I very literally renewed my membership (read: figuratively pulled money out of my nether regions) to Ale Stars for this session – for Good Beer Week, The Local Taphouse brought the one Beer Draw Card To Rule Them All: James Watt from BrewDog, a Scottish brewery that you’ve probably heard of in regards to their high alcohol content ales at the least even if you’re not of a beery persuasion.
Interestingly enough, I don’t remember it being packed to the gills and it being all-out chaos like when Feral’s head brewer Brendan Varis came down though don’t get me wrong – getting an actual seat was serious ‘gig’ strategising (ie. mad dash to a nook with a clear view). You know how these punk/Ke$ha gigs gets. At least, I only needed to listen, Tristan is the one who gets to take the pretty pictures and needs the good view. Ooh-er, maybe we’re at a classical gig then, eh?
James is very upfront about the fact that BrewDog is ‘beer for punks’. Him and Martin, the fellow with whom he started BrewDog in 2007 were homebrewing for four years and with a stroke of luck (and perhaps reputation), Michael Jackson sampled their wares and said, right boys, quit your jobs and start doing this for a living. They approached banks (though James tells that much better than I could ever put it into words), got secondhand equipment and whee, Operation Small Brewery is GO.
I will presume for a moment that most craft beer drinkers will be aware that at present the going is good in terms of education and general palate adventurousness, this is fairly recent. Traditional media is only just starting to feature beer as a topic of epicurean delight (ABWG pres James Smith could confirm this for you as some of his reportage is gaining more prominence), and this is understandable. As with all smaller things, the fanbase can be small and dedicated but how does that translate into, well, profitability? Stupid capitalism and having to eat.
So of course, when BrewDog began, times were Dickensian: it was difficult to get folks to try something that wasn’t made by a larger commercial company and thus, suitably punk, one can imagine having to eat cat food to get by, perhaps literally: in James’ case, taking up stints on a fish trawler.
Before we get onto the beer, some other interesting tidbits: James was initially attracted to craft beer after tasting Cantillon as well as trying the iconic Sierra Nevada pale ale. He also seems to think that the Germans are ‘pesky sausage munchers’ – don’t mention the war, eh?
First beer – the Punk IPA a ‘Post Modern Classic Pale Ale’, accounts for 50% of BrewDog’s sales, the first beer they ever made and is I believe PUNK TO THE CORE. Boiled for ninety minutes, hops are added at the start and end and then post-fermentation. To evil indeed! Don’t toast too loudly lest Mephistopheles hear you.
Before drinking (read: excitedly chugging, whoops) our beers, James asked us to treat our beers with more reverence and give it the greeting ritual a person deserves:
“Hello?” *sniffs* (Nelson Sauvin hops)
“How are you?” *sniffs, swirls* (good, but in want of spicy food, please)
I shan’t bore with the details, but I’ve enjoyed this brew (responsibly, oddly enough) more times than I can remember. Dare say, such times will indeed continue.
The second beer I believe I’ve had the pleasure of having on tap – either at Biero or a growler fill at Slowbeer: the Hardcore IPA, their ‘Explicit Imperial Ale’. This has more malt, hops, bitterness and grunt than the Punk (I’d go Hardcore over Punk anyday).
“Hello?” *sniffs* (Columbus, Centennial, Simcoe)
“How are you?” *sniffs, swirls* (again, I want spicy food please!)
Warm up your beers before tasting them, and to James’ exacting instructions, we did a fair bit of sniffing before taking the initial sip. He was fairly reluctant to admit which of his beery babies he preferred, but he did admit that the Hardcore was the one he drunk most of.
Normally, one would think the third beer reserved for the end of the night, but given these lads are uncharacteristic, we were hit with the Paradox Isle of Arran, a whisky cask aged imperial stout. Not quite as alcoholic as Tokyo, but getting there as a beer you’d share with a (lesbian) mate.
“Hello?” *sniffs* (Gallina appley, peary hoppiness)
“How are you?” *sniffs, swirls* (good, but hand over the 88% Venezuelan cacao, thanks. It’s nightcap time)
This was the beer that beery Jacko had that means we now get to drink BrewDog. Again, having had it before, was surprised that it was drier than when last sampled (at a previous Ale Star session no less). The casks are used to either age Islay or Speyside – am verging on slight preference for Islay due to the peatiness). Incidentally, our dear Shandy has spent a fair bit of time on the Isle of Arran which he says is ‘little Scotland’. Paradox is aged for twelve months in its casks and 10% of the brew is lost to what is apparently called the ‘angel share’.
I rather like that idea, despite my atheism. Just don’t tell Hitchens and we’re all good.
We finished on a red note, are these BrewDog lads trying to tell us they’re rampant commies? Most likely not: one of James’ killer anecdotes related to us how having to answer a questionnaire for a competition regarding the social and ethical responsibilities of the company being “I’m not fucking Mother Teresa” left them banned from some commercial trade European competitions. Oh yes, the beer: we finished with the 5AM Saint, their ‘Iconoclastic Amber Ale’. Unorthodox? Oh yes – though James said their modus operandi is to “offend, upset, alienate”. Another one of their quotes I suspect was Doctor Who-inspired: “the UK beer scene is sick, it needs a fucking doctor”.
The 5AM Saint, is doctorly in that it heals the palate after the ‘beating’ it just took (in the nicest way possible) from the Hardcore and the Paradox at a matronly 25 IBU. So not at all a good deal of bitterness and a fair whack of malt. It’s a great session beer, again, another I’ve drunk a fair bit of.
Of course things weren’t going to end there. Surprise! The IPA is Dead! Long live the IPA! Well, not quite but as a bonus, four new IPA Is Dead beers were handed out to all and sundry (one of which is on tap at the Taphouse, so get thee there to try it!). We got the Nelson Sauvin single hop IPA.
I think the gig punters rather enjoyed themselves, what say you? Having a BrewDog founder down was a bit like seeing a rockstar except I shan’t forget that he skilfully avoided the dog turd, um questions I had for him (and we were allowed general questions) about where the roadkill for the End of History was actually sourced and how he felt about bisexuals (I meant bisexual girls, but I figure given the lesbian pr0n they admitted to ‘viewing’ bi girls are cool).
Well, Radiohead are telling me in ‘Down Is The New Up’ to get myself a (non-alcoholic) drink, so I think I’ll take that advice, and then queue up my fave post-punk band The Fall. Mark E Smith, you’re old, but I’d still throw my panties at you and am sad I didn’t get to when you were last gigging in Melbourne-town.