Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Sometimes, Brewdog can be a very hard beer to love. I'm not just talking about the taste of the beer itself, either, although certain of their more esoteric offerings over the years have been bizarre to the point of undrinkable (see later in this post). My issue is, despite the obvious talent of the people behind Brewdog and the often - in fact, usually - superb products they create, to drink them is to endorse, and indeed encourage, the kind of irritating egotism that allows nonsense like this to be printed on their bottles of Toyko (18.2%):
The irony of existentialism, the parody of being and the inherent contradictions of post-modernism, all so delicately conveyed by the blocky, pixelated arcade action have all been painstakingly recreated in this bottles contents.
Riiiight. Get over yourselves, guys, you are never going to make a profound philosophical statement on the "irony of existentialism" using jasmine-infused beer and you are most definitely not the Jean-Paul Sartre of fermented barley products. And in case you're thinking that surely this pseudo-intellectual tripe is at least partly tongue-in-cheek then firstly, that hardly makes it any less irritating, and secondly I (briefly) met one of the owners at a tasting a few weeks back and believe me, he was not a man with an underdeveloped sense of self. We sat wincing as he regaled us with poor taste anecdotes about lesbians calculated to display what a dynamic and interesting rebel he was and by extension what a punky and non-conformist company Brewdog was. It was - almost - enough to justify a boycott.
I say almost, because the terrible truth is, most Brewdog beers are absolutely bloody awesome. The Tokyo, from whose bottle that brain-bleedingly annoying passage above was taken, is rich, chocolaty and satisfying, a deep, dark embrace of a drink that isn't too sweet, too floral or too hoppy but a perfectly balanced hit of malt, wood fires and winter fruits. It would be perfectly complemented, if you were so inclined, with a dense chocolate cake or malt loaf, a genuinely satisfying dessert beer.
Others in the line-up are just as impressive. If you've not ever tried the lovely Alice Porter then get yourself down to the White Horse in Putney where this 6.2% beauty (based on a 300 year old recipe) is on sale for a ludicrous £2.80 a pint - at least, it was on my last visit. And there's always room for their classic Punk IPA (5.6%), light and fruity and just caramelly enough, and now also available - shock horror! - in cans.
Last night, at an impromptu beer tasting at a friend’s flat, we tried four new Brewdog single-hop IPAs that I was very kindly sent to try from their (presumably long-suffering) PR people; I saw the same pack on the top shelf at Utobeer at Borough Market though so they are out there if you look in the right places. Never has the phrase "mixed pack" been so appropriate. The Bramling X (7.5%) was powerfully hoppy with a strange note of soy sauce - perhaps some strange reaction with the wheat - and although interesting alright was hardly an easy drink. The same went for the Sorachi Ace (7.5%) which assaulted with flavours of dried herbs, pine, liquorish and lemon - another beer that made you go "wow!" swiftly followed by "I can't have any more of this." Fortunately Citra (7.5%) was much more drinkable, living up to its name with lovely heady flavours of orange and grapefruit - one to drink on a summer's afternoon. And finally the weirdly titled Nelson Sauvin (7.5%) was actually the most straightforward of the bunch, delicate and grapey.
By this point we were all feeling a little overwhelmed (yes, that's "overwhelmed" not "pissed") but we had two more of my favourites to enjoy. Firstly, Hardcore IPA (9.2%) is a stunningly powerful blend of various different hops and is so bitter it's almost painful. Once you get over the initial shock, though, you're rewarded with a complex run of different flavours and addictive like Tabasco - you know it hurts, but you can't help coming back for more.
And then, finally, the 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin. It's a stupid name for a drink borne seemingly out of a childish and PR-led desire to sell the World's Strongest Beer(TM), and if this doesn't put you off then the guff on the bottle might:
"...it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost." Shut up.
But again, oh so irritatingly, it's absolutely delicious. Thick and rich, nowhere near as burny as the 32% alcohol might suggest, it's actually supremely well balanced, unctuous and sweet and an absolute joy to drink. It's £35 a bottle, too, but then quality always comes at a price and it's still a damn sight cheaper than the $150/bottle Sam Adams Utopias I once tried at a tasting, which shied away from its beery origins and ended up tasting like port or malt liqueur of some kind. TNP actually does taste like beer, albeit beer like no other. I love it.
Brewdog isn't a company we love to hate so much as one we hate to love. The stupid press stunts, the ego, the arrogance, the self-indulgent twaddle on the bottles, all these things are supremely irritating, but if the end product is as good as Tokyo or Tactical Nuclear Penguin then perhaps it's worth all the pain. They are more or less single-handedly responsible for igniting my obsession with craft beers, and are undeniably very, very good at what they do. So well done, you annoying bastards you.