Tuesday, 11 January 2011

BrewDog: masters of brown session beer

Last night I went along to the Bon Accord for a BrewDog launch party. It’s indicative of the way a Glasgow beer scene is slowly coming together (or perhaps that I spend too much time in pubs) that I walked into the bar and it was full of people I know.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the development of BrewDog’s cask offerings over the last couple of years, it’s that not even BrewDog can resist the demand of the market for low-gravity session beer.

This development became apparent with the appearance of Trashy Blonde, a decent beer in the bottle but that really shines in cask-conditioned form. Where once attention-grabbing Punk, Riptide and Chaos Theory stood outside the pub shouting and throwing bricks, the pale ale with a satisfying smack of hops put on a tweed jacket and sneaked into the bar: It fitted in to existing drinking habits, and subverted the system from within, taunting the cautiously-hopped, dumbed-down bitters: see, this is how you do 4.2%!

Then along came Edge: Sixty bob with American hops. And now, Alpha Dog — Eighty bob with American hops. I should point out that this isn’t an insult, as some people construed it the last time I said it — I actually think they’re very good beers. But instead of the in-your-face, wow-what-the-hell-is-this beer that made BrewDog’s name, they’re balanced and easy-drinking*.

A bit stronger at 6.2% is the new Alice Porter, but again it’s smooth and distinguished. Some porters are one-dimensionally roasty. This has more depth to it, sweetness, ending with liquorice and a slight acidity. Not so much punk as New Pop.

Did I say punk? Oh yeah, Punk IPA. It’s changing. Just as if to say, well actually, we haven’t grown up and gone boring! Look, we’ve substantially changed the recipe of our best-selling flagship product! Who else would dare do that?! 

The new version is supposedly less bitter and lower in alcohol. But disaster — by the time I’d tried Alice Porter and Alpha Dog and was ready for new, improved, less bitter Punk, there was none left! So I had to make do with a Danish ticker-size sip from someone else's glass. It had a heavy dry hop character, and a big gap where the bitterness used to be. I’d better wait and have a full pint (or maybe a schooner) before I decide whether or not I like it. We were told the reason for the reduction in ABV was so that people wouldn’t get Jaipured on it so easily, which was what many of us had suspected.

One of the features of these events is the raffling of tasters of the newest speciality beers. Tonight it was Bashah Highland Park Reserve, and what we think is the last remaining bottle of The End of History. I didn’t expect to win any, and wasn’t too bothered — I’d always thought of The End of History as an art project rather than anything that might actually be enjoyable to drink.

But by chance a friend had one of the winning tickets, so the glass of yellow liquid was duly passed around, and we all got our picture taken with Susan the Stoat. What did it taste like? Well, I got a whiff of Marmite on the nose. Other people thought Stilton. Then a massive oxidised sherry hit, and old, dry white wine. Then, just when you've started talking again, a sneaky bitter finish. Nobody liked it.

I had a great evening, and no-one mentioned “awesome craft beer” all night. Splendid. A night with everything that's good about BrewDog, without the nonsense. More of this sort of thing.

* That’s the insult. To people who consider it an insult, anyway.


  1. Nice post - love the 'Danish ticker-size sip'. It's good to see the different directions which Brewdog are moving in now and it's showing maturity and an awareness of the core markets, while still being able to make great beers.

    I loved Punk X when I tried it a while ago so look forward to being able to get more of that - it could well become my house beer.

  2. I wonder if they'll be bottling the Alice Porter and Alpha Dog and sending it Stateside? It would be great to have other beer style from BrewDog over here, given the gap in the market for non-hop bombs!

  3. 'Look, we’ve substantially changed the recipe of our best-selling flagship product! Who else would dare do that?!' Hobgoblin, Old Speckled Hen..

    I Know, silly comparisons but felt the need to make the comparison. I've yet to try the Punk X but look forward to trying it when we get our BD keg font installed next week. It sounds, basically, more like Jaipur in taste. More balanced, fruitier, easier. Thus more to my taste. But also more to *insert supermarket here*'s taste.

    But I'm still excited by BrewDog's plans for the year, there seems to be a very good balance between the big, experimental releases and very interesting but sensible and (presumably) affordable and approachable beers. Really looking forward to the single hop series.

    AlphaDog's been around a while, as a 4.5% beer. I believe most of it was exported but some came out through Waverleys in cask. It was very pleasant too, similar hops to 5am, but beautifully balanced. So as with Punk X, intrigued by what the lower ABV offering will be like. And also a little reluctant.

  4. "an awareness of the core markets, while still being able to make great beers"

    Does that mean the session cask beers aren't great then? (-;

  5. The recipe of Punk IPA is so nebulous they could have served that beer, not told anyone it had changed, and we would have been none the wiser.

    Agreed it was lacking bitterness and was a little too sweet to be enjoyable.

    New dry hops are Centennial, Simcoe & Nelson if anyones interested ... !