Tuesday 7 December 2010

BrewDog AGM part one.

My relationship with Brewdog has no real rational explanation - but then that's beer for you. Beer makes you do things that you really shouldn't. It would be easy to blame the alcohol content; after all, anything over 7.5% ABV is so stupid as to melt your brain and send you off into a crazy train of irrational actions that really should be controlled by some sort of draconian taxation that will prevent us ill-informed mortals from harming ourselves with such dangerous substances.

The weekend, and even the year just gone, is proof of how I desperately need the guidance of the authorities and their sensible caution. A little over a year ago I bought a share in BrewDog. It wasn't a great deal of money and there have always been sceptics that question the sense in such a move. But still, I recognise kindred craziness when I see it and in a flourish of my 16 digit credit card number it was done, I owned a bit of BrewDog. I blame the beer. Wine wouldn't have done it, whisky? well perhaps, vodka? no way, gin, brandy, rum or port, as tasty as these things can be, none of these would have puddled my brain sufficiently to part me with such amounts of money for a pointless investment.

We had always figured that the BrewDog AGM would at the very least be good fun, and the promise of good beer is very tempting bait. But the snow has come somewhat early this year. Actually, the amount of snow that has arrived is already of staggering proportions for any winter. We wondered if travelling to Aberdeen was a sensible proposition, but then we remembered, sensible wasn't something we did, so we set off anyway. Aberdeen is well connected with roads, and at the very least most of the journey would be motorway or dual carriageway. What could go wrong?

Friday was brewday; it was not until we had an FV full, temperature control set up and the brew house clean and tidy did we want to set off for the Caladonian land to the north of our island. We packed our passports, phrase book and a collection of winter equipment, and, as advised by Jeff Pickthall, Mars Bars for bartering1.

Our first stop was to be Glasgow. A tentative arrangement to meet Barm in some establishment seemed a good idea. The M6 over Shap and the M74 through the borders could well have provided some challenges. Indeed the journey through Cumbria got to be something of an interesting adventure. The snow was falling thick and fast as we travelled north so that the first 70 miles were slow and difficult. Amazingly, as we crossed the border, it abruptly stopped and our journey through Dumfries and Galloway, onwards towards the Central Belt, was smooth and easy.

A quick visit to West Bar was in order upon arrival in Glasgow. Setting the SatNav to what we thought was the correct location took us spookily straight to the front door, although the snow made it impossible to know if we were parking on double yellow lines. Inside the building is a nice airy mix of Victorian splendour and contemporary renovation; apparently it was the winding house for a rather splendid carpet factory - there must have been lots of money in carpets in the 19th century. Most importantly all the beers at West are keg. Another example of this very rare craft keg then? To be honest, some of it was a little over-carbonated, but generally good stuff.

I could write lots more on this place, so perhaps I'll have to return sometime. But I have to move on to the real subject - The BrewDog AGM in Aberdeen and the hope we might get to Fraserburgh to see the brewery. Off to bed we went to prepare ourselves for what we were told was the worst part of the journey.

We set off from Glasgow in the morning expecting the road to be icy and difficult. In actual fact, although the overtaking lane was often very narrow where the snow had drifted, or even worse, unexpectedly covered with snow just in the middle of overtaking manoeuvres, the journey went really well. We made good time to the outskirts of Aberdeen and then proceeded to be grid locked for about two hours due to the sheer volume of traffic. Eventually we made it to a car park just around the corner from the BrewDog bar, but it was one car in and one car out making for patience thinning experience; after all, there was beer to be drunk.

Eventually making it into the bar we found Martin Dickie doing a "beer and music" matching session that was interrupted by James Watt doing a "money shot" tasting of Punk IPA. All quite amusing, although I think it was one of those situations you had to be there to understand.

We'd missed the first trip to the brewery and also the first business talk. I know I can get all the relevant numbers stuff elsewhere and I really wanted to get to see the brewery so we headed off up to Fraserburgh on the Brewdog bus to see where the beer is made.

I think that is enough for one post. Later I'll give a more in-depth run-down on what I found out and what I now think of my relationship with the brewery that thinks cask beer is past history.

Although my trip to the brewery meant I missed the business talk I've still managed to get the inside low down on some numbers and startling facts that I'm sure many of you don't know. James emailed it out to me earlier so I'll start writing about it just as soon as I've posted this.


1No, you are right, for battering.


Ed said...

I estimated craft keg to be <0.1% of the keg beer produced in Britain. What would you put it at Dave?

Unknown said...

Ed, I don't really know. Your estimate is as good as anyone can give right now I think.

There is the complication of what you class as craft. Is London Porter in keg craft beer for example? I'd say so.

Is Marstons' beers such as Cumberland Cream a craft beer? I'd say not, despite the fact that is is exactly the same beer as is put in cask and called Cumberland Ale. But then, I dispute Cumberland Ale being craft any longer. It is held high by some because it is cask, falsely. It used to have much more hop character and one time had a head brewer who came from the Boddingtons camp, when Boddintions was good.

Can you see where this is going?

Mode of dispense is no longer a signal of craft and what is or is not craft is being blurred.

Is it good beer? What quantity of good beer is brewed in this country as a proportion of the whole?

Probably about 0.1% I'd suggest.

Séan Billings said...

Do I want to know what a "money shot" tasting entails?

Unknown said...


It is to do with the length of time in the mouth and the noises that are made during the tasting..... apparently.

Rob Sterowski said...

Why is London Porter "craft" and Cumberland Ale not? Because you like London Porter, it seems.

Unknown said...

Barm, no, I've never actually tasted London Porter.

A more accurate cynical analysis would be that I like John Keeling. He has invited me as a beer writer to his brewery and extended warm hospitality. Marston's have never done that. Of course if I were to be fair that might be because I'm only a meagre blogger and of no importance to Marston's

But then I'm of no importance to BrewDog, and they take the time to know who I am. I'm of no importance to Fullers, but John Keeling has taken the time to find out who I am.

But more importantly, I'm not sure Marston's could convince me that they are craft like Meantime can, or Lovibonds can or Fullers or BrewDog or Summer Wine or Crown or Thornbridge or Stringers or.......because it's the passion behind the business that makes the craft.

That is difficult to define and everyone might have their own feelings on that. Because it's to do with feelings, it's to do with how the brewing team feel about what they are doing.

Rob Sterowski said...

But what about the third-rate micros, the people who are passionate but can't brew very well? Are they craft?

Gavin said...

Is London-Porter craft-keg? I thought it was just another keg beer. It's nothing exceptional and definitely better from the cask. It's ok because it's a very good beer but serving under pressure certainly doesn't add any new dimensions to its character. An exceptionally good beer from the cask, from the keg? it's preferable to a pint of Smiths or a Draught Guinness. There is no design in keg London Porter they just decided to keg one of their cask ales. How would one class Marston's Oyster Stout?

Unknown said...


Yes they are craft. The whole question of "breweries in sheds" that kick out crap beer is an interesting one.

Fundamentally if they can make a business out of it then good for them.

From my perspective, I will support a start-up who is trying and is passionate and willing to learn. I don't think that any brewer will continue to make crap beer if they really care. But if, even with the best will, they cannot make beer that is good enough then they deserve to fail, as tough as that might be.