Tuesday, 11 January 2011
BrewDog: masters of brown session beer
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.