allowing me to tick off a few more entries in my I-Spy Book of Beer Bloggers.

25 September 2014

On and off the hook

I had to go and look up why Red Hook describes its Audible Ale as "crushable". Seems they mean something like "sessionable": a beer to chug down and move on to another. At 4.7% ABV I can see the sense in that. It pours out a clear Dortmunder gold, and has a similar spiced golden syrup aroma. Malt dominates the flavour, again in quite a lagery way, with lots of crusty white bread and sweeter buttery cookies. But there's also a galvanic orange and grapefruit tangy bitterness to liven it up and stimulate the salivary glands, plus a gentler chew-sweet fruitiness. I casually drained my glass while writing those few sentences so it's safe to say the marketing department's claim of crushability definitely holds up.

I would have quite liked another but all