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.


Birrificio Italiano at the Finborough Arms

The unprepossessing Finborough Arms

The unprepossessing Finborough Arms

A pub on the Finborough Road, Earl’s Court, so far so bad. Add a theatre, a great keg and cask selection, and a proper landlord who just happens to know one of the leading lights of the Italian craft brewing scene – hooked. So a tap takeover and meet the brewer by Birrificio Italiano at the Finborough Arms was a no-brainer for your correspondent.

Agostino Arioli, Birrificio Italiano

Agostino Arioli, Birrificio Italiano

Agostino Arioli of Birrificio Italiano is one of the best known Italian brewers (one of 850 commercial breweries now!). In common with other brewing luminaries he preached freshness. I agree, having tasted beer straight out of the tank at breweries you get so much more flavour. Also Agostino doesn’t like to filter, I’m not convinced about this, I can see the theory of leaving everything in the beer but can also see the sense in stabilising it somewhat.

There were six beers on keg and once the theatre crowd had dispersed Agostino gave a talk. The epitome of Italian class and cool, it was entertaining and informative. My rather incomprehensive notes on the beers follow,

Tipopils – Not many wise people would disagree with landlord Jeff Bell’s choice of this for his house lager. A classic.

Imperial Pils – Comparatively weak at 5.8% by the standards of modern Imperial versions but this is another long standing B.I. beer. A substantial, full flavoured beer.

B.I. Weizen – Big banana hit! Not so spicy but a sipping hefeweizen.

La Piccola – My note on this one just says ‘Bonkers’. I seem to remember it was a good bonkers. It’s a light saison with added Sichuan pepper that gives that weird umami thing going on in a beer. I’m pleased with my one word summary.

Bibock – Quite dry for a bock, a good thing imho. A classy drink.

Nigredo – Saved for last, a black IPA, it ran out!

So this isn’t the site for long flowery descriptions of beers but there are three take home messages from this evening.

Birrificio Italiano beers are seriously well made, seriously good beers – drink them where you find them. Plan your next Italian holiday around a trip to a brewery.

Finborough Arms – don’t be fooled by the location. Landlord, beer selection and quality, food, theatre, events make this a proper good pub. If you want a quiet drink don’t go there on Chelsea matchdays though.

Quality not quantity – you don’t need 300 ho-hum best bitters and make a festival out of it. Half a dozen quality beers of interesting styles is a lot more fun.

Venue:                  7/10
Beer selection:      8/10
Beer quality:          8.5/10
Atmosphere:          8.5/10
A good night out:   9/10
Total score:            41/50, 82%

London Drinker – June/July

London Drinker JuneJNow I like the London Drinker, it’s very CAMRA, low production values and basic artwork but it is a good read with interesting content, and as we all know, content is king. Nevertheless, it does provide a few giggles.

TH writes that young people are asking for dimpled mugs and that these are common in Antic pubs. He then goes on ‘If young people are drinking beer…’, well yes they are TH but you never see them because they are drinking modern beer made in ways that CAMRA does not recognise as real ale.

We learn that GT ‘reacts badly’ to Cascade hops, yet professes to like hoppy beers, though it sounds as though this does not include dry hopping.

The price of a pint rears it’s ugly head when RC visits Tap East (makers of the brilliant Coffee in the Morning) and has to pay £6.80 for a pint of porter. Although he recalls it saying four pint something on the tablet I can only see their Smokestack Porter at 6.5%. Well that’s why they tell you the price before pouring it, and RC declined. Products sell on quality or price or a combination. Without trying it or understanding the ingredients and brewing process it went through I can’t see how he could possibly comment on the price. Pssst RC, don’t go to The Rake! Isn’t it amazing how all these pubs selling expensive, modern, innovative beer are doing so well and the ones selling the same old best bitters at crucial price points are struggling?

BL went to Colombia and discovered the Bogotá Beer Company whose beers ‘were certainly better than the normal ones available in Colombia but they were not a patch on real ale’. That’s a relief then.

On microbreweries you just have to read the whole BO letter and RP rebuttal, this why people turn away from CAMRA (or love it).

MC is confused. ‘I have no interest in going to pubs which only sell beers from microbreweries and having to drink beers I’ve never heard of and no idea what they are like even if they are LocAles. This also applies to some CAMRA beer festivals. In short I want choice’. OK, so that’s a choice of beers that you know what they taste like from large breweries that you have heard of, simples. I’m sure he didn’t mean to imply that the bar staff were unable to tell him what the beer tasted like or too mean to give him a sample.

Meet the brewer – Beavertown at The Gun

Coolest Brit brewer?

Coolest Brit brewer?

And so to The Gun in Docklands for a ‘meet the brewer’ and talk about beer in cans. Lovely old pub on the river with the O2 Arena directly across the river and Canary Wharf rising behind us. Lovely summer’s evening. Great beer in a great cans. Logan Plant of Beavertown. What was not to like? Continue reading

Siren tap takeover at Brewdog Camden

On the plus side I have enjoyed everything I have tried from Siren Craft and have great respect for them. On the debit side I am deeply cynical about everything Brewdog does. Both opinions were reinforced during an enjoyable evening with my new ‘meet-up’ chums. It was my first time at Brewdog Camden and I was somewhat surprised at how small it was. Brewdog relentlessly market Brewdog and only Brewdog, the pumps carry no clips, lens or fisheyes except the Brewdog logo, it is everywhere else too. If, say, Budweiser did this there would be uproar. Anyway before I go too far with this rant let’s talk about beer.

Sound Wave IPA and Broken Dream ‘breakfast’ stout I had tried before and are both excellent benchmarks for their style. Undercurrent and Liquid Mistress make up their core four.

Undercurrent, 4.5% is a pleasant entry level pale ale, a good thirst quencher.

Liquid Mistress is among the growing band of red IPA’s and red ales which I predict could become the next drinking man’s bitter. Like most of Siren’s offering this is not shy of hops and definitely falls into the red IPA category.

Seven Seas is a black wheat IPA, 6% and full marks to anyone who names the seven US and German hops beginning with C. I am a big fan of black IPA but I’m not sure a black wheat IPA adds anything to equation.

White Tips (4.7%) was my first ever wit IPA, brilliant, why has nobody done this before? All the refreshing, citrus notes of a witbier topped up with plenty of hops for the IPA lover.

I should have tried the Calypso first off. It is a Berliner Weiss style, as Kernel have recently been brewing – but at 4% this is stronger, if you haven’t tried it before, think fresh gueuze – it is a sour. It’s Marmite and I love it. Too thin and they can be just acidic but this had the Amarillo hop to give it some body (and a decent ABV). It’s a must try, if you haven’t done so before.

Heavyweights always come last on the bill, so time to move on to 10 Finger Discount, a collaboration with To Øl, cedar spirals being the novelty ingredient. At 7.3% with hops to match this tastes as what I would describe as a double IPA, hoppy but with that rich marmalade-y thing going on. My fave IPA of the evening.

Americano, is a brand new ‘coffee IPA’. At 9.2% it was good but for me the Seven Seas delivered more for less.

Caribbean Chocolate Cake (Jerk edition) is Cigar City collaboration. Tropical stout, 7.4% contains experimental hops, cacao nibs and ‘Cyprus wood’ (Cypress?). As full as you’d expect, big choc flavour, what’s not to like?

Odyssey 001 is from the barrel aged range and boy, was it worth waiting for! For once I could actually taste all the flavours in the description, complex, boozy, warming sipper. Delightful. For the purists here is the website description “An imperial stout brewed with liquorice root and dark muscovado sugars rest in 3 different barrel types ready for blending together to create a unique flavour profile. The coming together of Banyuls, Brandy & Bourbon with a dash of Liquid Mistrress will make this complex beer a keeper.”

Date:                         Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Venue:                       6/10
Beer selection:           7.5/10
Beer quality:               8/10
Atmosphere:               7/10
A good night out:        6/10
Total score:                34.5/50, 69%