Beer and Pavement

In Defense of BrewDog

Posted in Beer, Travelog by SM on June 22, 2011

One of the most amazing achievements of the American craft beer scene is its overwhelming influence on foreign brewers, particularly those from lands with their own brewing traditions. The movement toward traditional brewing techniques with “extreme” ingredients has greatly influenced craft beer all around the world. One such brewery who has taken what American breweries have done and run with it is Scotland’s BrewDog.

Some like to criticize BrewDog for being putting more hype than hops in their beers. The attitude displayed in their copy and graphic design suggest a similar arrogance found in that of Stone but without the great product to back it up. BrewDog often goes for the gimmick with their insanely high ABV beers like Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%), Sink the Bismark (41%), or The End of History (55%). There’s also the insanely low ABV brew Nanny State that comes in at a whopping 1.1% ABV. Such stunts cause the skeptical beer nerd to be…well…skeptical.

While the perceived gimmicks above don’t bother me, the fact that I had tried few BrewDog beers that I actually liked said more about the brewery than any marketing strategies. The Tate Modern Saison was nice. Their collaboration with Stone was interesting but not mind-blowingly good. And the IPA’s and stouts I had were okay, I guess. In my opinion, BrewDog did very little to earn my beer money.

Then, I had their collaboration with Mikkeller, the I Beat U. I’m a sucker for insanely hoppy, American craft-style IPA’s and DIPA’s. This one certainly did the trick. I figured that maybe BrewDog had figured out how to brew a proper American-style IPA or that, at the very least, Mikkeller had a positive influence on the brewers from Scotland. I was intrigued enough to keep an eye open for BrewDog’s beers. However, due to some changes in distribution, BrewDog is no longer available here in Missouri.

Enter my trip to Spain.

I have more to say about the trip and the beer there, but BrewDog deserves their own post, review. After several fruitless searches for good beer bars and stores, I finally discovered a gourmet food store on the Rambla de Catalunya in Barcelona. While there were many interesting beers from which to choose, I had to think strategically. My day pack didn’t allow much room for beer (nor did my back want to lug that much extra weight). Plus, we were leaving the next day for Granada. Carrying a load of beer on a plane with no checked luggage did not appeal to me. So, I went with six 11.2 oz BrewDog beers. Let’s review…

IPA Is Dead Sorachi Ace and Citra
Both IPA’s were single-hopped with identical malt profiles, 7.5% ABV, and 75 IBU’s. The idea was to single out popular hop varieties in order to discover the virtues of each. Mikkeller has done the same, but rarely have their versions been as intense as these two beers. First, I tried the Sorachi Ace, if you recall, the centerpiece hop in my own New Slang Saison. The flavor and aroma were huge on this one, but Sorachi Ace really should be used sparingly or in combination with other hops. The hop at 75 IBU’s just comes off like lemon-scented cleaning supplies. Still, it was an interesting experience as I watched The Simpsons dubbed in German on the airport hotel TV.

Next came the Citra-hopped beer. Wow. I can see why this hop is quickly replacing Simcoe as the hop-du-jour among professional and amateur brewers alike. It’s so citrusy and not harsh at all. Excellent beer.

Hardcore IPA
Before heading out for the evening, a friend and I decided to break open this DIPA. Hoppy with the proper malt backbone to balance…This was nothing like any BrewDog IPA/DIPA I had consumed previously. Aside from the single-hop beers, this beer easily proves BrewDog’s worthiness among American craft beers.

Bitch Please, Paradox, and Tokyo
After the Hardcore IPA, we had a dinner with friends in their mountain-side village home. I brought these beers as a contribution to the meal. We saved them for after dinner, which was the right thing to do. I opted to start with the Bitch Please barley wine, a collaboration with Three Floyds. Fucking A. I figured the barley wine wouldn’t stand up after the two big imperial stouts, but that was a silly thing about which to worry. It was the peatiest thing I’ve had not in a Scotch bottle. Unreal how peaty this beer was. Luckily, I was sharing.

Second was the Paradox…oak, bourbon, molasses…This was the quintessential Americanized imperial stout for which we all crave. This beer came correct and stood up to the peat in the previous beer. At this point, I was clearly sold on the BrewDog’s legitimacy, but the ability to brew an imperial stout such as this one cinched it.

Finally, we opened and slowly sipped on Tokyo. I am a huge fan of Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout and this beer is its equivalent. Sweet, syrupy, black coffee, and bourbon…Oh, and tons and tons of booze. They aren’t joking when they claim this beer to be 18% ABV. It kicked our ass for good, but it was totally worth it.

After trying these six beers while on holiday, I am a huge BrewDog fan and believe in their ability to brew big beers. I know that between their hype machine and forays into mediocre brewing, they have lost some of you. However, it’s never too late to come back and try BrewDog again. Now, if only they shipped to Missouri…

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4 Responses

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  1. Steve said, on June 22, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Great post. I’m kind of on the fence when it comes to BrewDog. I do think they do court hype at the expense of their beer – a 55% ABV beer is nothing but a gimmick to me. Many of their beers seem designed as marketing stunts to get column inches, rather than genuine attempts to push the boundaries of beer. I don’t really buy the whole arrogant outsider/punk ethos they project either. Collaborating with the UK’s largest supermarket hardly a good example of beer rebellion.

    Yet, they are capable of producing excellent beers. I really liked their Edge session beer, the Punk IPA is fine and Paradox is a grower. However, I don’t think they are doing anything that much different to many of their peers. They just have a decent PR budget. While they may help real/craft beer get more exposure they are not always the most approachable beers for real/craft newbies, and the stunt beers often just produce scaremongering articles about how brewers are leading us all to liver failure.

    • Alex said, on June 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm

      I think BrewDog uses the tactics they do because they do not have a big PR budget. If you make the papers, there’s no need for a multi-million pound ad campaign. Their small-scale publicity stunts are effective in this regard, whether you like it or not. I’m pretty amused by their videos and such, but I would be annoyed if they didn’t back it up with some excellent beer.

  2. Mark said, on June 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I really enjoy Hardcore and I had one of their other Mikkeller collaborations, called Devine Rebel, and it really blew me away (it’s a Barley Wine, but I’m pretty sure they reformulated it after the one I had – it’s got a higher ABV now)… I also have a bottle of Tokyo and one of the Paradox varieties in my fridge, which I’m now greatly looking forward to. I suppose their marketing antics rub some people the wrong way, but I don’t really care about that, so long as they make beer I like. But then, I’ve never had some of their more normal varieties…

  3. […] I don’t care. Aside from a few early bottles I did not enjoy, BrewDog has consistently wowed me with some fantastic beers. I even find some of the stunts they put on to be entertaining as I’m sure Watt and Dickie […]

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