01 October 2014

Not set in granite

It was a bit of a nostalgia trip to go back to Aberdeen as a guest of BrewDog in August. At the turn of the millennium I was a student in the city and while it's still the charmingly grey tangle of streets it always was, the beer scene is definitely somewhat different.

BrewDog's own bar, for starters, I remember as being a terrifying out-of-the-way dive that not even the slummiest student pub crawl would dare venture into. Now, of course, it's open and bright and cheery, all trendy bare brick with varnished pine highlights. From the guest beers I just had time to gulp a quick taste of Cool as a Cucumber, the Fyne Ales and Wild Beer collaborative saison. A gulp is all that's needed too, I reckon. It's not the most complex of beers, being all cucumber and not much else: intensely green, in fact, like chewing cucumber skins. It's only 2.9% ABV and there's some mint in it as well, so the refreshment power is considerable, as long as you don't mind being slapped about the chops by a giant cucumber at the same time.

Just across the way from BrewDog Aberdeen is the Aberdeen footprint of Six Degrees North, another local brewery. They've settled on a Belgian theme for their beers, though the bar is far from being a brown café, kitted out starkly in grey concrete and steel. I started with Six Degrees North Bière de Table which arrived an unattractive opaque custardy yellow colour. And, unsurprisingly, the yeast utterly dominates the flavour. Not in a warming fruity Belgian fashion, either: more of an unpleasantly gritty dreggy thing. Yes there are big grapefruit hop notes shouting loudly from inside the flavour, but they're struggling to be heard. It could be I got the tail end of the keg, or it could be that this needs a bit more time in the bright tank. I wasn't impressed either way.

The house pale ale, Hopocrisy, was rather better, if not a whole lot clearer. Though a mere 4.6% ABV there's lots going on in here: sourness at first, followed closely by a big hit of juicy pineapple fruit. When those two settle down a little, there's more of a rustic grain vibe to it, a certain charming roughness around the edges. The big fizz makes it difficult to quaff, and the daft insistence on two-third measures means that doing so wouldn't be any fun anyway, but there are good intentions and brewing skills here. I'd like to have stayed to try the rest of the range.

Dinner at Musa was followed by a trip to Casc: a very swish beer and cigar bar in a basement around the corner. I was heading for 19 hours awake at this stage, with about eleven of those spent drinking beer, so the wobbles were definitely setting in. But not so wobbly that I couldn't identify a beer from my to-drink list on the blackboard, slur out an order for it and scribble together some tasting notes. It's Buxton Jaw Gate IPA, sole sassanach beer of the trip. 5.6% ABV and a dark orange-amber, pouring perfectly clear from the keg. While it looks like it belongs on the heavy and resinous end of the scale I found it quite enlivening, all tart and zesty citrus pith. Much as it revived me I reckoned discretion was the better part of valour and when the Beer O'Clock Show's Steve made a bid for the exit, I wisely followed. Thanks for getting me back to the hotel, Steve: your tactic of navigating there worked so much better than my plan of just staggering about hoping the Hilton would simply hove into view.

But we didn't come to Aberdeen to sleep, so it was back to the bar with Steve, Ian, Wayne and me before 7.30 the next morning. The airport bar, that is. The cask selection was fairly uninspiring, though there was Barley Brown's Black IPA. "That'll do me!" I thought, completely failing to spot that this collaboration was brewed at the Caledonian Brewery. Ugh. Entirely as expected it's a mess of sickly brown sugar: thick, cloying, and definitely not what I'm looking for in a breakfast IPA. Yes, there's a bit of a bitter sharpness, but the beer still doesn't amount to more than Caley 80 with a handful of extra hops. I had to cleanse my palate with a Sweet Action immediately after. If for some reason you want to hear what we talked about around the table that morning, Ian caught it all on his reel-to-reel tape machine and has posted it here. Caveat audiens.

And that's where it all ended. Cheers once again to the BrewDog team for inviting us all to play in their backyard for a day.


  1. Two things strike me about this. Firstly your description of Six Degrees North Bière de Table as "an unattractive opaque custardy yellow colour. And, unsurprisingly, the yeast utterly dominates the flavour. Not in a warming fruity Belgian fashion, either: more of an unpleasantly gritty dreggy thing."

    This can surely be described as "badly brewed" and also to my mind, more or less a fraud on the customer, though I take your bottom of the barrel point. How would a request for a replacement as the beer is not fit to serve request go I wonder? I dislike custardy opaqueness as it usually means there is a brewing fault, but I doubt if some bars serving such stuff would see it that way.

    Secondly, your Caledonian remarks coincide with my thoughts. Why is everything from there so damned sweet, even if commissioned form outside?

    1. I disagree on the first point: I've drank enough table beers to be content that extreme opacity and a yeast character is a feature of the style. That 6DN's has not been as enjoyable as, say, Galway Bay's, is a question of taste more than technicalities.

      A brewery making a beer I don't happen to like very much is not fraud.

      And Caledonian? House ingredients and house methods, I guess. When they came out with a hopless butterbomb produced in association with Stone of San Diego I knew it was game over.

  2. Well I guess if you like yeast bite, then you have a very valid point. To me it is just careless and thoughtless bandwagon brewing.