A festival of BrewDog collaboration? Why times have changed…

CollabFest2

When BrewDog announced, back in September, that they were planning a festival of beers made in collaboration with eleven different British breweries, it raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, back in 2009 when 5am Saint launched, they declared on the label “The UK beer scene is sick. And we are the fucking doctor.”* Well, here we are, four years later, and it seems BrewDog are content to share their surgery with almost a dozen of their peers; or rather, their dispensaries, as the collaboration beers were made available in their network of bars across the country this past Saturday. So what has changed?

*Or the original did, anyway – it was eventually toned down to ‘the UK beer scene is sick. And we are the cure’

Several things – firstly, and most importantly, BrewDog’s reach has increased enormously over that time. From being two brassed-off guys in Aberdeenshire, they now have a fleet of branded bars, a colossal new brewery, and several years of releases under their belts. Calling in favours wasn’t something they could do a few years ago; they simply didn’t have the credit. Now, having made beers with the likes of Mikkeller, Stone, Lost Abbey and Evil Twin, other breweries are far more likely to respond to any suggestive email that emanates from Fraserburgh – particularly now the goading on the labels has been toned down somewhat.

And this is the second reason – when I was up in Fraserburgh last month I put the infamous ‘doctor’ quote to James Watt, and asked him if he still thought it was true. Predictably, but truthfully, he replied that he did not – things have changed so much over that time, and he thinks British beer is far from boring these days. Fair enough – presumably this is why there are more home-grown partnerships for BrewDog, and despite the early intransigence, you’re now more likely to see the products of their peers alongside 5am Saint in the BrewDog bars.

The final reason relates to the bars themselves. Over the past year or so, the content of BrewDog’s blog has changed – moving over from abv-wars and CAMRA-baiting, to articles about the people who work for BrewDog, the staff who are employed in the bars, and the brewery workers in Fraserburgh and Ellon. Is this a sign of the maturation of BrewDog? Or merely a recognition that they are now much more than two blokes and a labrador? Both, I think. BrewDog’s best asset, by far, are its people – and this is why the collaboration beer festival was a great idea.

Each of the teams responsible for a BrewDog bar had the chance to visit a nearby brewery and come up with a beer, which they assisted on during the brewday. The eventual results were synched into the bars, and all eleven put on for the public at once – along with a multi-hop special brewed with the eleven brewers themselves. Four of those breweries actually pre-date BrewDog (by my count, Lovibonds, Fyne Ales, Durham and Arbor [just]), it would be interesting to get their viewpoint on how their beers have changed to fit into the Aberdeenshire outfit’s idea of collaborative partners.

Anyway, so what were the beers like? Well, some fared better than others. BD Leeds/Hand Drawn Monkey’s effort tasted like flat ginger beer, and Shoreditch’s collab brew with Beavertown reminded me of soured soy sauce. Aberdeen/Cromarty’s Black Rocker was almost there, just needed a little more oomph, as did Nottingham/Buxton’s black pale ale, which was hugely resinous, but with surprisingly little backbone. Newcastle/Durham’s Raucus Rubus tasted great, but was dead flat.

There were some absolute belters, though don’t get me wrong – the beer made by BrewDog Birmingham and Lovibonds was fantastic. A 5% lemongrass, lime, ginger and cardamom wheat, it had a great balance of lemon and lime, with a background hum of the spices. They were just outside the top two, however, which (for me) consisted of a Marmalade on Toast beer made by the Edinburgh bar and Tempest – which really did taste exactly like bitter Seville orange marmalade – and a humdinger of an Imperial Brown Coconut IPA made by Arbor and BrewDog Bristol, which took me back to a childhood of paper-bottomed supermarket macaroons.

The interesting thing about it is that pretty much everyone I spoke to had a different favourite. But then, that’s beer, I guess. The other thing is what the staff at the Edinburgh bar got from their brewing experience. Of course, BrewDog aren’t the only company to do this – the Hanging Bat regularly sends its workers to Alechemy to learn more about the processes and pitfalls of brewing – but it’s commendable of BrewDog that they have also adopted this strategy. After all, their barstaff are the first point of contact for many of their customers, and anything that helps their passion for beer should be encouraged – and that is why BrewDog’s new attitude will pay off…

10 thoughts on “A festival of BrewDog collaboration? Why times have changed…”

  1. You’ve been suckered Rich. This is a cynical stunt like everything else Brewdog do, which benefits them more than the other breweries.

    Just look at the quote in the Hootsmon (http://www.scotsman.com/business/management/brewdog-bring-brewers-together-for-beer-festival-1-3149180): ‘Co-founder James Watt said: “When we started out in 2007, it would have been impossible to find this many craft beer breweries to collaborate with in the UK.” ‘

    He is still saying in 2007 there were fewer than 12 breweries in this country making decent beer. That’s insulting nonsense.

  2. Interesting point, Barm. Having spoken to the bar staff in BrewDog Edinburgh, I know exactly who it benefits. Them. Most of them will have been up to Fraserburgh/Ellon to see what goes on, few if any will have been to other breweries to see how it can vary. I still think that this is the prime beneficial factor

  3. Barm – name me 12 world class craft breweries doing keg beer in the UK in 2007 please.

    And you must be cynical to the point of self destruction to think collab-fest was a cynical move. The organisation involved alone was huge and our team executed it perfectly with the help of some amazing partner breweries.

    By the way I miss my old parody twitter account you used to run. Why did you stop?

    J

  4. Great write up Rich, im v disappointed i didnt make it to try some!
    Barm i do think thats unfair and whether you like it or not i do think Brewdog are shifting their focus and are ‘going up’ and this is a great example of it.
    James, to be fair based on some of your previous rhetoric i think comments like Barm’s come with the territory…even if they are unfair. @Twatdog or whatever it was was funny to a point but then became clear somebody needed to chill out lol!

  5. Just got back from tasting the leftovers from the Fest this weekend, and really enjoyed it (no Tempest, sadly). The Fyne collab had just enough chili and smoke to tickle the throat, though the Nelson didn’t really come through. The 12 hop was very complex but ultimately muddled, as one would expect with a hop schedule decided by committee (but a nice malt backbone, and I’d definitely try it again). The Hand Drawn Monkey is pretty much as described, but the peppercorns add welcome variety on the finish.

    I’m willing to pay for experimental beers, providing they are interesting, and don’t really care what the motivation behind this collaboration is (though you’d have to be pretty cynical to think this is a calculated PR stunt) . As long as they make good beer, I’ll continue to patronize Brewdog.

  6. James, as I’ve told you before, I had nothing to do with those Twitter accounts. I think you do a perfectly good job of parodying yourself without any external help.

  7. Ha!

    The tell tale signs were when you posted tweets supposed to be from the parody account your own account. I will mail you the link to jog your memory.

    To be honest, times have changed, the beer scene has changed and we have changed too. Time to stop being so bitter & cynical and move on buddy.

    Chill out, do some yoga and drink some Punk IPA.

  8. James,

    I hope you see this. Just wanted to say the pilot of your TV show was one of the most depraved things I’ve ever watched.

    “Let’s ferment a batch of beer on a trawler because you will be able to taste the sea.”

    Holy hell.

    You’ve put a lot of people off your beer with your brash and untactful marketing. The snobbery which your beer encourages is not a good thing. I went into your Aberdeen bar and found it to be populated by arrogant yuppies who were conforming to your brand of non-conformity.

    People are entitled to drink whatever they want to and enjoy it. I’d rather be in a pub full of decent, non-judgemental people, even if they are all drinking mega-swill.

    Besides, there’s more modest breweries in Scotland producing better beer than you.

    Warm regards,
    Local Loon

  9. Tried 8 of the 12 beers at the collab fest and the collaboration with Arbor was by far the best, but the marmalade on toast was also great.

    Disagree with Local Loon – watched all of the BrewDogs episodes and enjoyed them. Seems to me too many people take their beer far to seriously and forget that it’s okay to be creative with brewing – who cares if it’s not the best beer you’ve ever tasted.

    Ultimately the people who get put off a beer because of its brash and untactful marketing are clearly more bothered about the bottle than its contents. I don’t see anyone trashing Stone for the marketing or language they use and it’s pretty much the same deal. If it’s good craft beer who gives a shit?

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