Changes at Brewdog bars?

brewdog-logo1Some of you will know that I am no fan of Brewdog, the disingenuous, corporate, mainstream brewer. However I have always been a huge advocate of their bars but after a couple of months away from them, things have changed.

  1. The non-Brewdog offering is very much the same in all the bars, little individuality, same breweries. Stone, Beavertown, Cloudwater, Mikkeler and very little new UK stuff.
  2. Menu now consists of 6 pizzas and 1 chicken wings. That’s it. There used to be a range of dogs, burgers, wings, and all the craft street that goes with it. In fact, all the type of food that goes with craft beer.
  3. Staff. Certainly at my regular most of the familiar faces have gone and been replaced by less knowledgeable, less friendly (imho) staff. Table service is rare.
  4. Fresh beer. Being served a pumpkin beer in June 2016, brewed in the fall of 2015 was surprising.

It looks as though the accountants have taken over. There has never been a brewery logo in Brewdog apart from Brewdog, it now appears they don’t even want the guest beers apart from their mates and sell off bargains. Food, it slows down the drinking and as the bars are full at peak time – you wouldn’t want that.

From my London-centric point of view, (If you lived in the City would that be EC-centric? – Ed.) I think Barworks and Draft House have got the formula right for customers. Brewdog make lots of money, if you think that is success.

A Pint of London please!

Brewers spend years perfecting recipes when maybe they should spend years perfecting names. The power of marketing, eh?

Timothy Taylor renamed one of their old beers Boltmaker and immediately it becomes Champion Beer of Britain. Does anyone really believe it is the champion beer of Timothy Taylor even? That sort of thing really degrades the title imho.

London PrideIn London of course, London Pride is well established and it’s a case where the beer popularity has grown in age before super saturated marketing. It’s a good beer, that’s made and sold in London. Any tourist arriving in London won’t be disappointed if they want to try a typical, local, London beer.

Best pubco in London?

Best pubco in London?

London Pride used to be a fixture in the Taylor Walker pubs, part of Spirit Group. Now, for a relatively large pubco, Taylor Walker pubs are some of the best in London. They are proud of their brand and have a great estate of good old fashioned pubs in Central London. This is not a pubco that hides it’s brand, tries to entice customers with promises of real ale and continental lagers (that’ll be Doombar and Heineken then). They also usually have a couple of craft keg lines and the Spirit ‘bible’ includes a number of microbreweries who can deliver direct without selling their soul (and profits) to national distributors. Notwithstanding a few bulk drops and head office deals, the publicans generally like to support local micros and have ‘something different’.

So, Greene King acquire Spirit. Greene King and Fuller’s are competitors.All of a sudden,

Really?

Really?

London Pride is ripped out, London Glory appears (no, don’t, I’m serious) made by Greene King natch. Now, London Pride probably does a few sales from tourists but there are a lot of core Pride drinkers out there. Faced with no London Pride they will go with the next best, established bitter that they know. Isn’t that obvious? Well not to the GK marketing department obviously. But to many wry smiles, the word on the street is that selected Taylor Walker pubs will be ‘trialling’ London Pride soon.

Little Tenderness from my beloved Little Beer Corporation is a great beer. A 5.4% American amber, it’s got a great big malty body lifted by clean, fresh tasting American hops and gentle carbonation. But people try it first because of the name.

Make a good beer yes, but if you want people to try it then get the name right.

Brewdog, losing the plot?

brewdog-logo1Perhaps this is an easy target. I have never been a fan of Brewdog as company or as a brewer, nothing to do with the quality of their beer though. I have always been a tremendous fan of their bars which offer a great selection of good beer and great service. The Shepherds Bush bar is my local and is a lovely, open airy venue with a variety of seating and good pinball machines.

Recently though things have changed. It seems there is much more central buying. Neck Oil, Gamma Ray, Black Betty and Holy Cowbell are all good Beavertown beers but they are hardly cutting craft edge and having all four on at once seems excessive. Did they have to bulk buy to get the Lupuloids series? The remainder is also mainstream – Stone, Magic Rock, Weird Beard, BBNo all good but hey, we can get these anywhere. Camden Hells is the only non-Brewdog lager!

Staff have changed, service is slower, queues now exist at quiet times. More subtle things, I don’t see the manager having laid back team talks, staff aren’t interacting. (As a Chelsea supporter I notice these things.)

It may well be part of the corporate plan, Brewdog are an intensely commercial operation and the UK’s craft behemoth. Have they reached the limit of craft beer enthusiasts and to entice more mainstream customers in they have to offer names they have heard of like Beavertown etc. Become more like a normal pub? A pub for punks obviously.

Discuss.

The Brewers Project, Chapter 3

Hop HouseNo personal cab, no mystery location but nevertheless a nice Christmas present, the latest chapter of the Brewers Project from Guinness, Hop House 13 Lager. The first things that have to be said are that the branding looks great and that this lager is not really aimed at me.

What do they say about it? “This double-hopped lager is the next chapter in that project. It’s decidedly modern and totally different. With more ingredients comes more character. 100% Irish-grown malted barley. The distinctive Guinness yeast. A mixture of Australian and American hops runs as an undercurrent through this incredibly deep beer, which is fresh at the surface and complex at the bottom. Our brewers set out to create something that would stimulate your palate and senses alike. From first sip to the lingering finish, this beer is surprising. Sample Guinness Hop House 13 and you’ll experience a lager made with so much more. More hops. More character. More taste. It’s a lively sip with accents of apricot and peach. The flavour deepens into subtle malt with a medium body. Combining our famous Guinness yeast with Irish-grown barley in a lager brewing process, our brewers changed the game.”

What does Rich say about it? That’s all a bit OTT above. What exactly does double-hopped mean? It has Topaz, Galaxy and Mosaic which is a nice mix of hops but there is no noticeable bitterness. Starts quite sweet and I did get the hint of apricot and peach, then a touch of malt and a slightly drier finish. 22 IBU apparently which doesn’t really add up to a crisp finish. The Guinness yeast, who knows?

Well what did you expect? This is a mass market lager, not a craft offering (lagered for 5 days apparently). It is definitely not different or surprising. I’m willing to believe that a lot of care has gone into this and it is not faulty in any way (and it comes in a brown bottle). It’s way cooler in terms of branding than the hideously outdated Fosters (who does drink this nowadays?)  which I’d guess is one of the closer competitors. I wish it well in its sector.

As a salesman of genuine craft keg though, I plead to publicans to put it on the ‘commercial’ lager lines and not use up one of your precious ‘craft keg’ lines for this. The crafterati will not be fooled.

The Brewers Project, Chapter 2

Guinness ST JAMES'S GATEPersonal cab, mystery location. Woot! I am still on the Guinness PR agency guest list for The Brewers Project. Regular readers might know that I enjoy the beers but positively gush over the marketing and event organisation from the ‘boys from the black stuff’ and the lovely ladies in their British PR firm.

It’s clearly an abandoned and long closed pub in a dodgy part of the East End. But no, enter and you find it has been cunningly transformed and used by those nice guys from The Disappearing Dining Club who provided the venue for the first launch of the porters. Excited hubbub downstairs as we revisit the porters we tasted last time (and the porter cocktails).

Then upstairs to a carefully lit room filled with the aroma of hops. And Condiment Junkie. These are the guys behind Heston Blumenthal’s Sounds of the Seashore and other sensory ways of changing our perceptions of food. Yes, our heads were going to be messed with.

At this point the cycnical amongst us might have thought this was going to be to mask any lack of substance in the beer itself. Mmm, maybe, but the touch was light and deft, everyone was there to be entertained and have a good time, not to be sold to.

We tasted the beer with selected foods with different sensory elements – green light/low frequency sounds to emphasise the hop bitterness, red light/high frequency sounds to emphasise the sweetness, sounds of the meadow to emphasise the hops (really?), an extremely malty (and lovely) dessert to emphasise the malt in the beer (dominate perhaps). Did it work? Well the green light/bitter thing worked for me but ultimately it was the food pairings that had more effect, as I guess they should. I would have liked to try the food and light combinations the ‘wrong way round’ to check.

Then back downstairs to try a cocktail made using the beer, Canadian rye, some maple syrup and citrus juice, topped with cream and a malty wafer. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? It was gorgeous as a ‘dessert cocktail’.

What was the beer Rich? Did you like it? So, this was the launch of Guinness Golden GUINNESS GOLDEN ALE BOTTLE [HI] halfAle. So far, so bad. I always think of golden ales as being insipid tasteless things designed by cask ale producers to compete with the lager market. So the good news is that this isn’t a golden ale imho. It’s made with ‘specially selected amber malt’ or ‘amber malt’ as the brewer put it. The hops are pelleted Celeia, one of the Styrian family used typically in English ales. A good bittering hop but not an awful lot else.

This isn’t a complex, micro batch, collaboration craft beer so let’s not overcomplicate the tasting notes. It’s malt rather hop led – Guinness sticking to what they know – and as such tastes like a good English pale ale or ‘ordinary’ bitter. Any sweetness seems to come from the malt flavour alone so it is not at all insipid.

Now I’ve had a few bottles at home I’ve decided that I really enjoy this beer on a simple level. Provides a nice balance with most food also. Will I be buying it? If I want a reliable session bottle at home then yes maybe. In a pub, only if they release it on draught.

I’m still slightly puzzled by the choice of Golden Ale though. Is it because Guinness believe this sector has lower competition in terms of both quality and quantity? Well, that is certainly true. Is it because ‘golden’ is a more aspirational word than ‘amber’? Also true.

Here’s a thought, what about an ‘Irish Amber’?

Full disclosure: I had a great free evening out and was given 6 bottles. The above article is unpaid and unsolicited.

 

 

Greene King Craft, really?

Greene KingGreene King Craft beer. Oh dear. You know this isn’t going to end well. Let’s start by accentuating the positives. Greene King are one of the band of British regional brewers who helped keep real ale alive in the seventies. Abbott Ale had a deservedly strong following (though I never thought it a great traveller and like many others is nowadays rather anodyne by comparison).

Since then Greene King IPA has morphed into the Watneys Red Barrel de nos jours, Greene King have absorbed and closed other smaller regional breweries. They sit in marketing no man’s land between the big brewers and genuine regionals.

There is obviously plenty of heritage at Greene King with beers like the fine 5X Barleywine which is also used as a base in some other beer. However the marketing people have seen the craft beer revolution and thought this is the bandwagon for us. They have carefully noted the names of all these new fangled hops but have clearly neither tasted the beers or taken any note of the quantities needed to achieve these flavours.

Whether by accident or design the Belhaven offering is much better and sticks to its roots better. It is a much more convincing marketing and taste proposition.

Yardbird Pale Ale, 4.2% – Bright, refreshing pale ale with a hoppy finish. Bright and refreshing possibly, hoppy finish no, over carbonated yes. Full of hops and with a lasting fruity flavour, Yardbird is inspired by the bold American pale ales. Full of hops no, they could definitely have squeezed more in. Inspired in the sense that the bold American pale ales sell well and this is a bandwagon Greene King would like to jump on.

Noble Lager, 5.0% – Brewed with the tettnang hop to produce a crisp, light & aromatic finish. Brewed with an echt hop yes. Nothing wrong with it but extremely unremarkable. Samuel Adams Boston Lager uses the US clone of this hop and is produced on a much larger scale but is far superior.

Double Hop Monster IPA, 7.2% – Late hopped for maximum aroma & a refreshingly bitter finish. Oh dear. It is not a double hop monster, have these people never tasted a real double hop monster? What were they thinking?

Belhaven Scottish Oat Stout, 7.0% – Deep dark intense. Drink at room temperature. This is the type of thing they should be brewing. It’s a bit lacking in depth of flavour for the alcohol content but it’s all right. I wouldn’t mind a bottle of this in a Greene King pub given the other fare on offer.

Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA, 5.6% – Bold bitter juicy. Amazingly an accurately description! Very much a English British IPA though it uses Challenger, Cascade and Hersbrucker. The flavours though are more hedgerow berries and the bitterness not face melting. It is really juicy, each mouthful leaves me salivating. This beer has gown on me and definitely breaches the ‘half-decent’ barrier.

What were the marketing department thinking of? Who were they trying to sell to? Hard to imagine. They have chosen to jump on the ‘craft’ bandwagon, compare and contrast with Guinness who have gone the heritage route with their new porters.

The beer geek – laughed out of court
The old bloke in the pub – why would he choose these?
The girls night out – uncool
The supermarket bottle drinker – just maybe for a change, but no repeat.
The ‘interested’ drinker – if the ‘interested’ drinker has discovered craft beer then this will be a severe disappointment

If I was in a large pubco pub in Scotland then I might have a Belhaven, that’s the best I can say.

Eagle eyed readers will be wondering where the reviews from Intoxicated Shep are. I did give him some bottles but didn’t seek his review on this occasion. It could have turned nasty.

Disclosure: I ‘won’ 4 cases of these beers at a draw at the excellent Imbibe exhibition but I was not asked to write about them. I have suffered for free so you don’t have to pay to find out.