Where do you begin, with Brewmeister? The self-styled ‘Supersonic Scientists Delivering you to Drunksville?’ Where to start? With the recent re-brand, that was widely mistaken for a parody of BrewDog? With the flyer sent to bars, claiming an entitlement to widen the margins to customers due to Brewmeister being ‘craft’? Or with the more recent fact that founder Lewis Shand openly admitted to me that Armageddon – the beer that catapulted Brewmeister to the pages of national media – was not, in fact, 65%abv as claimed. The truth, seemingly, was that nobody at Brewmeister actually knew how strong it was, at all. Yet it was sent out as 65%, and their name was made. It’s all false. All of it.
That doesn’t even come as a surprise to me. I bought a bottle of Armageddon in June last year, and had it tested. It came back at 16%abv. You only have to look at the reviews on RateBeer to read page after page of people questioning the alcohol content. To my knowledge, none of the mainstream media confirmed the 65% claims, they just ran with it. The guys at Brewmeister defended their beer, as you’d expect; but by stating things related to the specifics of these independent tests, possible errors of calibration or interpretation. Maybe that’s true, and the brewing QA specialist who did me a favour by testing the beer used the wrong specification, but I doubt it.
I’m done with Brewmeister, to be frank. Even as they are coming round to a better way of thinking; holding events, hiring sales staff (six of them, some of whom had never tasted any of their beers until Friday). You see a Brewmeister staffer handing out samples, explaining the beer to potential converts, and you think that’s the way it should be done. And then you speak to the guy in charge, and he tells you that some of their earlier beers were “absolutely shocking.” Why were they bad? Because they didn’t have conditioning tanks. Because they cleaned with a pressure washer and homebrew steriliser, not Peracetic, or caustic.
This was largely down to the struggle with money, in the early days – like practically every new brewery. Not everyone can do what Alaskan Brewing Company did; pouring away their first sixteen batches, before they got to a level they felt comfortable selling to the public. Not every brewery has the luxury of starting out that way, with bills piling up. That’s why I think you have to give new producers a grace period, as they work through teething problems with equipment, recipes, and learn on the job. It’s only fair. But new breweries have a responsibility to be fair to their customers, by the same token. Release a beer you might not be 100% happy with. Don’t release a beer you know is 100% awful.
Armageddon has been quietly dropped, the chest freezers that purport to freeze it down to 65% now produce Snake Venom instead. The new World’s Strongest Beer; another raft of headlines from the Metro to the Huffington Post. Brewmeister have said that each batch of Snake Venom is tested, although I’ve yet to see any of the results anywhere. Early reviews mention a significantly harsh alcohol burn on the taste. How do you make a beer 67.5% if a 65% beer never even got close? I can think of one, quick way, right off the bat. One that would yield a huge alcohol hit on the finish. Difficult to prove, however.
Regarding the re-brand, this was apparently down to the investors who came on board towards the end of last year – in Lewis’s words, surprising even him that they felt the look of the beers to take priority over how they tasted. When design agency CP and Co came back from a brief to be similar to Stone Brewing Co (yes, that was the intention), he admitted being almost angry at the resemblance to BrewDog – although the designs were then signed off and used. There was even initial concern that they might be sued by the Ellon brewery, such was the similarity.*
*For the record, I have actually asked James Watt his opinion of Brewmeister; he just smiled.
When you speak with someone from Brewmeister, one of many elephants in the room is how they are seen, and treated, on social media. To a wide section of the beer Twitterati, they have become something of a running joke. Lewis hopes that eventually, the beer community will get back on their side – although he acknowledges it will take some degree of time. As I understand it, they are now being advised by a PR Company (the Edinburgh Meet the Brewer was an event at their PR’s suggestion, in part to address the concerns of the beer fans in the city). I can only imagine they weren’t involved with this particular tweet, sent the other week in relation to ‘that’ flyer on costings.
— Brewmeister (@BrewmeisterBeer) April 15, 2014
You can almost sympathise when Lewis states, with remarkable candor, that he finds Brewmeister’s RateBeer reviews “embarrassing” (their highest-scoring beer yields an average of only 3.10 out of 5). Yet, you can’t really sympathise. They export 90% of their production abroad for two reasons – firstly, because there’s no duty payable on export – and secondly, because “the overseas markets aren’t aware of our bad publicity.” Well, lucky them. What happens to the rest of the beer industry when new markets take delivery of beers that are made in this way? Shifted out of the country to bypass the negative connotations of the producers? Where does ‘craft’ beer go, then?
You know what? The beers I tried on Friday (all on draught) were actually alright. Apart from the acrid barnyard of Neon Blonde, that is (Lewis described it as “a boring beer for CAMRA types”). Supersonic IPA was pretty decent; softly fruity. The Kaiser wheat beer was even better. But I can’t bring myself to actually like any of them – I certainly can’t bring myself to support them. The reason is very simple. If you cast yourself under the ‘craft’ umbrella, you have to abide by one of the major (unwritten) cornerstones – integrity. Brewmeister have none. I thought they were clueless, naïve – but now I know them to be even lower than that.
The turning point in my attitude goes back to the Armageddon. I paid £50 for my bottle. £50. For something that the brewery knew, all-along, was not as advertised. They released bad beer, to stay in production – but they also misled the public about the alcoholic content of a subsequent beer sold entirely on the premise that it was high-strength. And when I told Lewis that a lot of people spent a lot of money on Armageddon – that I spent a lot of money on Armageddon, you know what he said? What his response was? “Yeah, I know.”
That was it. No apology. No contrition as to how their big break came about. It’s disgusting. I always got the sense that they were making it up as they went along – and this seems to have been exactly the case. And now, they have £250,000 of backing, they are building a new brewery, and they have hugely expanded on staff. All of it built on a lie. When you’re openly blasé about new customers wasting their money on your products, what does that say about you? Brewmeister are cockroaches. They should be cast aside, and boycotted from every bar and bottle shop in the country.
UPDATE May 2016
To close this story off, in late 2015 the original owners were bought out by a consortium of venture capitalists from Dundee, and re-branded as the Keith Brewery.