BrewDog are a weird bunch. I mentioned on Twitter the other day that their advertising both makes me annoyed as a long-standing fan of tasty beer in the UK and very happy as a shareholder interested in the company making decent profits, and this division in my mind hurts my tiny brain. However, the big thing that I have been impressed with is the Equity for Punks scheme, their fan sourced money raising/share selling scheme.
They’ve pulled together an impressive amount of cash in a small amount of time on two separate occasions and if they try it again I can see them doing just as well. However, one thing that has been discussed is what you get for your investment. There is the 5% discount in their bars and up to 20% in the online shop, but with Kickstarter, Crowdcube and the like helping people to start up projects all over the world people are starting to get wise to getting something back on their investment. Enter the second BrewDog AGM, stage right.
Annoyingly I missed the first one thanks to snow stopping trains going any further north than the Watford Gap, but I’ve heard tales of Epicness, with interesting beers, interesting people from all over the world and a cracking party. The difficult second AGM was always going to be a challenge, not only because the number of investors had increased from 2000 for the first EFP to over 7000 after the second release of shares, but also because the second round had a cheaper buy-in point, making it much easier for the average drinker to kick in some cash – just the sort of drinkers that would turn up at the AGM.
So, the plan was made – hire out the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference centre, put on regular buses to the new brewery site (a brewery paid for in part by the funds raised by EFP2), do a couple of beer tastings and business talks, sell beer and merch, have a couple of bars, and get in a bill of seven bands. Basically a beer festival for shareholders, their plus ones and anyone willing to pay £6 to get in (to fill up the place to as close to capacity as possible).
I rolled off the sleeper train at 7:30am and thankfully got an hour’s kip in my hotel, who were very lovely and let me check in and have my room six hours before the official check-in time (The Station Hotel. Right next to the station. As the name suggests). After a quick wander round town I caught a rather full bus to the AECC and on arrival encountered the theme for the day – queueing.
Within 30 minutes of the doors opening there were already quips on Twitter about ‘QueueDog’ and they didn’t let up during most of the day. Having several hundred people turning up at the start and ticking them off a list (ordered by first names) with only a handful of people on the desks meant that it took quite a while to get everyone through the doors. Having another single desk selling beer tokens (the only currency accepted to buy beer) meant that even before you tried to got to the swamped bars you’d already partaken in rather a lot of standing around.
I decided not to bother with the queue to start with and jumped onto one of the first buses going to the new brewery in Ellon, about 20 minutes drive from Aberdeen. It’s on the edge of an industrial estate, rather than the greenfield site envisioned during the original EFP drive, and is in the process of being built. I really like both diggers and breeze blocks, but I didn’t stay long due to a lack of anything apart from diggers, breeze blocks and confused looking builders.
Later in the day, as part of the AGM presentation, Martin Dickie outlined the improvements at the new brewery:
- Massive expansion in production capacity – currently the brewery is tapped out at 25000hL, the new brewery will start at 70000hL but has room for expansion. The current brewery is about 550 sq.m, the new one is 2000 sq.m with extra space available as needed.
- Bigger batch sizes, but enough flexibility to still do smaller batches – current batch size is 50hL, new brewery will allow between 60 and 100hL. Mash size will rise from 1.3T to between 1.5T and 4T.
- More brews per day – up to 8 from 2.
- More automation – allowing more consistency from batch to batch, a common complaint about their beers today. It will also mean they don’t need to shovel out the mash tun by hand, which Martin fears will lead to a fatter production team.
- Higher post conditioning quality control – the new brewery will reduce oxygen contact from tank to packaging, which should help keep quality higher.
- Their own malt mill – allows barley to be bought whole rather than pre-milled, which is cheaper and maintains barley freshness. Also, as they can currently only get milled barley from England it will allow them to buy Scottish instead.
- A four vessel brew system rather than a two vessel – allows more potential for variation in the brew process as well as tweaks to maintain consistency as the raw ingredients change with the seasons.
- Centrifuge rather than filtering – allows removal of sediment without heavy filtering, leaving more flavour compounds. Unfortunately they’ve already broken the machine they were testing – there’s a lot of sediment in hop heavy beer.
- More environmental efficiency – reducing the water/beer ratio from about 7:1 to about 3:1 (and maybe lower) and recycling heat throughout the brew process. It’s not quite the windmills of the original plan, but it’s a good start.
It’s not all plain sailing at the new brewery, though. Moving production means that they will need to do a lot of work flavour matching so that they can continue producing their beer range – there’s a lot more to it than just upping the amounts in the recipe. On top of that there is a time limit, as the old brewery is being decommissioned at the end of the year and some of the equipment (including keg filling gear) is moving over to the new site. I’ve heard that beer produced at the new brewery will be marked as such in some way, so expect a bunch of old vs new tastings later this year.
There’s also the fact that the move to being a medium sized brewer starts casting doubts in some minds as to their status as the self-proclaimed leaders in the UK craft beer movement. As there’s no definition of what ‘craft’ actually means, in the opinion of some moving to an automated, largish brewery kicks them out of the club immediately. The BrewDog reaction is exactly what you’d expect – craft isn’t about size, it’s about attitude and the production of great beer. While the creation of the craft brewing scene in the UK has done wonders for beer in general, shifting the focus from the beards and sandals of ye olden dayes of but a few years ago to the ‘cooler’ hipster scene that is currently sitting at the forefront, it has created some divisions in the ranks of brewers and how BrewDog handle the reactions to the new brewery will be interesting to watch. Fortunately for me I don’t really care about the size of a brewery as long as the produce good beer.
Back at the AECC the queues hadn’t disappeared, growing a bit longer during the hour I was away. Luckily they gave up on signing everyone in shortly after I arrived, stamping hands and giving out a goody bag to everyone who professed to being a shareholder. All that remained was to join the token queue so that I could get some beer…
Inside the main hall of the venue the queues were predictably big, five or six deep at the bar at almost all times, and the shop was swamped for pretty much the entire day. Due to licensing regs they couldn’t send people home with bottles so every order had to be assembled, boxed, labelled, paid for in cash and then hidden away ready for posting next week. During the quiet times it was a 20 minute wait to get seen but that spiralled to over an hour during the busiest parts of the day.
The aforementioned quiet times were during the pair of combined business talks/tastings that were run in one of the AECC’s main meeting rooms. James Watt rolled out the usual bits and pieces (described on Twitter at one point as self-congratulatory toss, which is both accurate and the sort of thing that is expected at an AGM), most of which have already been posted up on their blog (and has been posted again post-AGM in a post that reads so much like a shonky press release it makes me weep. And that from someone who writes shonky press releases) and in their newsletters: Profits are up; They haven’t been able to make enough beer to go around; Their online shop was shit; James is not a cat rapist.
However, one extra thing that I’d not heard about slipped out in the Q&A sessions at the end. In response to the question “So, what return are we going to get on our investment”, a question that I was already drunkenly mumbling something to the effect of “that’s not what the EFP program is about, unless they get bought by Anheiser-Busch or something” to my drinking companion, James explained that in 2013 there will be a system set-up to allow shareholders to buy and sell shares ‘at market rate’. He also said that they would be paying a dividend then as well. I suspect that the dividend will be pretty small and that most of it will end up coming back to company in the inevitable beer orders that will follow its issue (I expect to see a special shareholder dividend beer that will happily scoop the cash back to the mothership – they’re not idiots), and I look forward to seeing how buying and selling works out, especially as the discounts Equity for Punks members have received were (at least for the first round) billed as being for life rather than as long as you were a shareholder…
The tasting section of the meeting was interesting, as handing out beer to over 200 people is a bit of a logistical nightmare, but with the use of a trolley, a team of beer pullers and a lot of handing beer down rows we each got to taste three new beers:
We started off with the new 3.8% Pale Ale, which had its name, as chosen via a poll on the website, announced at the meeting – Dead Pony Club. If you put a name like that on a poll then what did they expect? Most probably that everyone would choose it – as mentioned earlier: they’re not stupid. It seems to be intended as a lower ABV version of Punk IPA, big and hop led but more suitable as a session ale, especially for summer. They’ve been working to get the flavour profile and body that they were after for about the last 6 months, ending up with a hop mix of Simcoe, HBC369 (recently named Mosaic) and Citra, and a mash bill of caramalt, pale malt and crystal. On the nose it had the expected resin laden hoppiness, mulchy vegetation, orange peel and pith, sweet orange juice and a stony minerality underneath.To taste it was thinner than I’d expected, but had lots of sour orange and pine resin. It finished short, with mixed citrus and bitter hops. The slightly watery body doesn’t do it many favours, but it’s still a very drinkable beer. I did find myself wondering how it’d do if it was cask conditioned…
The next beer on the tasting list was Libertine Dark Ale, a follow up to the Libertine Porter that was released earlier this year. I’m guessing this is a development on the ideas tested out in the EFP brew day beer (EFP 2011, which me and the other chaps of Village of the Drammed tried in Episode 2), which was a dark IPA aged on oak chips. This one doesn’t have any oak involved as far as I know, but is the BrewDog take on a black IPA. I rather like black IPAs but find they generally end up being darkly coloured IPAs or hoppy dark beers rather than finding a middle ground, and as such I’ve been waiting for the inevitable throwing of a hat into the ring by BrewDog. It’s a very dark 7% beer, made with Carafa Special malt (dehusked chocolate malt, for roasty flavours but a less husky mash) and hopped with Simcoe. On the nose it was quite sour, with stewed orange, some unripe pineapple and a coffee ground bitterness. To taste it had the traditional big hop along with some stewed red fruit, spice, chocolate and coffee. It finished sweet and sour, with mulchy hops and a bit of sweetened dark chocolate. A bit towards the hoppy dark beer side of things but well balanced and one that I hope makes it into bottles or at least on to the taps at BrewDog Camden.
Last in the tasting was a long promised beer that was launched for the AGM – Dog A. It’s a tweaked version of AB:04, the most popular of the Abstrakt series to date and one of the two that I haven’t tried (the other being AB:01). It’s a 14% imperial stout, fortified with Venezuelan cacao, Nicaraguan coffee (added as whole beans), Devon naga chills and vanilla beans (the new ingredient not found in AB:04). On the nose it is full of dark chocolate, with a slight prickle of chilli heat and some vegetal chilli notes. To taste it is sweet, with the rich body you’d expect from a 14% stout. It’s got very sweet chocolate and vanilla, and bitter coffee that doesn’t quite take the edge off. It finishes sour, with coffee acidity, bitter chocolate and a tiny hint of chilli spice. All in all this isn’t one for me – I’m not a fan of sweet chocolatey beers and the coffee here doesn’t balance out the cloying sweetness enough for my liking. I heard that the AB:04 had a more of a pronounced chilli note, both heat and flavour, and I suspect that the reduction of that along with added vanilla has made a beer that even more people will like, but one that unfortunately I don’t. Especially not for £12.50 a bottle after shareholder discount…
Back in the main hall I did a bit of queuing at the bar. Things yet again got better when the bands started (and as people left due to beer related ‘tired and emotional’-ness) but to start with the queues were as bad as earlier in the day. The bars themselves were well stocked, with a changing range of BrewDog beers and a few guests, including a bunch of bottles form Stone and some Hitachino Nest on draft. Prices were good, with tokens costing £2 and beers being a token a piece for a pint or half depending on the strength/rarity of the beer. From looking at Untappd it seems I managed to get through a stack of beverages, including BrewDog’s IPA is Dead HBC and Motueka, Zeitgeist, 5 AM Saint, American Saison, 77 Lager and Hardcore IPA, as well as a Nipponia from Hitachino Nest. With the amount of talk on Twitter afterwards about unused tokens I suspect that BrewDog might have even turned a profit on the event.
Anyways, the bands played on, beer was poured (with both Martin Dickie and bottle artist Johanna Basford joining a bar crew assembled from BrewDog staff old and new from all over the country) the bars ran out of beer little by little (including Punk IPA, although I suspect an emergency delivery from BrewDog Aberdeen was brought in), the floor got stickier and I wandered off mid-way through Kassidy‘s set, missing Bombskare finishing the night off with some drunkenly danced to ska.
The next day, after a spot of breakfast at Musa, the BrewDog friendly restaurant, and a swift
half2/3rds of Growler (a citra single hop lager – very tasty) at BrewDog Aberdeen it was back onto the train for the ‘leisurely’ 7.5 hour ride home. As I write I’ve just crossed the Forth rail bridge so it’s time to finish up and pretend to sleep expansively across these two seats to make sure none sits next to me when we get to Edinburgh
(Edit: I did pretty well, with noone sitting next to me until Newcastle. Then I was joined by a young lady in the advanced stages of controlled substance inspired enlightenment who pawed at her face, wept, slept and ran to the bathroom every 15 minutes. Which was interesting. I love trains [I really do, scary girls or not])
Dead Pony Club
Pale ale, 3.8%
Libertine Dark Ale
Black IPA, 7%
Imperial stout, 14%