As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I like BrewDog. I’ve bought shares in both tranches that were released, I like almost all of their beers that I’ve tried and I even like the labels on their bottles. I also think that their marketing is as full of crap as one of the buckets at one of Mike Patton’s special parties (dodgy simile thought up while under the influence of BrewDog’s beer) but I’m happy to ignore that as long as they keep on doing the other stuff that they are doing. And one of those things, especially since they got the Equity For Punks cash injection(s), is building bars.
We’ve been waiting for a while, along with rumours of incorrect licenses and general bureaucratic annoyance, but only a couple of months after it was expected BrewDog Camden has opened its doors. I went along a couple of times during the first week, including shareholder and bloggers tastings (accompanied by excellent chums Thom and Myk of the Thomyk podcast), and thought I’d better mention it up here. Spoiler alert: I really like BrewDog’s bars. If you want to ignore some gushing praise then skip forward a few paragraphs, as I also have tasting notes on some new beers that should feature slightly less gushing praise.
So, BrewDog Camden is very much a bar in the style of their Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen branches (now also announced as spreading to Nottingham and Leeds over the coming months), and is their first foray south of the border. There is exposed brickwork and beams, found materials cladding the walls (it looks like the floor of a school gym has been chopped up, multicoloured court/pitch/field markings and all) and a load of beer taps and bottles. The range is as you’d expect from BrewDog, with a load of their own brews as well as rarely seen beers from the USA and the obligatory Mikeller offerings. The bottle selection looks good and I need to return for some further investigation, including a bunch of very interesting Japanese beers that I hope last into the new year (Update: they did, and there’s a rumour that they’ll be having some of them on tap in the near future).
They’re also doing food, with pizzas and burgers, as designed by Masterchef winner and former Euston Tap manager Tim Anderson, on the menu. I tried a couple of slivers of pizza at the tastings, with both a seafood mix and nacho pizza being rather tasty (although not quite as good as the impressive spicy meat pizza I had at BrewDog Edinburgh), and have heard good things about the burgers, but more research is needed. Such painful research.
The staff are partly newbies and partly experienced bartenders shipped down from the Scottish bars, with bar manager Neil previously managing their debut bar in Aberdeen. As hoped they’ve brought along the same attitude to running a bar as they had up north, with a focus on education and getting people to try new and interesting beers rather than the snotty attitude towards stray Stella drinkers that you often find in ‘beer’ bars. Pete Brown wrote an article earlier this year about the Edinburgh bar that says it better than me, but in short: This is how to run a bar. I just hope they can keep it up and retain good staff.
They also have a door marked ‘Sex Dungeon’ downstairs.
Anyways, onto the beers. For the shareholders tasting they decided to run us through their current run of four prototypes, which they are currently asking for opinions on in an attempt to shake up their regular beer range next year. I’m fairly sure that the last time this happened, with Punk X, nothing happened, but I’m always pleased to try new and interesting beers so was up for a taste. They also ended on AB:08, the latest in the Abstrakt series, but more of that in a future post.
We started, after the regular Punk IPA and James’s usual Richard Paterson inspired greeting of the beer, with Blitz, the protoype that I was most interested to try. Recent changes in duty law not only mean that beers over 7.5% ABV now pay 125% of general beer duty but also that beers that are no more than 2.8% only pay 50% – Blitz is BrewDog’s 2.8% attempt at grabbing the tax break. While the duty changes will have, in my opinion, very little affect on public drunkenness and alcoholism (my soap box is stowed for the time being), the lower limit duty reduction has already inspired a few beers and as a fan of milds and low strength drinks of all kinds I’m very interested to see where this goes. Blitz is not BrewDog’s first foray into the arena, with their 1.1 and 0.5% Nanny State (which I don’t think even needs to have duty paid on it, as they’re less than 1.2%) produced as a response to the criticism of their ~15% Tokyo* beers, but this is the first attempt that might hit regular production and distribution. In an effort to get as much flavour in as possible they combine their usual ‘stick in so many hops that it can kill a goat at 20 paces’ approach with using 100% caramalt, a malt that is usually used as part of a mash to add body to a beer. On the nose it has the prickly smell of brewing beer, lots of malt, a hint of Marmite and stacked freshly cut grass. To taste it was quite thin, with sour tangerines, solid uncomplicated maltiness and a tea-like hop hit – not a big beer by any stretch, but a lot bigger than you’d think at such a low strength. I need to try this again to formulate a proper opinion, but there’s potential here for good low strength beer.
Next on the prototype list was Prototype 17, which I tried down at The Rake in the Summer. This is based on Trashy Blonde, usually a very nice golden ale and one of their only beers (maybe the only) to occasionally appear in a cask version as well as their regular ‘keg only’ dispense. The beer is brewed with Belgian beer yeast and a stack of New Zealand hops for lots of fruitiness, and to that they have added 150kg of raspberries to the conditioning tank. They also ran some CO2 through the tank while it sat to keep the raspberries moving and break them up a bit to extract even more fruity flavour. This is also a bit of a preview beer, as they didn’t empty the tank when bottling, leaving in some of the beer and fruit and then adding even more raspberries ready for a future release, potentially as an Abstrakt [Update: the Edinburgh announced that they had some ‘Prototype 17.5’ on tap in January 2012, so I suspect it’s out in the wild already]. On the nose there was, as expected, lots of red fruit although it was quite crisp with some malt richness underneath. It also had the beginnings of pineapple and mango peeking in around the raspberries. To taste it was much drier than expected, with a burst of raspberry quickly fading, leaving leafy hops, a bit of pineapple, some juicy citrus and the sort-of-apricot flavour that I often get from Belgian beers. I reckon this would make a good summer beer, but I’m not entirely sure whether it’s one I’d want in the permanent line-up.
We moved on to another beer that I’ve tried before – Hops Kill Nazis. I’ve had a draft blog post hanging around for a while with some initial thoughts on the beer but in the end I haven’t got round to finishing it up, which pretty much sums up my feelings about it. The name was chosen through a poll on the BrewDog blog although I reckon that 5pm Sinner was the better choice, better reflecting the beer’s nature – a big red ale with lots of hop bitterness (80IBUs) bottled at 7.6%, rather than 5am Saint‘s relatively light 5% and 30IBUs. I picked up a few bottles when they released it originally and was surprised to see it in the prototype line-up as they already have Punk and Hardcore along similar lines, although it would sit between them in ABV, and was pleased to get another chance to try it. On the nose it was farmyardy, with mulchy hop lofts and straw, as well as rather fruity, with pine, tangerine and spicy mango that I assume come from the Chinook hops that they dry hop the beer with. To taste it was very malty with a load of sour fruit towards the end – pineapple, figs, grapefruit, passion fruit. It hung around a bit with some nice green hop bitterness and more fruit as the bitterness faded. Much nicer than I remember in bottle, but I’m still not sure whether it has a place in the crowded middle of the regular range.
Last was the other beer I hadn’t tried in the line-up – the Scotch Ale. The rather unassuming name is a bit misleading as this was, to me, the second most interesting beer on the card after the Blitz: a change from BrewDog’s usual hop led attack, instead using huge amounts of malt (10 different kinds including some smoked malt according to my notes from both tastings I attended, although the website says only 8), heather honey and nowhere near as much hops as they usually use, to produce a big and rich traditional ale. It was also, according to my notes, brewed using a lager yeast and fermented very slowly, due to it being quite cold up in Scotland. It looks to be a continuation of the ideas that popped up when making AB:07 (an oak aged Imperial Scotch Ale) but just toned down to a more easily repeatable level. On the nose it was dark and rich with a hint of porter, dry oloroso sherry, dried cherries, oats, fizzy jelly sweets and a lick of smoke. To taste it was thick in the mouth with lots of fruit, the expected slab of malt richness, cherries, pine needles, cocoa and some muddy smoke (almost peaty). This is the one that I think would be the best addition to the range, if the intention is to broaden it. It’s unlike their other beers, focusing much less on hops and going for big maltiness, and fills a gap that they have when it comes to catering to my tastes.
Anyways, in summary – go to BrewDog Camden. It’s ace. They might even still have some of the prototypes on tap. If not, they’ll have something else tasty…
Low alcohol ale, 2.8%.
Raspberry pale ale, 4.1%.
Hops Kill Nazis
Red ale, 7.6%.
Honeyed Scotch ale, 7.5%.