Tuesday 30 August 2011

Is this the Worst Beer Advert Ever?


I've just come across this beer advert.

Stop sniggering at the back.

It's for Ursus beer from Bucharest and it's supposedly one of the best selling beers in it's native country. Indeed, it brands itself as 'The King of Romanian Beers'.

The lack of a caption leaves me confused as to what message it's trying to convey about the beer or the people that drink it.

That's where you come in.  I said "Stop sniggering at the back!"

I'll give four lovely bottles from my special beer cupboard for the best/funniest/smuttiest caption to accompany the Ursus beer advert.

Leave your caption in the comments section below.

I'll decide the winner this Sunday.

Over 18 and UK entrants only.


Friday 26 August 2011

Some Good Beer Blogs


I write about beer. I enjoy writing about beer. Others do too and there are some very good bloggers out there who manage to communicate and articulate their opinions and ideas about the wonderful world of beer in a manner that engages, involves and helps you appreciate beer and it's beautiful subculture just a little bit more.

So, what follows are some of this month's beer blogs that I have particularly appreciated and enjoyed.

First up,

- Neil from Eating isn't Cheating blog puts forward his opinions on the question of unfined beer and asks whether "Britain is ready for Cloudy Beer"? It prompted quite a healthy debate.

- Mr Al, from Guest Beer Guide tends to write only once in a while but when he does it can be a rip roaring snortfest in which he posts the best of his Twitter feed from the previous month. A lot of it is West of Scotland beer scene related nonsense but don't let that stop you from enjoying the kneejerk, humourous comment from some of Glasgow's most sclerotic drunks.

- Alistair from Fuggled, in response to this and this, gives us his balanced view on BrewDog and their knack of being able to polarise opinion. The marmite of the beer world.

- You generally can't go wrong with Pete Brown's writings. He usually cuts through the beer bullshit and gets to the heart of the matter in an erudite and articulate fashion. In this blog, Pete introduces the August episode and final instalment of a dozen video blogs about British beer that he's been working on for the past year. It takes place at this year's Great British Beer Festival and well worth the watch.

- The last blog recommendation is easy reading in that it's not the most the word heavy blog in the world but it does contain some really lovely pictures of pubs in Glasgow. The blog Glasgow Bars and a Crane manages to take the most sumptious and attractive images of Glasgow pubs that capture the, often overlooked, beauty of these establishments. It's a lush blog and well worth checking out.

Did I say last blog recommendation?

Sod it. One more.

- While I'm on the subject of great pictoral blogs that capture the essence of a pub or beery moment, you can't do much wrong by having a look at the Beer Lens' blog for some stunning photographs of this year's Great British Beer Festival.



Thursday 25 August 2011

London Pubs: The Craft Beer Co


Whilst down in that there London for the Great British Beer Festival, I thought I'd use the time and opportunity wisely to visit some of London's pubs that have been making great hop filled waves in the London beer scene. Some, I've spent many a long night in before while others were new to me and had to be sought out and experienced for the first time.

The searing London August heat and a tube journey so painfully humid that it's final destination could have been Hades itself had left me extremely parched and in need of some liquid refreshment as I headed up from the bowels of the Underground oven and into the city centre sunshine.

I wanted beer and The Craft Beer Co, in Clerkenwell, as my first port of call in my mini London pub tour was going to provide it.. Much has been written about it (Mr Dredge , Mr Tandleman and Mr Ghost Drinker cover it well) since it opened a couple of months ago. It's the sister pub of the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico and in it's short time trading, Craft Beer Co has managed to attract a keen following drawn to it's huge and eclectic collection of home grown and international cask and keg beer.

The handpumps stretch the entire length of the bar and provide the opportunity to gawp, open mouthed, at the choice of 37 different beers with 16 cask and 21 keg on offer. It's also got over a hundred bottles, including Artisanal Norwegian water that is, I presume, made with passion. But don't let the wankiness of the water put you off. It's a great pub.

Welcome to the Craft Water Revolution

Oh, and their house lager comes from Mikkeller, which is a bit of a coup.

It wasn't the only Mikkeller on as I had stumbled in to what can only be described as Mikkeller madness. Over a dozen of the Danish beers were on and picking the first beer among the throng to quench my thirst was a very difficult decision.

Beer.....as far as the eye can see

Spoilt for choice is an understatement. My eyes darted from pumpclip to pumpclip, left, right, left, right and back again struggling to take in the beery options available in front of me. Like a glutton in a pie shop, I just couldn't make my mind up what I wanted first but that's a happy problem to have and it's probably one that most visitors to Craft experience. I wasn't complaining as the selection in front of me was truly exceptional.

A Myriad of Mikkeller

It's a cracking pub and proof positive that the explosion in the London beer scene is not just the stuff of twitterous rumour but it is happening and happening very quickly. That's great news for the growing number of beer drinkers who want to try new and different beers from a wide range of beers from home and abroad.

The cask available when I was in included Thornbridge, Dark Star, Magic Rock, Camden Town and Redemption and their commitment by Craft to recognise the value and importance of cask beer and support fledgling, young breweries can only be applauded.

With the combination of cask and keg available it's clear that the bottom line for Craft is that good beer is good beer regardless of method of dispense. Given the popularity of Craft since it opened, it's a philosophy that appears to be working.

The Craft Beer Co works not only because of the range of beers available but because it meets the tastes and sates the beery appetites of an ever evolving beer market filled with drinkers who want their next beer to be their best beer and who aren't afraid to stretch their beer horizons.

With pubs like Craft around, it's a great time to be a beer drinker.


Wednesday 24 August 2011

Cumbrian Pubs - The Eagle and Child



Having had an absolute blast at the fantastic Hawkshead Beer Festival, Mrs Monkey and myself decided to stick the tent in the car and head back to the Cumbrian Lakes a few weeks later to appreciate further some of the lovely pubs that can be found in that part of the world.

One such pub can be found in Staveley. It's called the Eagle and Child and it was easy to see why it has won various awards for it's beers and hospitality including Cumbrian Camra Pub of the Year in 2007 and runner up in The Guardian's Best Pub Garden.

It is a welcoming, warming and rather nice place, full of hidden nooks, bay windowed corners and walls strewn with various beer ephemera, memorabilia and bric a brac from ale times gone by. It's avery homely and pleasant environment to waste away a drizzly Cumbrian late afternoon and evening.

It is a very popular place with both locals and visitors clearly drawn to the excellent locally sourced food and the superb beer range that come from many of the Cumbrian breweries nearby.

The five handpumps were doing a roaring trade when we were in serving some beautifully kept beers  from the likes of Dent, Kirkby Lonsdale, Tirril, Ulverston, Coniston and Hawkshead with the standout being Staveley's own Hawkshead Windermere Pale. A 3.5% light session summer ale that picked up a brace of Silver medals at this year's Brewing Industry Awards and from SIBA. The Windermere Pale was Citra-tastic and very reminiscent of a slightly less bitter Fyne Ales Jarl. It was a lovely pint in a lovely pub.


Tuesday 23 August 2011



I've done not bad this spring/summer when it comes to beer festivals.

The Paisley Beer Festival kicked things off in April quickly followed by the festivals at Fyne Ales, Hawkshead, The Scottish Real Ale Festival and the Great British Beer Festival. I even managed to squeeze in Rabid Barfly Glyn's London Beer Week shindig at The Rake.

So, all in all, I've done pretty well.

However, as this year's summer festival season approaches it's twilight, there's one more beer event to tick off my list before I trim my beard, polish my pewter and put my sandals away for another year. To bring the season to an end I'll be heading up to the Black Isle Brewery, just north of Inverness, on the 9th and 10th of September for their Jocktoberfest beer jamboree.

The event is being put together by Black Isle Brewery and they've created an intriguing concept that sees the cream of Scottish brewing putting 'their own innovative twist and signature flavours on their favourite German beer styles'.

Beers announced, so far, include Tryst's version of a hopped up wheat beer, Tempest Brewing's take on a German smoked Alt and Fyne Ales' New World Lager hybrid. Highland Brewery are also participating but haven't announced what their brew will be. Black Isle will also be showcasing their new German wheat beer at the event.

There's also enough food in the form of whole hog roast and bratwurst to keep a Munich beer hall munching til morning.

Entry to the event is free and there's also camping available in a nearby farm.

All you have to do is visit the Jocktoberfest website and register.

It should be a great couple of and a perfect end to a lovely summer of beer.


Sunday 21 August 2011

Iron Brews Are Good For You.

Those men and women in white coats have been busy again proving something that we've all suspected for ages, namely, that drinking beer is good for you.

In this case, researchers from the University of Valladolid in Spain have discovered that dark beers such as stouts and porters are richer in iron than lighter, paler beers and are therefore more beneficial to your health.

Iron is a dietary essential as it helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and other organs. Low iron intake can often leave you feeling tired, sluggish and irritable.

The research project, which was published in The Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, analysed 40 brands of beer from around the world. Their study examined 17 Spanish and 23 beers from other countries, with 28 pale, six dark and six non-alcoholic beers. Dark beers had more than 30 percent more iron content on average than pale beers. Beers with the most iron were a dark Spanish beer (165 parts per billion) and a dark Mexican beer (130 ppb). Beers with the lowest levels of iron were from The Netherlands (41ppb) and Ireland (47 ppb).

Which is something I've always suspected.  My gran used to swear by the recuperative properties of the bottles of Sweetheart stout she used to keep by her bed in the 1970's. I even remember her taking a bottle to hospital when visiting a sick relative. Turns out granny was right after all.

Which is good news for the people organising International Stout Day on the 3rd of November.

So, get yourself out and get drinking the dark stuff safe in the knowledge that moderate consumption of it is good for you.


Tuesday 16 August 2011

Guest Blog - Why BrewDog Matters to Me


In response to Martin Doherty's guest blog, BrewDog shareholder and blogger,  Ian Prise tells us why the beer world is a far better place for having BrewDog around.

"I don’t actually remember how my love affair with BrewDog started. I wasn’t in there right when they started. I don’t remember ever seeing James and Martin selling beer at the farmer’s market, but then I used to work almost every Saturday, or if I had been off, I would have been out on the Friday Night. I must have read something in the press about them, I “liked” them on Facebook and I started reading their blog. I liked their style. I liked their sense of humour. I bought a few bottles of their beer from the supermarket, chilled them in the fridge, drank them, and liked them. I liked them a lot.  

Equity for Punks was announced in late 2009. I’d been toying with the idea of buying BrewDog shares for a while, but with the cost of Christmas I didn’t really have the cash. A combination of a Gas bill rebate, and the extension of the deadline for buying shares solved this problem.

In October  2009 they bought a Bar in Aberdeen and hoped to have it open by February.

In Early 2010 I became an Equity punk.

The problem was that I couldn’t at this point find any pubs in Aberdeen selling BrewDog. I was still drinking the mass market keg beers I’d been drinking for years, and had never really liked.
 The Pub they had bought was in a lot poorer condition, than they had anticipated. With planning, licensing and all the work needed February came and went without a grand opening of the Aberdeen bar.  I only drank it at home, or if we were celebrating, we occasionally ate out in Musa, which at the time was about the place in town selling Brewdog.

Finally in October BrewDog Bar Aberdeen opened. I was introduced to an exciting new world of craft beer.  

On probably my first visit, James, who I recognised from the press and the blog, came in to the bar with his girlfriend. We were sitting at one end of one of the tables, a group of three other people were sitting at the other end.  James and Johanna squeezed into the space in between. One of the people on the other end of the table obviously, didn’t have “the taste or sophistication, to appreciate the depth, character and quality of his premium craft brewed beer”. When he left, I said to James I think he’s gone back to drinking “mass marketed, bland, cheaply made watered down lager” We got talking, we said we were shareholders, that we liked the beer, we liked the pub. James went to the bar and came back with a 4 glasses and a bottle of  Bashah Imperial and Tayberry reserve. I was blown away. This was beer in a different class. I was hooked.

So here is why I think BrewDog matters.

 They Brew Great Craft Keg Beer

I like my beer cold. Brewdog beers are mostly designed to be served cold. Granted with some styles like stouts and porters, the flavour develops as you let it warm up a little. Hops, did someone say hops? These guys use a lot of hops, and not just any old hops either. Bucket loads of aromatic hops from around the world. Not just in the kettle either. Some beers are dry hopped too.  That’s why the beer tastes and smells as good as it does. Lets not forget malt. Unless it says wheat beer on the label, it’s all malted barley in there. Ok so they do use some types of sugar in some of the higher strength beers. They don’t want the yeast to starve to death and die. The longer the yeast lives and eats the more alcohol it excretes. Additives, preservatives, and isinglass finings are not used in the making of a Brewdog beer. Their beers are suitable for vegetarians. They do lightly filter, but they don’t pasteurise. They want to leave the flavour in the beer.

The Bars

BrewDog craft beer bars are great places to drink. In my local, BrewDog Aberdeen, most of  the BrewDog core range is usually available on keg. Alice Porter and Tokyo* are on keg fairly frequently too. Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismark are available in 25ml measures, allowing people to try them without having to spend serious money on a whole bottle.

We usually see the special beers on keg when they are released, even the Abstrakts. The Guest board changes regularly. Mikkeller, Stone, Flying Dog, and Port Brewing/Lost Abbey are only a few of the great names that have featured on the guest boards. I’m looking forward to seeing some beers from some of the other British Craft keg brewers in the near future There is even a customer tap. If you buy the beer on this tap, you get to vote for one beer from a choice of three. When the keg finishes the beer with the most votes goes on next.

The range of rare and unusual bottled beers is extensive. Some of these beers have travelled a long way to be here. Others are made in small quantities, but because BrewDog has a good relationship with the brewer, and I’m thinking about Mikkeller here, they can get these beers behind their bars. Perhaps some are a little pricey, but still cost less than the price of a round if you share a larger bottle between four friends. £10-15 may seem like a lot of cash for a bottle of beer, but it is a pretty fair price when compared with what most people spend on a bottle of wine with a comparable ABV.

The bars also host some special meet the brewer nights, when all the taps are given over to the visiting guest brewers’ beers. I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Mikkeller/Nogne O, and Port Brewing/Lost Abbey nights in Aberdeen and The Stone Total Tap Takeover in Edinburgh 

We have also had some of the BrewDog brewers coming down from Fraserburgh to do a shift in the Aberdeen bar. It’s great being able to talk to these guys about the beer, and have some of the finer points about brewing, hops and how they filter explained to you. The Brewers I met are all really approachable (despite in some cases looking a bit scary), guys who are passionate about what they do.

The Aberdeen Bar also sold a Beer/cheese tasting deal on Groupon. What a great way to introduce people to craft beer. They sold 601 in a day. I bought one, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the company of “Inappropriate Dan” tasting various beers, having hopping and dry hopping explained, and totally failing to identify Nanny State. I thought it was like Hardcore without the mouthfeel.  

The bars are well run venues. I have seen very little trouble in the Aberdeen bar, and what trouble there was, was dealt with firmly and swiftly. The bars are safe places to drink. A lot of this is down to the very sensible policy of limiting the serving size of higher ABV beers.

I’m lucky that I live in Aberdeen only a short bus journey from the original and best Brewdog bar. As the bar empire expands more people will be able to enjoy these beers in the way I do.

The Bar Staff

The enthusiasm of the bar staff for Craft beer starts right at the top with Bruce. Bruce is the former Aberdeen Bar Manager and now Area Manger of all the bars. This guy is passionate about great craft beer. His passion is infectious and I have tried styles I probably wouldn’t have on his recommendation.

Brewdog educate their Bar staff in the product they are selling. Part of the training programme involves spending time working at the brewery, learning about the entire brewing process.

If you are new to craft beer, visit a bar and talk to the staff.  They know about the beer. They care about the beer. They are enthusiastic about the beer. They will pour you a few free samples. They will help you choose a beer you will like.

Special Beers/Collaborations

Abstrakt series, high abv freeze distilled beers, Nanny State, numerous collaborations, with other craft brewers, barrel aged beers, visiting Gypsy Brewers.

The Craft Beer industry (American Definition) seems to be unlike any other industry, in that the different players get together now and again and collaborate. Some of the best Craft brewers in the world, have visited Brewdog, and brewed beer there. Stone came and brewed Bashah, Three Floyds came and brewed Bitch Please. Lost Abbey came and brewed Lost Dog, which is still ageing in a rum cask.

BrewDog seem to spend a lot of time and effort brewing some pretty unusual and special beers. These guys are not content to sit back and churn out nothing but their core range. They like to experiment. Brewdog in common with many other craft brewers, like to mix up styles, use unusual flavourings, “turn everything up to eleven” and brew some spectacular beers as a result.

Equity for Punks

“Like the beer, own part of the brewery”.

“Drink your beer in your bar”

Selling shares in the company directly to the people who like the beer. OK, they needed the money to grow the business. They could have gone to the bank, but banks need to be paid back with interest, and then want to run your business for you.

So far, at the time of writing, they have raised from both issues £1.7 million. So what do you get for your money. Well admittedly right now a share of the company that is worth only a fraction of what you paid for it. You do how ever get discounts in the online shop, discounts in the bars, when they issue, the shareholder ID card, first dibs on the special beers, and an invitation to the “Soon to be Legendary AGM”. I’ve been to all three AGMs, yes three inside of eight months. The first one was in early December last year, and consisted of a business talk, lunch in Musa, some free beer, a beer and music pairing in the Aberdeen bar, a trip to the brewery with some more free beer, and a party back in the bar at night.

The second AGM was the shareholder brewday in May, when the 60 or so of us who could be there made “Equity For Punks 2011”, tasted loads of free beer, had an update on the business side of things, ate some tasty burgers, put Lost Dog into rum casks, and generally had a good time.

This was followed by a School Dinners themed beer dinner at Musa and some pretty special beers being on in the Aberdeen bar.

The most recent AGM was held in the Edinburgh bar, and was a required formality to do with the existing shareholders agreeing to some legal stuff concerning the new share issue. Again some free beers to taste, and pizza.

At all the shareholder events I do get the impression that James and Martin, genuinely appreciate our investment in Brewdog, and what our money and faith in them has allowed them to achieve.

I have met people with a shared interest in beer and have made new friends by becoming an equity punk, and the web based forum is a great place to ask questions, share information, or just bitch about when things go wrong.

Some have speculated that BrewDog will sell out to a multi-national brewer in the future, and I met a guy in the bar this week, who bought shares across the bar, in the hope of just this happening. I would like to think that there is more chance of Bracken being sold to a Korean butcher, than this ever happening. These guys have worked hard to get where they are, and I don’t think retiring to a Carribean island is on their personal agendas just yet. I hope Brewdog become The Baxters of Speyside of the brewing world. Baxters have rejected somewhere in the region of 200 takeover bids.

Online Shop and Punkdog.com

Admittedly the standard of service from the online shop isn’t what it should be, and with the poor standard of service from Parcelforce only adding to the problems, things need to improve. At the Edinburgh AGM, James apologised for this. Measures are being put into place to improve this, and the online shop is in the process if being outsourced, which should hopefully improve standards.

But hey, when it works the way it is supposed to, it’s a great thing. quality craft beer, delivered right to your door, and not just Brewdog’s own beer either. They also sell some of the bottles they stock in the bars.

Punkdog.com This is a website that allows you to design your own personalised labels for beer bottles, with photographs and text. I’ve used it twice for gifts. It’s easy to use, and comes with a choice of Trashy Blonde, 77 Lager, or Punk IPA in the bottles.

Supermarket listings/Craft Beer in Cans/ Growlers

Unlike Real Ale which is more or less confined to the pub or a beer festival, Brewdog beers can be enjoyed everywhere.

Their beers are available in most supermarkets. Some have accused them of selling out on their “Punk Ethos” because of this. Wake up and smell the hops. They are in the business of brewing and selling beer. They are Capitalists. They are in it to make money and grow the business, and maybe even pay the shareholders a dividend in the future.

Craft beer in a can, or as I like to call them nanokegs. Lighter, cheaper and easier to transport than a bottle. Perfect for festivals and camping trips. They take much less energy to recycle, and the beer tastes just as good.  (I have heard that, there have been some pretty manky cans of Punk on the go and I hope this is just a minor blip.) They also take up less space in your fridge which means it can hold more.

Growlers have been introduced recently. An idea imported from the U.S. Buy a growler, take it to your nearest Brewdog bar and have it filled with the draught beer of your choice to take home and enjoy.

Craft Beer and Food

BrewDog are active in the movement in the UK, to raise the profile of beer and its relationship with food. They have produced a guide to beer and food matching, and have along with many others in the beer world, raised the profile of beer within the restaurant industry.

They hold regular themed beer dinners in Musa Aberdeen, which sell out very quickly. People are interested in drinking good beer, with good food. The vast array of beer styles, mean that there is a beer that goes well with any dish.

I ate in a branch of Byron Hamburger, in London recently. They have Punk IPA, on their drinks menu, along with some other great craft beers, thanks to beer blogger and writer Mark Dredge, who was asked to come up with a choice of beers for them.  The Gaucho restaurant, I ate in, had 3 Meantime beers on the menu and the restaurant in the Tate Modern sells Trashy Blonde as well as a range of Kernel beers.

The Proposed Carbon Neutral Brewery

Let’s face it. Beer is a luxury item. It along with other alcoholic beverages is something we could all survive (unhappily) without. Millions of acres worldwide are planted with crops grown just to feed our love of an alcoholic beverage. This land would probably be better put to use to feed the starving. It’s a compelling argument, and radical vegans will trot out a similar argument, about how wasteful it is to feed grain to livestock to produce meat, eggs and dairy products.  I love beer and I love meat. I’m selfish that way. Such arguments don’t sway me one bit, but despite this I do give a shit about the planet I live on and realise that some things could be done in a better way.

A carbon neutral brewery is an innovative step forward. A brewery that produces all of its own energy. deals with all of its waste onsite and doesn’t pollute the environment, sounds good to me.

Of course this comes with an increased initial cost, but if it’s done right it will work. It will be a showcase for a better way to brew beer, as well as an example of how any manufacturing industry can do things in a better way for the environment.

Beer tourism

BrewDog bars are a destination in themselves. I have met several Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch visitors, who have visited Aberdeen, specifically to visit the Brewdog Bar. A short break, spent drinking quality beers, but with the added economic advantages that come with what they are also spending on hotels, meals, and travel. You could add the Equity Punks, who visit the Aberdeen area for the AGMs, into this category as well. They could just have easily spent the money they pay for travel and accommodation, on a short break to Dublin or Paris.

The visitor facilities proposed for the new brewery site, will be yet another good reason to visit the Aberdeen area.

The Craft Beer Revolution

What is the Craft Beer Revolution? Is it marketing?  I choose to drink better tasting more interesting flavoured beers brewed in a variety of styles.

We are all susceptible to advertising and marketing. Choices we make in our daily lives are constantly being influenced by marketing and advertising in all its forms. It is rammed down our throats we cannot escape from it, it is everywhere.  

BrewDog are just as guilty as any other brewer large or small in using marketing to sell its product. I as a consumer am just as guilty for falling for the hype. I first bought the beers because I saw the name somewhere and wondered what the hype was all about. Turns out I liked them. However they are sometimes just a little bit more clever about how they go about this. Remember no publicity is bad publicity. Whatever you think about the disputes with the Portman Group, the high abv beers, the text on the bottle labels, the taxidermy, their facebook page, multiple twitter accounts, the Brewdog Blog, the hilarious/purile/informative video blogs and the CAMRA baiting it has got the BrewDog name out there.

They are prodigious users of social networking to reach their target audience. This also allows interaction and debate.

They have the beer to back it all up as well. Any brewery, which can sell more beer than it can brew, despite contract brewing elsewhere, must be doing something right. 

My only hope is that the negative marketing tactics are consigned to the backseat in the future. They have achieved their aim. It’s time to start concentrating on what is good about Brewdog. I don’t want to hear that Stella is shit, and real ale is boring anymore. Tell us what is great about your beer.

BrewDog have also opened/kicked in the door for other breweries in the UK brewing quality craft keg beers. I recently met James and Andy from the Summer Wine Brewery. They are also brewing some Keg beers with huge amounts of American and New Zealand hops. They have taken their inspiration from Brewdog, just as BrewDog took theirs from the likes of Stone Brewing in America. These guys are just as passionate about great tasting beer as BrewDog are and I’m looking forward to trying their beer.

Brewdog arrived in 2007. In 4 short years what started as two young men, a dog and some big ideas has grown to become Scotland’s largest independent brewery. They are opening successful Craft Beer Bars at a time when the pub industry is suffering unprecedented decline.

They are one of the most exciting and innovative young breweries in the UK today. They brew beer for flavour first and foremost. They have achieved much in a short space of time and have the potential to achieve so much more.

I am proud to be an Equity Punk.

Vive le Revolution."


Saturday 13 August 2011

Guest Blog - BrewDog, Glasgow. Never Mind...it's Bollocks



In a wee change from my own musings on the blog, I've given over some space to a couple of guests who, over the course of two articles, will share with us their opinions of Scottish 'craft' brewers, BrewDog. 

Coming soon, BrewDog shareholder, Ian Prise will be telling us 'Why BrewDog Matters' but first, Renfrewshire Camra member, Martin Doherty gives us his reflections on his visit to BrewDog's new Glasgow Bar.

"Whilst in the West End of Glasgow on Saturday, sitting in the Three Judges enjoying a delicious pint of Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack, talk turned to the newly opened BrewDog Bar further along Dumbarton Road. My friend Ross wished to give it a try and I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Another friend, who lives in the Granite City, has been waxing lyrical about how great the BrewDog Aberdeen bar is and what wonderful beers they have both on tap and in bottles. I am not averse to the odd bottle of Punk IPA or 5am Saint, and I have in the past enjoyed their Trashy Blonde in Cask form.

So off we popped for the five minute stroll to their newly opened premises directly opposite the Kelvin Hall Museum and Art Gallery. The premises themselves are in a good location and the interior has a trendy feel about it, with what BrewDog claim to be salvaged or second hand furnishings. It was 4pm on a Saturday and the place was mobbed. We didn't have to wait to get served which is always good and there was an extensive selection of BrewDog beers and a couple of guest beers on tap which were written up on the chalkboard for your perusal. All the beers on tap were from keg as this seems to be BrewDog's favoured vessel of choice for their beers.

We both plumped for a pint of Punk IPA at £3.50, the first thing that struck me was how cold and fizzy the beer was. It tasted........ fine, that was it though just fine, not out of this world or lipsmackingly good, just fine. Sure, it tasted very hoppy but for me it lacked some depth. BrewDog believe in serving their beers at 6 degrees celsius and let the drinker experience the beer as it's temperature changes. As far as I'm concerned the warmer the beer became, the gassier it seemed and the taste became less pleasant.

Whilst drinking my mediocre pint I surveyed the beer list which had tasting notes and prices. I was astounded to see that they are selling 25ml measures of their Tactical Nuclear Penguin 32% abv and their Sink The Bismarck 41% for a fiver a pop! Yes a fiver! Perhaps I'd be happy to pay that for a nice 25 year old whisky buy not a beer, I don't particularly agree with beers being "sipped like a whisky", beers should be enjoyed in measures far greater than 25ml!. Given that a 330ml bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin retails at £35, a return of £65 from selling measures of it behind the bar from said bottle seems a bit greedy to me.

The Dog's  Bollocks?

Behind the bar there are a number of fridges rammed with interesting looking bottles with unfamiliar labels. That beer labels were unfamiliar to me and was a pleasant surprise as I have certainly sank a fair number and i'm always on the lookout for beers to try whether it be from specialist shops to online mail order. I asked if they had a beer list for the non BrewDog bottled beers with percentages and pricing only to be told they didn't have one, not a lot to ask really is it? So unfortunately I'm still no wiser as to what bottled beers they actually stock.

I quite fancied a dark beer and therefore asked the 'knowledgeable' bar staff if they had any Russian Imperial Stout, after consultation with another member of staff the barmaid stated that they did have an Imperial Stout "but it's not from Russia it's brewed in the States". I asked to see the bottle to give the label a once over, I also enquired how much it was, and to my horror, it was the princely sum of £10 for a 500ml bottle (so if you were on the minimum wage you'd need to work for 1 hour 45 minutes for the pleasure). At this I left the bar. Ten quid for a bottle of beer? Hardly in keeping with BrewDog's slogan of "Equity for Punks". I can't see many students spending their grant money in this particular establishment, which given it's location in Glasgow's sprawling student land must surely have been where a majority of the projected clientele were to be coming from.

Only time will tell.

They even have the cheek of selling BrewDog glasses at £5 for a pint glass and £7 for a half pint glass. Though I'm sure any punk worth his salt would probably just 'half inch' the glass after finishing their drink. Will I be back? I doubt it. Would I recommend it? Yes.... but only for the spectacle of watching other drinkers trying to smuggle the glasses out!

BrewDog have had an almost unbelievable rise to the forefront of British brewing since their inception in 2007 to become the biggest independent brewer in Scotland. At first I was curious and bought a couple of their bottles that was available from the supermarkets at the time.I found them tasty and welcomed them as an alternative to other bottled beers that I regularly bought. More recently though I have started to tire of the BrewDog shock tactic marketing machine. The End of History beers which were housed inside dead stoats and squirrels seemed to me to be in very bad taste and a cheap way of getting mass media coverage, not to mention hiring a dwarf to stand with a placard outside the Houses of Parliament for a week to campaign for selling beer in smaller measures.

In fact, more often than not, recent media coverage has been borne out of comments made by BrewDog managing director James Watt. Comments such as the one published in Spectrum magazine. In it James Watt states "Camra are single handedly responsible for holding back innovation in British beer in the last 40 years. With an overbearing emphasis on such a narrow and boring spectrum of beers, Camra think beer has got to be served by cask, somewhere between a 3.2% mild and a 4.5 % bitter. Camra is staid, it's tacky, it's conservative, it's old fashioned, it would put your grandparents to sleep. I'd gladly line up the whole lot of them and fire cans of punk off their heads"

Quite a scathing attack and being a member of Camra I was quite shocked to read such comments. Firstly, it shouldn't really have been a shock that Mr Watt made such comments as he seems to have history in regards to offending people and I'm willing to bet this petulant outburst is directly related to Camra cancelling BrewDog's stall at this years Great British Beer Festival for failure to pay on time. Secondly any Camra beer festival I've been to has plenty beers outwith the alcohol percentage that he is quoting, this year at Paisley Beer Festival there were 17 Scottish beers from cask that had a higher abv than 4.5% and a total of 33 English beers in cask above 4.5%. In the UK alone there are more than 2500 real ales available from more than 500 breweries with styles such as Porters, Stouts, Golden Ales, Old Ale as well as the aforementioned Milds and Bitters. Hardly a narrow spectrum is it?

The biggest point is that Camra have not held back brewing innovation but have single handedly saved British brewing with their continued support of both iconic British brewers and small independent breweries alike, their continued campaigning to save local pubs, keep beer duty down and to keep real ale in any discernible drinkers thoughts.

BrewDog say they are against "bland, soulless, industrially produced beers". This coming from the brewery who produce 660,000 gallons of beer a year and are currently raising capital by way of a share offer to move to a new larger brewery on the outskirts of Aberdeen which will enable them to produce up to five times more (a staggering 3.3 million gallons). One wonders at what point does beer become "industrially produced". I believe that BrewDog is quickly morphing into everything that they claim to be rebelling against. They use the term "craft beer", which to me conjures up beer brewed in small batches with a good level of consistency, but with production set to quintuple I'm sure they will find it hard to keep  consistency in the taste, something which they have had problems with in the past and blamed on "hop shortages" and difference in each years "hop characteristics".

All things considered, BrewDog is not really my cup of tea.... or in fact my pint of too fizzy,too cold, mass produced craft beer. A man who knows a thing or two about taste is Flavor Flav and he once said "Don't Believe The Hype". I couldn't have put it much better myself. BrewDog in my eyes are currently becoming my Public Enemy No1!"


Friday 5 August 2011

The Session - Whisky Sour at the GBBF


This month's session is being hosted by the The Brew Site and is on the subject of Sour Beer so I thought I'd share a recent experience I had at this year's Great British Beer Festival involving some three year old Lambic.

Whilst studying the beer list at the festival, my eyes were drawn to a beer that struck me as an interesting concept and one that I definately needed to try.

The beer in question was from Italian brewers Revelation Cat and was a three year old lambic that had been aged in Laphraoig Malt Whisky casks.

It was a strange yet interesting beast. It had a bold and robust whisky nose that leapt out of the glass that carried through into the initial mouthful. It had strong peat, wood and smoky notes that gave way to a really smooth, round and very well balanced sour apple taste.

It was unusual, to say the least, with seemingly contradictory elements on paper complementing each other in practise.

I would have liked to have tried their Marsala Lambic that was available too but when I went back to the bar it had just finished.

I suppose, that beer is for another day.

GBBF 2011 - A Review.


The Great British Beer Festival has now finished for me. I've been, gone and come back again relatively intact and unscathed.

I had an absolute blast and will take with me many fantastic memories that will linger a lot longer than the beer stains on my jeans.

You'd think that a festival for beer would be all about the beer.

About trying new ones and returning to old favourites.

But it's more than that.

Much, much more.

It's about the spontaneous happenings, the chance encounters, the making of new friends, the renewing of old acquaintances and the often surreal experiences that make this event such a great success. And the beer.

The beer provides the backdrop to, and the catalyst for, these social interactions that makes this event so special.

And it was a special event.

Tens of thousands of people, over 700 beers, five days and one common purpose - an appreciation of  beer.

BrewDog's James Watt arrives incognito at GBBF

The beer I had were, generally, very good. As planned, I spent most of Tuesday at GBBF trying the beers from the International bars. Bars being plural as the Bieres sans Frontieres had been, this year, split and seperated over four bars which were situated apart from each other rather than being centrally located as in previous years. I had been originally sceptical of this change but, in all fairness, I have to say that I think it worked very well. Not only did it mean that the queues for these bars were dimished, it also meant that a wider and more diverse selection of foreign beers could be showcased. Particularly, a vast selection of excellent Czech beers.

Czech-ing out the beer

The range of the Czech's were superb and the choice and quality of these beers were one of the festival's highlights. I particularly enjoyed the Matuska Fastball 9 - a superb 3.8%  hoppy, citrussy unfiltered beer with bready malt notes and lots of U.S. hops, Matuska Golden Rocket IPA 7%, and  Broumov's Pepper Kvasnicak Nefiltrovane and Coriander Kvasnicak Nefiltrovane. The Broumov's were really interesting beers. Both had the same 5% unfiltered Czech lager base but one was enhanced by pepper and the other coriander. The coriander beer was one of my boomerang beers of the festival - one that I returned to quite a few times over the event.

However, one beer that I wont't be returning to any time soon was Ballast Point's Habanero Sculpin IPA, a spiced up version of their award winning IPA with added Habanero Chilli. This was an extreme beer that kicked like an angry eight legged donkey and had a roasting, rasping sandpaper burn that left my throat raw and me looking for Greek yoghurt to kill the sting.


Credit to the barman, though. I had asked for a third of the Habanero Sculpin but the barman insisted that I dry a drop of it first before to see if I really wanted more of it. I'm glad that he did because one taste was enough of this toxic brew for me to realise the error of my ways. I doubt if I would have lasted the third of a pint.

More Beer

My second boomerang beer was the two year old Cantillon. It was lovely. Sharp, sour but above all beautifully balanced and very smooth. Another Lambic also floated my beer boat this year. It was Revelation Cat's three year old Lambic that had been aged in a Laphraoig whisky cask. An oak aged Lambic! A strange concept but one that worked for me.

It had a very powerful, instant whisky nose. Pungent malt whisky that dissipates enough to reveal a sourish, slightly dry but well rounded Lambic.

and the winner is........Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde

So, a Mild won Champion Beer of Britain. No great surprise in that. I had a taste of the winning beer, the Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde, a 3.7% Mild and I have to say that it was nice. It is a well put together roasty, toasty beer that was pleasant to drink. Whether it was the best beer there, that is for the judges, and not me, to decide. Some people were talking and tweeting about the result as if it was the end of civilisation that a mild had won but that was just hysterical and hyperbolic kneejerk nonsense.

Tory MP and Camra Chair, Colin Valentine

I stumbled upon a meeting of the Parliamentary Camra group in which I did something I've never done before in my life - I applauded a speech by a Conservative MP. The speech was on the impact on communities of pubs closing and I clapped when he promised a full inquiry into restrictive pub practises that limit consumer choice and hinder the growth of micro-breweries. He also said that the Coalition Government were determined to act to enhance the value that pubs bring to the community.

As Nigel Evans, MP, who was also in attendance, said "When the pub closes in a community, it's heart dies". Camra Chair, Colin Valentine welcomed the Government's support by stating that it's "great that politicians are listening" and pledged to continue the work that Camra does in bending their ear and providing an evidence based approach that hopefully influences the parliamentary decision makers to give the British brewing industry all the support it needs. It could start by creating parity between the duty charged on beers and spirits. That would be a very good beginning.

The evening ended to the gorgeous strains of a string quartet that played beautiful blissfilled music that was the perfect melodic icing on a beautiful, beer filled cake.

Wednesday continued in a similar vein to Tuesday. More Czech beer, more lovely Lambics and some exceptional UK cask. The Dark Star Hylder Blonde - a delicate, palate cleansing beer that danced delightfully like an elderflower angel on my tongue was divine. Two other elderflower beers were rather nice too - Thornbridge's Craven Silk and Liverpool Organic's Josephine Butler Elderflower Ale. The Salopian Shropshire Gold was a nice drop also.

So many beers, so little time. I stopped taking notes and kicked back and enjoyed the festival. My GBBF balance sheet was well in the black. The only time it strayed into the red was due to the, sometimes, oppressive and stifling heat in Earl's Court and trying to get some drinking water to cool me down and rehydrate. Despite this it was a fantastic couple of days and I'm already looking forward to next year's at Olympia.

Many thanks to organiser, Marc Holmes and the Campaign for Real Ale for putting on a fantastic festival that exceeded every one of my expectations.

Beer and Beer People - You've got to just love them.

Until next year.


Thursday 4 August 2011

The Kernel at Cask Pub and Kitchen



'Twas the night before the start of the Great British Beer Festival, and scores of hopheads from London and much farther afield have gathered at the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico to celebrate the exceptional beers from an exceptional brewery.

The event that drawns them here like hungry yeast to fermentable sugars is a 'Meet the Brewer' night with the ale alchemists from The Kernel Brewery who have the rather consistent knack of turning water, malt, hops and yeast into liquid gold.

However, it's more than just your usual, run of the mill brewer event where you roll up to the pub, shake hands, shoot the breeze and sample one or, if you are lucky, a couple of the Brewer's Fayre. This, instead, is an off the scale, extra special event where a dozen of the taps at the Cask have been taken over by a gorgeous infestation of lovely keg and cask beers from one of the most exciting breweries in the UK at the moment.

A Cornucopia of Kernels

The Kernel make great beers. Big, bold beers that generally fall into two categories. 'Pale and hoppy', that capture and characterise the essence of the single and mixed hops used and 'dark and roasty', that tip their hat to, and borrow from, the brewing history and tradition of London's dark beers. As the flyer for the event says, "The Kernel are all about upfront hops, lingering bitterness, warming alcohols and bodies of malt."

On the bar were 4 cask and 8 keg beers - a veritable cornucopia of Kernel - showcasing some of the best that brewer Evin and the Kernel team make. The event had attracted beer lovers and tickers from as far flung places as Sweden, Norway and the United States as well as from closer to home to indulge in some Kernel standards as well as a taste of some of their newer beers.

The list was impressive.


Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale    5.1%
Citra and Nelson IPA    7.1%
Export Stout    7.8%
The Kernel and Brew Wharf Collaboration Brew   4.5%


Export India Porter   6.5%
Imperial Brown Stout   10.1%
Nelson Sauvin IPA    6.8%
Nelson Sauvin Pale   4.7%
Saison    7%
Black IPA    7%
Citra IPA    7.2%
Mt. Hood Pale Ale  5.3%

Anticipating overwhelming demand for, and limited supply of, the beers the pub had rationed them to half pint measures only and by the time I got there, thirsty drinkers had spilled from the pub and occupied the road and pavement outside. Inside, the bar was three deep as people jostled to sample as many beers as possible before they ran out. This was a full forty five minutes before the official start time of the event. I was glad I got there early.

I managed to catch the eye of one of the bar staff. I threw it back at him and out of appreciation, he poured me a half of Citra IPA that popped and zinged with fruity citrus freshness which immediately hit the spot on a muggy and humid August evening. Having located my beer buddies for the night, we settled in the sunshine to enjoy some beautifully made and very, very tasty Kernel beers.

Next up was The Kernel and Brew Wharf Collaboration made with a trio of super alpha, pacific jade and sorachi ace hops. I liked it but some felt that the sorachi overwhelmed the other two hops.

And so the evening continued. Glasses were passed, beers were tasted and opinions shared as the relative merits of each beer and hop variety were disected and discussed. It was a delightful evening.

The Kernel's, Evin

All the beers were exemplary but two must be given special mention as the stand out beers of the evening. The Kernel Saison was an outstanding representation of this style of beer with a big, big nose full of fresh, sweet summer citrus notes of oranges, tangerines, clementines and lemon zest with Belgian yeasty breadiness, super smooth mouthfeel and a dryish fruity finish. It was lovely. I hear the bottle version is even better than the keg. I made a point of picking up a couple of bottles of the Saison to check out that theory. I look forward to letting you know.

The Mt. Hood Pale Ale was extremely nice too. It was a light and crisp pale ale with subtle hop notes and a sweet citrus edge that let you know that it was there in a very gentle and unobstrusive way. I detected some very light peachy/nectarine notes. It was very pleasant and the common consensus was that it was a most agreeable beer.

The Kernel at the Cask and Kitchen was a great night and I felt very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to enjoy one of London's best breweries firing on all cylinders with a truly exceptional range of beers.