Brewing a revolution
Controversial Scottish brewers crack open Britain's strongest lager
In the belly of an industrial estate in the small seaside town of Fraserburgh a revolution is brewing. Andrea Krudde takes a trip to the Brewdog brewery to taste the UK’s first, and only, 12% beer and to chat about binge-drinking, selling out to the supermarkets and giving the power of good beer back to the people.
It’s a wet Saturday on the eastern fringe of Scotland and my antique Corsa, my rather bewildered boyfriend (lured by the word ‘beer’) and I arrive in the pouring rain to interview one half of the young entrepreneurial duo behind microbrewery Brewdog. In 14 months Brewdog has gone from being the new kid on the brewing block to the largest independent brewery in Scotland, but not without courting a little controversy along the way.
James Watt and business partner Martin Dickie (both 25) first met while sharing a flat at university in Edinburgh. After five years of studying law and economics James took a desk job at a law firm, then promptly walked out two weeks later. James puts it simply. ‘I said I’m not going to spend the rest of my life doing this, to hell with it!’ James went back home to Fraserburgh to become a fisherman and Martin, who had studied brewing, went down to England to get experience in his trade, albeit under rather more restricted conditions than he now enjoys.
Thankfully for us, the boys have since shed their fetters and have set loose their unique and passionate approach to brewing.
The Brewdog ethos is creative, exuberant and mildy infectious. ‘A lot of small breweries in the UK are traditional, old fashioned and samey. Their target market is men aged 45 to 55, with a beard, beer belly, sandals and bum bag. We wanted to create a younger, edgier, more vibrant brand to open good beer up to a wider market. We want to show people there is an alternative to cheap, industrially-brewed, chemically-enhanced, fizzy lager that tastes of nothing.’ With names like Punk IPA, Trashy Blonde, Speedball and Paradox the colourfully branded beers have attracted a lot of controversy, with stern questions being asked about their branding by alcohol’s regulatory body, the Portman Group. Best seller Punk IPA is described on the bottle as ‘an aggressive beer’, relating to the bitter kick of the aftertaste, while Speedball
beer is named after a notoriously dangerous drug cocktail (though I assure you that’s not what’s in the bottle).
‘According to the Portman Group our labelling is going to cause anti-social behaviour but that is simply not the case’ James protests. He remains defiant in the face of criticism. ‘We’ve got the courage to stand up for what we believe in and do things the way we want. We’re not tied down by convention, tradition or industry standards and we’re bold enough to do our own thing, take big risks and make the beers that we want’.
Perhaps the most headline-grabbing Brewdog creation is their latest wunderkind beer Tokyo, a 12% ABV imperial stout. Much to many politicians’ and health officials’ dismay Brewdog produced 2000 bottles of the niche £4 a bottle beer in July this year. The UK press joined in the hysteria, branding Tokyo’s creation as irresponsible and an encouragement to alcohol abuse. Brewdog hardly got a word in edgeways but responded with reason on their blog. ‘The fact that 2000 bottles from a niche producer can create such an outrage is staggering. This beer will not be for sale in pubs, supermarkets, corner shops or off licences. This beer will only be available in Scotland via our website. For the price of two bottles of Tokyo you can walk into a supermarket and buy a 24 pack of special offer, industrially-brewed lager. I know which is more likely to be abused’.
All beers, apart from the naughty celebrity Tokyo, are now available globally in the States, Sweden, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Russia, France, Canada, Italy, Germany and even Australia. The Brewdog duo’s long term plan is to build Scotland’s first self-sufficient brewery, powered by windmills and bio mass generators. However, before that they’d like to break a world record by brewing a 30% ABV beer, 5% more than the current world’s strongest produced in the States. And so what if the squares don’t like it? ‘Me and Martin make
the beers we want to drink ourselves, we think our beer is cool. If people don’t like it we’ll drink it, or send it to Sweden.’ Well said.
They say: Whisky cask aged imperial stout. The distinct fl avours of these whiskies is beautifully infused into the beer giving a unique and unrivalled experience for both beer and whisky lovers.
Andrea says: Smells like Ribena. Looks like Ribena. Doesn’t taste like Ribena. A very useful alternative to a pint and a nip. Smoky, peaty and thoroughly unique.
They say: Tokyo is the strongest beer we have ever made. It is a 12% imperial stout brewed with jasmine and cranberries added in the kettle. After fermentation we dry hop the beer with a combination of North American and New Zealand hops. We then age this beer for four weeks on toasted vanilla French oak chips.
Andrea says: Looks like cough medicine and tastes meaty, smoky and fruity all at once. Will create sudden cheese and condiment craving.
They say: A beer of inherent contradiction. The light fruity aroma dominates the initial confrontation, hiding lychee, kiwi and passionfruit flavours with subtle nuances of cherry and strawberry. The bite comes as the bitterness builds and endures no matter how hard the malty sweetness of the alcohol tries to tame this ferocious beast.
Andrea says: A wee bit reminiscent of that stuff your mum puts on your nails to stop you biting them. The Johnny Rotten of beers. Drink with crisps at hand.
They say: A mega strong ale brewed with guarana, Californian poppy, kola nut and Scottish heather honey.
Andrea says: If this beer were a manI’d marry it. A ballsy grin-inducing medley of sweet, strong, dark and handsome.
They say: A titillating, neurotic, peroxide punk of a pale ale. The seductive lure of the sassy passion fruit hop proves too much to resist.
Andrea says: Gentleman prefer blondes. So do ladies, hurrah! Trashy Blonde is a sharp, fruity little number. If you took her home your dad would fancy her.