Tag Archives: BrewDog

Beer of the Week – BrewDog Jack Hammer

The week ending is a sign that you should reach for your beer collection and toast the completion of another five days of hard graft (assuming you work Monday-Friday and actually do some graft, that is). But the question is, what to reach for? With dozens of new Scottish beers hitting the shelves recently it can be tough to pick one out – so this series takes a step back, and instead considers the existing classics.

Take this week’s beer – and full disclosure, I work for BrewDog – but this particular India Pale Ale was first released five years ago, in 2012. I’ve no idea how many IPAs have hit the taps and bottle shops since then; it must be a three-figure number – but in my opinion this one is still right at the top of the tree. What do you want from an IPA? Hops. Bitterness. Refreshment. A kick. This beer has it all, and then some. I’m talking about the most under-rated IPA in Scotland – Jack Hammer.

48. Jack Hammer (7.2%)
BrewDog, Ellon, Aberdeenshire
Style: IPA
330ml can

Pick it up here:
At at BrewDog’s online shop (as individual 330ml cans)
At at BrewDog’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)

In a sense Jack Hammer is very much a bookmark of its time. Half a decade ago, high-Alpha was what IPA was all about – this is long before New England IPA arrived and convinced hop heads that mellow and citrus was a viable alternative. Back in 2012 it was all about the face-shredding bitterness. And Jack Hammer delivers this from the colossal amount of US hops used. It’s a riot of grapefruit, enormously refreshing and a perfect beer to sit in the back of the fridge for when you (and your palate) needs a metaphorical kick up the arse.

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun
27. BrewDog Kingpin
28. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
29. Deeside MacBeth
30. Drygate Ax Man Red Rye IPA
31. Swannay Orkney Session
32. Fallen Platform C
33. Black Isle Porter
34. Top Out Altbier
35. Black Metal Gates of Valhalla
36. Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer
37. Loch Lomond Southern Summit
38. Tempest Old Parochial
39. Williams Bros Profanity Stout
40. Windswept Tornado
41. Campervan Pacific Zest
42. Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout
43. Cromarty Ghost Town
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter

Beer of the Week – BrewDog Kingpin

It’s time for the twenty-seventh recommendation in my series of weekly beers to seek out from Scottish producers that may be flying under the radar (the beers, that is, not the breweries). Each and every Friday throughout 2017 I’ll be shining a spotlight on a particular beer that if you’ve not had the pleasure of trying, you really should – just to see what all the fuss should be about.

This time around, it’s a beer from BrewDog – now full disclosure, I work for them – but I figured you can’t run down any list that includes all Scottish breweries without considering them, whatever that list is concerning. And when it comes to unsung beers, stepping back and looking at it objectively, one in particular is enormously under-rated. If hop-forward beers are BrewDog’s bread and butter, it is their lager Kingpin that deserves more acclaim.

27. Kingpin (4.7%)
BrewDog, Ellon
Style: Pilsner
330 ml can

Pick it up here:
At from BrewDog’s online shop (as individual 330ml cans)
At from BrewDog’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)

As far as I’m concerned, there are two truly great lagers that can be found north of the border – Tempest’s Easy Livin’ Pils (as previously featured) and BrewDog Kingpin. The latter is pretty much the perfect fridge-beer, with a classic grassy, slightly herbal and biscuity flavour coming through from both the malt and the Magnum and Perle hops used. There’s a slight bitterness on the finish – overall Kingpin is the ideal go-to beer and one that deserves to be considered when discussing the very best lagers in the country. It really is that good.

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun

The other side of the bar

Things are going really well at BrewDog – so much so, that as you can probably see I’m struggling to keep up with the blogging. But I find the odd time, on trains, in hotel rooms, or after midnight (as now) to get something out, when I can. I’m not going to talk very much on the BeerCast about my BrewDog work, for obvious reasons, but one thing that has recently happened does bear blogging about, I think. After I started, one of the emails that pinged my inbox was a suggestion that all new starts work a couple of shifts in their local BrewDog bar, to better realise what customers are after, to learn more about the beers at point of sale, and so on. It was a great idea – but, also, a fairly daunting one.

The thing is, not only have I never worked in a bar before, I’ve never actually had a job that involved dealing with the public before, in any way. I’ve worked in warehouses, on wind-blasted estuary shorelines, and – of course – in large, stultifying open-plan offices. I even had one spectacular summer working in a Spar depot driving small trucks around (still to this day, the only time I have ever been fired). But none of these positions even once required speaking to a member of the public. It’s crazy. I mean, I speak to people all the time – I’m not a shuffling automaton, inept of social graces; I interview brewers, speak to people about beer on a daily basis. So what was different about doing it behind a bar?

I guess it’s down to familiarity; I’ve been the other side of that reclaimed brick divide so many times, but never behind. Before I went in to work at BrewDog Edinburgh, I thought of three possible scenarios that would trip me up (only three, I know!). Having to change a keg and it blowing all over me; having to refuse service to someone who was inebriated; and having to ID people. That last one – which, as it turned out, was the only one that didn’t occur* – worried me the most. My wife works at a University, so sees eighteen-year-olds on a daily basis. I haven’t seen one for ten years. How would I know?

* Well, I did change a keg, but it was under supervision and was a Punk for Punk swap, so no eruptions.

Obviously, being the guy that got BrewDog’s second-ever bar done for failing a test purchase wouldn’t have looked good on my two-week C.V., and thankfully everyone I had the pleasure of serving looked the right side of 25, so I needn’t have worried. I think the only snafu I made was mixing up someone’s pizza order, and going round to collect empty glasses and coming back with one that had a candle in it. From this, I learned to spot a tea-light at twenty paces, and also – and most importantly – repeating orders in my head (fingers in ears, if necessary), until I could find a pen.

I left, £5.30 in tips the richer, feeling like I’d really learned something. The staff in BrewDog Edinburgh are amazing, patient, friendly and passionate about what they do. But then, even BrewDog haters admit that the staff are right at the top of what’s good about BrewDog’s bars – the way they are trained, the interactions their bars foster. At the end of the second shift, I’d even learned which way to step when one of them was coming past me with a couple of poured beers, or a pizza from the oven, for instance, so I think I did pretty well. The fascinating thing for me, as you’ve probably guessed, was dealing with the customers, face to face.

For years, I’ve immersed myself in the beer world, but only as a commentator. When working in the bar, other people were doing the commenting – at me; about what beers they liked, why they preferred this one over that, why they wrinkled their faces up at one taster, or nodded their heads at others. None of that is new for me of course; it’s something I enjoy most about beer writing – speaking to people about why they like, or dislike, what they do. The difference this time is that I was in the position of responsibility, it was me they were addressing; the onus was on me to make recommendations, not simply ask for opinions. And that’s what made it so interesting.

Oh, one thing I realised is that everyone goes into bars and immediately stares over the heads of the staff, to read the board. I realised that was something I have been doing for many, many years. Sorry to keep you waiting, bartenders of Edinburgh…



Big thanks to Jordan, James, Erin and Fisher at BrewDog Edinburgh for looking after me for those two shifts. I hope I didn’t make too many mistakes; I swear those guys asked for an Iron Fist pizza. I even wrote it down, and everything…

Brewmeister reveal a new look. But how ‘new’ is it?

Brewmeister Brochure Inner

January isn’t even in the books yet, but already 2014 is shaping up to be a year when disputes, challenges, and general sniping become much more of an issue in the UK beer world. As the inexorable rise in the number of breweries continues, inevitably toes are stood on*, sabres are rattled, and the protagonists grumble at each other like so many elephant seals, all trying to occupy the same strip of froth-flecked beach. That’s a mighty generalisation, of course – the public’s increased appetite for beer, allied to the mantra ‘Beer People Are Good People’ means that trademark disputes make the news because they are still unusual. But for how long?

*Like Marti Pellow from Wet Wet Wet, who once stood on my foot in a bar in Stirling, and walked off without apologising (true, albeit boring, story)

At the end of last week, Scottish producer Brewmeister revealed their new branding and line-up of beers (pictured above), which is a fair step away from the look they had launched with, back in 2012. That’s not really surprising; breweries are no different to other businesses, evolving a brand over time as the focus changes tack, or as the protagonists develop as business-people. However, once the wraps had come off the new Brewmeister bottles, almost immediately people began pointing out how similar it was to a certain other Scottish brewery…

It’s not difficult to see why some people had made that connection…

Kaiserbrewdog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Brewmeister we’re talking about here, they of the ‘is it or isn’t it?’ Strongest Beer in the World, Armageddon (and now, an even mightier version; Snake Venom). Having gained considerable publicity from their high-abv escapades, Brew…meister have traded up in fairly spectacular style, from the beginnings of a £5,000 student loan to an investment of around £250,000. As a result, they have relocated recently from Kincardine O’Neil to a new facility on a station-side industrial estate in Keith, about thirty miles to the north. At the same time, new people have come on board, not least a new head brewer; David Beach, ex-of Purity and Batham’s. With all this going on, it makes sense to refresh the branding, and come up with some new recipes and soforth. Yet, did it have to be this similar to BrewDog? I emailed co-founder Lewis Shand, and asked him directly…

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“I was in the US a few months ago with John the other founder of BM on a bit of a beery pilgrimage and found that there are 100s of modern breweries with bright branding and edgy tasting beers. The problem in the UK is that we don’t have many of them, so the UK craft beer market just sees the style as belonging to Brewdog. The confusion does not derive from the whispers that Brewmeister style ourselves on Brewdog. The confusion lies in the fact that both Brewdog and Brewmeister style ourselves on the US craft beer revolution. We are trying to get the same excitement about good beer in the UK and persuade people to ditch crap lagers for something more exciting!”

 

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“There are a number of fundamental differences between us and Brewdog and when people get to know this they will realise we are not trying to copy them or anything like that. I LOVE Brewdog’s beers and think they have done a fantastic job, but they were luckier than us financially when they started. Other than financials, the nuts and bolts of the differences include 1) We bottle condition all of our beers because we think it allows the flavour characteristics to develop better 2) The malt we use is floor malt from Warminster Malting 3) We have staff of 13 people, they employ 100’s of staff 4) We can’t afford a sexy neon sign in our brewery!”

 

So, there you go. Not intended as a direct copy of BrewDog, merely reflecting the same influences that BrewDog had when they began, seven years ago. It should also be noted that Brewmeister didn’t sit round a flip chart themselves, they contracted out to branding agency CP and Co (although, of course, they then signed off on those designs). Whether you can see any similarities or not, I think it’s patently obvious that no one brewery owns the style that has become synonymous with ‘craft beer’. Comparing the likes of the Kernel, Magic Rock and Cromarty (to select three off the top of my head), brings you to three very different-looking conclusions.

It’s admirable that Brewmeister have decided to explore a change of image, ditching beers like Black Cock; “a big black bold one which goes well with a blonde…a Brewmeister blonde!”. Personally, I think there are fairly visible parallels between their new direction and the Ellon concern – but whether that’s merely through shared influences, who can say? At the end of the day, the two most important issues with regard to this are that firstly, as the numbers of breweries increases, crossover of this nature will inevitably occur (and for some, may end in a legal context). Secondly, and most importantly, what’s in the bottle is what really counts. And that, more than anything else, will determine how breweries like Brewmeister do when everything shakes out.



EDIT 27/01/14
One thing I overlooked in all of this, and that has subsequently been pointed out to me via Twitter, is the marketing release that accompanied Brewmeister’s re-brand. It suggested (see screen-grab below), that as their beers are ‘craft’, prospective stockists should consider them, as they would then be able to charge a premium for them.

This flows down the line of what many people already believe/know; that calling your product ‘craft’ entitles you to pitch it at a premium. I’m not an on- or off-trade buyer, I really don’t know if other producers are as full-frontal when it comes to stating the ‘benefits’ of being in the craft bracket. But Brewmeister are clearly, and looking at that release, blatantly, courting that market.



EDIT 28/01/14
Brewmeister issued an official response to the branding issue, and the pricing challenged by Chris from the Hanging Bat – read it here

New (bottled) Brew Friday

Bottles2

As ever, it’s fairly tough to keep up with all the news coming out of the Scottish beer scene at the moment. However, by anyone’s standards, today has seen the presses whirring at double quick time (or the modern equivalent. Servers, I suppose). In a strange, yet rather lovely, co-incidence, the brewers of Scotland seem to have chosen Friday the 17th of January to go bottle crazy. Publicans needn’t worry (well, those who don’t have much fridge-space), the thirsty Scots beer fans will continue to leave home to drink; but for those moments in front of the telly/fire/fridge, there has been a sequence of news today to bring cheer to the hearts, and bottle openers, of Scotland.



First up, this Tweet appeared from Craig Middleton of Cromarty Brewing, heralding the imminent release of some serious-looking ordnance from the tip of the Black Isle…



Next, from even further North, the relative newcomers of the Lerwick Brewery announced (via Beer Today), a deal with the Cairngorm Brewery to bottle their products, so look for their beers to appear further onto the mainland soon…



Staying up at Scotland’s top end, Scott Wright from the Herald reported news of BrewDog’s next venture – ‘Bottledogs’ – a network of UK bottle shops, as the Aberdeenshire outfit expand into the off-trade. The first outlet is expected in the King’s Cross area…



Almost at the same time, a fourth bottle-related story popped up, as Alechemy Brewing validated my tipping them for something big (within a week of my blog post, no less); Iain from the Livingston outfit revealing this humdinging lineup…

 

All in all, not a bad day for Scottish beer (and it’s only 2pm)

Best new beers of 2013…the best of the rest

AlphaState2

Last week, as is traditional for the second week of December, the BeerCast was turned over to the newcomers – the six best new British beers of 2013. They were, in my eyes (in order of release):-

Harbour Aji Limon IPA
Magic Rock Salty Kiss
Tempest Old Parochial
Fyne Ales/Wild Beer Cool as a Cucumber
Bad Seed Saison
Beavertown Stingy Jack

Of course, with twelve months of full-on beer drinking under the (gradually expanding) belt, there were plenty more that could have made the list. As we move into the final blog-posting week before Christmas, it’s time to look back at the rest of the great new British beers we were lucky enough to try, and run down some of the ones that were just as outstanding as the six mentioned last week.

Arguably the stand-out brewery in terms of individual beers that tickled my tastebuds was Alpha State – any of their offerings could easily have made the top six. In fact, it was touch and go as to whether their fantastic Sorachi Red IPA was going in, meaning it was probably the seventh-best beer I had in 2013 (there’s something for the pump clip). Their Neapolitan was also superb, one of the best home-grown dunkelweizens that has been released for a very long time, and another beer that made me reconsider a style.* Citronvand, also (which the photograph above comes from) – pretty much every Alpha State beer I managed to find, essentially.

*Well, consider a style, maybe. Been a while since I was fully versed in the lore of the dunkelweiss

Collaboration beers were, yet again, another trend of the brewing year, and although Fyne and Wild’s Cool as a Cucumber made the top six, there were a few ‘meeting of the minds’ beers that just missed out. Coal Porter, produced by Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies, was an absolute cracker, and the pick of BrewDog’s collabfest was also (so nearly) one of the beers of the year; the Imperial brown coconut IPA made by Arbor and the staff from BrewDog Bristol. Likewise, two stand-out dual-brewery offerings that I tried at the Thornbridge takeover of Islington’s Craft Beer Co deserve a mention; Coalition (made with Terrapin Brewing) and the fabulous Twin Peaks, co-brewed with Sierra Nevada.

Two Kernel beers really stood out (‘only two?’ I hear you ask) – the fruit-laden IPA Mosaic, and the perfectly balanced London Sour (although that might well have been released in late-2012). Elsewhere in the other capital, Camden’s Seven Hop Lager proved that golden and fizzy need not be boring – not that we needed reminding of that – and further north, Buxton’s White Wine Saison was the pick of their incredible takeover of the Hanging Bat. Also on drinking trips oop North, an otherwise disappointing trip to Friends of Ham in Leeds was rescued by Summer Wine’s Devil Loves Simcoe, and Marble’s Black Marble also stood out from a trip to the North West.

Ending in Scotland, as I am duty bound to do, four fantastic beers proved that our brewers here are as good as any in the world. Take four styles – a lager, an IPA, a Black IPA, and…er…a pink peppercorn and lychee fruit ale (file under: speciality). I don’t think you’d get four better depictions of those beer types than the following; Alechemy’s Stereotype, which was, for a lager, perfectly hopped (i.e. just enough but not too much); Stewart’s spellbinding Ka Pai IPA; Well Fired Black IPA from Tryst, which I had once, on cask, back in January; and Elixir’s taste-sensation that was Jump the Shark.

Yes, the overall winners of the new beers of the year were largely unusual and rare – a salty beer, a chilli beer, a cucumber beer, etc. Is this what modern brewing is about? Well, yes and no. Most importantly, those were all examples of beers that could have been truly awful if not thought about creatively, planned carefully, and brewed perfectly. The beers in this post today were also superb, and representative of a huge range of styles, from lagers to sours. Yet again, it’s more evidence of just what great shape the British brewing industry is in.



With that, there’s one more post to come in 2013 – our brewery of the year. Who will it be? And were there any beers that you tried this year that should have been in the above list? Let me know in the comments…