Much as I whinge about BrewDog’s gimmicky marketing and beer releases I do still pay attention to them all and generally end up trying them. For I am at heart a weak fanboy, no matter how much I might rail against beer consistency issues, dodgy publicity whoring and occasional bits of fast-and-loose-ness with the truth. BrewDog announced a while back that they were going to buck the ‘collaboration’ trend and go for a face off instead – choose some restraints to the beer making process, let each brewer make a beer, and then let the public choose which they liked best. Their opponents – Maryland brewers Flying Dog, known for interesting beers and a set of labels illustrated by one of my favourite artists, Ralph Steadman.
Scotland vs the USA? The International Arms Race was born.
The constraint was an interesting one in the current world of beer – the brewers wouldn’t be using hops, instead switching them out for a range of roots, berries, herbs and other bits and pieces agreed in advance. With almost every beer appearing on the craft beer scene being a hop bomb getting rid of that side of the brewing process made for a couple of interesting beers and showed that there’s more to both brewers than hop based bitterness and tropical fruit.
The plan was fairly simple – beers would be brewed; Flying Dog would come to the UK for five days and visit one BrewDog bar a day with James Watt; each bar would vote on which beer they preferred; at the end a winner would be declared. Working their way south (towards Heathrow?) the Flying Dog boys (bossman Matt Brophy and VP Ben Savage) had BrewDog Camden as their last stop and on the way down each brewery had picked up two wins a piece, making the last stop the deciding vote.
After some traditional standing on the bar (I suspect the ability to be sturdy under standing conditions from a shiny domed Scotsman was part of the original design brief) the beer went on (for a fairly steep ~£4 a half), and we were given a voting slip and asked to choose our favourite. It was also recommended that we tried a mix of the two beers – as a fan of light and bitter in ye olden dayes (when I went through my flat cap phase), Ramrod and Spesh (aka ‘Special’) during my ‘Youngs are best!’ period and, more recently, I Hardcore You, I did as I was told.
We were given the beers under the unassuming names of ‘number 1’ and ‘number 2’ to avoid prejudicing us in either direction, causing confusion in the Untappd obsessed. They were very different prospects, both touching on what we generally think of as beer in only a very light way.
Beer one was clear and dark reddy brown in colour. On the nose there were sour berries, blackcurrants and a massive hit of mint and chocolate that reminded me of ‘chip’ heavy mint chocolate chip ice cream. To taste it started off with the minty chocolate of the nose, followed by a big fruity malt body and finishing with lingering mint.
Beer two was cloudy and much paler – it looked like a cloudy wheat beer or unfiltered continental ale. On the nose it had lots of sweet fruit, stewed apples, fresh and dried apricots and a medium dry cider hit. To taste it started out with a hit of grape-led, lightly sparkling white wine, moved through medium cider (real stuff, made from apples, straw and rats), and finished with sour fruit, mainly apricot and blackcurrant.
Of the pair I ended up voting for number two: while number one was very interesting it wasn’t one that I’d go back to often, while number two was one I could see myself drinking if I was in the mood for a fruit filled beer. It also reminded me a lot more of ‘beer’.
However, the overall winner of the night for me was a mix of the two: balanced sweet fruit and herbs on the nose, with sweet mint and nice grainy notes; a palate of mulchy fruit with restrained herby mint, fizzy grapes and a touch of gueuze-like sweet and sourness. Unfortunately we couldn’t vote for the mix.
In the end it seems the crowd were with me and number two was triumphant – revealed (with more bar standing) to be the entry from Flying Dog, a victory for the away team.
Annoyingly at the time the bottled version of their brew was sold out, so I couldn’t grab one for later experimentation, but it does seem to have now reappeared in the online shop. However, there is another side to the competition in my head – label design:
Despite my love of Mr Steadman’s work I have to come down on the side of BrewDog for this one – my love of intricate line-work is becoming almost an embarassment, as is my worrying excitement at having been served a beer at the BrewDog AGM by Johanna Basford who did the artwork on the bottle. I even have the t-shirt in the post…