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that brewdog post

And so we come to the Brewdog blog post. Like a coming of age rite of passage for the UK beer blogger, it seems that no one writing on the beer scene today can avoid pinning their colours to the mast. Whether it be the Jolly Roger or otherwise.

My nascent interest in good beer is closely associated with Brewdog, specifically Punk IPA, mainly due its hop profile. In summer 2008 I came across Adnams Innovation, and with it a totally new flavour in beer: US hops. At the time I had little idea of how the ingredients could affect flavour so I didn’t think to research where these flavours were coming from. For that matter I’m not sure I had the words to express what I was tasting. I would seek out this mysterious fruit-bowl hit, this citrus punch throughout the coming year, only finding it in a Durham Brewery beer, and then finally in Punk IPA.

That was in summer 2009 and since then my interest in all beers has grown from a hobby to an obsession and back again. Their beers have never formed the focus of my drinking but I’d always held them up as the epitome of good beer. I was a hophead, their beers my communion wine.

The peak of my interest came with the introduction of Equity for Punks II, which eventually saw me investing my hard-earned overdraft into the brewery. It was also around this time that I realised a lot of beer bloggers hated their guts.

After reading rant after beer-sodden rant, the only criticism that didn’t seem pedantic or overtly partisan was the way in which Brewdog chooses to promote itself. To quote the boys, “The UK Beer Scene is sick. And we are the fucking doctor”

In April this year I went along to the AGM in Aberdeen, hoping to find out whether this accurately reflects their views or if it’s simply marketing bluster. In the main presentation there was some great news about the eco-cred of the new brewery but they seemed to talk as though there is no real ale scene, good beer or good pubs in the UK. In the Q&A one guy asked if the 5am cask he’d seen a few months previously was the last we’d be enjoying (5am being one of the beers everyone raved about on cask). It emphatically was.

Martin did explain though that the fizz from keg works better at ‘lifting the hop’. I totally understand that cask isn’t how they want to present their beers, but to dismiss it as a dinosaur within the industry as a whole is pure folly.

I’ve come see Brewdog’s position as part of their special transatlantic relationship. They borrow from, and are inspired by the US craft scene to a great degree. Stone especially.

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale

Brewdog Punk IPA

 

But there’s something wrong with this kind of mimicry. Stone, established back in 1996, was railing against the US macros, and more importantly tasteless light beers etc. Though we have a love affair with shit lager over here too, we also have something they don’t: a long history in cask beer; truly back from the dead by the time Brewdog started up. Martin and James have imported their flavour profiles along with their ‘iconoclast brewer’ branding from the US but failed to tailor the latter. Their persistent yapping about industrial lager wears thin but is fair enough. What angers me is their lack of acknowledgement of, and in some cases active animosity towards the rest of the UK beer scene. It was there at the AGM and I don’t understand it. I must however point readers to this blog post which they wrote recently about their UK brethren. No mention of the masters of the universe though? That’s The Kernel, obviously.

According to James, it was Michael Jackson’s kind words about their pilot brews which inspired them to brew commercially and I suppose if MJ were still with us he’d advise drinkers to ignore the PR clamour and simply ask ourselves whether the beer is any good. It often is. So I think for now I’ll content myself with enjoying their beers and admiring their eco brewery. That is until their planned AIM listing in five or six years time, then I’m cashing in and getting rich…

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A time for revisionism?

The eminently respected Michael Jackson, something of a father figure to beer bloggers, would have been seventy this week. Of course this means that a number of posts have been dedicated to him in the last few days. One of which, written by Simon Johnson, linked me to this article which Jackson originally published back in 1998.

It lays out a lot of the issues surrounding beer styles and beer tasting which are perhaps easy to forget today. New styles are borne and existing styles are blended on a regular basis. However, in the dark days of the 1970s such concepts had not yet been applied extensively to beer, Jackson himself was a major proponent of this change. In the article he essentially argues that the establishment of beer styles, from ‘Oatmeal Stout’ to ‘Flemish Red Ale’, had helped to popularise and preserve these beers for future drinkers.

This is transparently a fact; there are a wealth of beer varieties on today’s shelves from supermarket to specialist beer shop. However, I strongly believe that beer is now saved, all styles brewed today are now so well-documented, at the very least they shall be homebrewed in perpetuity. This is not barefaced complacency and I’ll tell you for why.

My main bone of contention with categorising beer in this way, is that it loses meaning, the less you know about beer. The average consumer is not well-equipped to navigate their way toward taste through beer style alone, for that matter I’m not sure I am. There have been times when I’ve compared the tasting notes of two stouts for example, and it becomes difficult to see them as cut from the same cloth, stylistically speaking. One may exhibit a powerful bitterness, the other a mellow chocolatey character. Perhaps some will say that I have missed the point, and that each style is a broad church with a wide range of flavour profiles. All fair enough, but from an average drinker’s perspective flavour is the main concern so in that respect perhaps individual styles are too broad.

I therefore propose that we need to view Jackson’s contribution as one tool amongst many, rather than a system which we must always work within, bloggers, brewers and consumers alike. Simple tasting notes: bitter, sweet, malty, chocolate, coffee, citrus, vinous etc. communicate with consumers far better. It is information like this which opens the beer world up to outsiders, helping them to gauge a beer before buying and trying.

While I may be taking too iconoclastic an approach, I believe we must remain critical of all institutions and practices. Michael Jackson was a great beer writer and is sorely missed, he helped promote beerodiversity (sorry) through style, but is it now time to move beyond our inheritance?

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