Brewing a Storm!
Let me tell you a story. A story of two boys who wanted to change the oppressive world they were living in. So they dreamed. A dream to break the shackles of bureaucracy and guide people onto the correct path. A dream that would set the world free. A dream that would….. Okay, so when you realise the world is actually the ‘monotone corporate’ beer industry and the two boys are James Watt and Martin Dickle who are on a mission to elevate the status of craft beer, the analogy might sound way too dramatic. But intrinsically, the tale of two best friends rebelling for a noble cause still fits the bill. Call them Rebels, call them Heroes, or call them Punks. Either way, you can’t ignore them!
Napoleon Bonaparte had said “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself”. Watt and Dickle decided to take his advice. Since they were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and could not find any beers they liked in the UK, they decided the best way to remedy this undesirable predicament was to start brewing their own beers. They had been brewing at home for a couple of years, spending weekends brewing in a garage and so both the 24 year-olds quit their jobs, leased a building, got some bank loans, spent all their money on stainless steel and started making some hardcore beers. Consequently in April 2007 BrewDog was born with one goal – to make other people as passionate about great craft beers as they are.
“This is pretty much all we care about! We want to show people there is an alternative to the mainstream generic mass market beer made by assholes who only care about profit and market share. We want to put the enthusiasm, passion, craft and integrity back into beer drinkers’ glasses. And we want to have fun and unsettle a few stuffy old institutions and rattle a few cages whilst we are doing it,” says Watt, and in the 4 years since BrewDog has been around, it has certainly been doing so. In this short span, BrewDog have radically changed perceptions of craft beer by breaking down convention and unsettling institutions; while creating some rock n’ roll , award- winning brews along the way.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for BrewDog. “The process was a little bit scary at first. When all your worldly possessions are some second hand stainless steel tanks it spooks you out a little bit. Martin and I moved back in with our parents to save on rent and neither of us took a salary for the first 2 years. There has been a lot of 24 hour shifts, sleeping in the brewery and not many days off.
It was really tough for us to sell our beers locally initially. The north east of Scotland is a dessert for good beer. People were not at all receptive to what we were doing and the beers we were making despite the fact they were local. 6 months in we were selling 5-6 cases per day and on the verge of going out of business completely. I would drive a beat up old delivery van around and try and persuade pub owners to stock BrewDog beers with very little success. It was either too expensive, too bitter, too hoppy or had too much flavour for them. We could have easily watered down what we do to meet their pretty low standards and get some sales. But that would be the antithesis of everything we are about. So we though ‘screw them’ we will export our beers instead. Our beers got some great reviews on some overseas blogs which generated a lot of buzz around the brand and we were then able to speak to importers about buying some beers. The first export market we ever sent beer to was Sweden and it is still our biggest export market today,” sums up Watt succinctly. Today BrewDog beers are available in 24 countries worldwide. In 2010 they grew from a turnover from £1.8m in 2009 to over £3.8m and are now the largest independent brewery in Scotland.
The owners have very effectively translated their passion, sense of humour and spunky personality into not only the brewing of their beers, but also in creating unique identities for them, perhaps the most pronounced of which are the whacky titles. 5 A.M Saint, 77 Lager, Paradox and Punk IPA are only some of them. So where do the names come from? “The Beers speak to us. We are crazy. We always speak to our beers and sometimes the beers speak back. So we listen. When is comes to naming new beers I sit in a very quiet, dark room and slowly nose and sip the beer. I take my time. As the room is quiet and dark all my energies are focused on my sense of smell and taste. Here the beer comes alive and really speaks to me. So I listen, and the beer tells me what it wants to be called.
Punk IPA is aggressive, bitter, spikey, in your face and really does not care if you like it or not. The taste of Tokyo reminded me of the skyline of Japan’s capital city at night. Dark, rich, encapsulating with flashing neons and endless depth and energy.”
With BrewDog Watt and Dickle wanted to do something, quirky, edgy, innovative and different. They feel that by causing controversy, unsettling institutions and really pushing the envelope we can raise awareness for craft beer in the UK and get more dispassionate consumers starting the journey towards becoming bonafide craft beer aficionados. In keeping with this, BrewDog pushed the threshold of strong beers to create ‘Extreme’ ones. Tactile Nuclear Penguin, Sink the Bismarck and The End of History are some of the extremes. “The End of History will be our last strong beer of 55 per cent ABV. The beer is an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion. It is the final instalment of our efforts to redefine the limits of contemporary brewing,” says Watt.
Craft Beer is on the rise all around the world and Watt doesn’t see this rise as just a temporary swing. “Craft beer is the future, make absolutely no mistake about that. People are becoming more and more disillusioned with products which are generic and mass produced and becoming more interesting in where things come from. People want something with integrity, ethical, natural ingredients, local and hand crafted by passionate people. Craft beer is all of those things. And it is cool,” says Watt.
So when can we order a Trashy Blonde over our Indian bar counters, experience The End of History or mull over a Tactile Nuclear Penguin? Well, we don’t know yet. All we can do for now is keep our fingers crossed!
5 A.M. Saint: An uber-hoppy red session ale. Bucket loads of dry hops and eminently drinkable. This beer is not cool. You may think it is, but that is merely a beautiful lie fabricated by clowns and gypsies.
Dogma: Scottish Heather Honey, Californian Poppy, Kola nut and Gurana. The beer is a combination of active stimulants and depressants. Consequently when we launched this beer we called it Speedball. That lasted about a week.
Hardcore IPA: An ostentatious and grandiloquent hop bomb. 150 IBUs punish your pallet and mountains of hops hammer their resinous oils into the pores in your tongue. This is an extreme beer rollercoaster for freaks, gypsies and international chess superstars. Won the Gold Medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup.
Paradox: An imperial stout which we age for 6 months in Scottish single malt whisky casks. The flavours, aromas and character of the finest Scotch whiskies get infused deep into the texture of the beer. Drink at room temperature, unless you live in an igloo.
Trashy Blonde: A titillating, neurotic, peroxide, punk of a pale ale. Combining attitude, style, substance and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure. Made with hops specially imported from America and imagination especially imported from Alice in Wonderland.
Punk IPA: An irreverent and aggressive international pale ale. English, American and stunning New Zealand hops combine to provide a avalanche of tropical fruit flavour and an uncompromising bitter bite!
Riptide Stout: A contemporary Scottish take on an age old Russian classic style originally brewed for the Tsars. Best enjoyed with an air of aristocratic nonchalance.
Tokyo: An 18.2% Imperial Stout brewed with Jasmine and Cranberries. It is all about moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. What logically follows is that you must, from time, have excess. This beer is for those times.
Sink the Bismarck: This is IPA amplified. With the volume turned full up, it is important you that you be careful with this beer and show it the same amount of sceptical, tentative respect you would show an international chess superstar, clown or gypsy.
Tactical Nuclear Penguin: This is an extremely strong beer. It should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of nonchalance in exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.
The End of History: This 55% beer should be drunk in small servings whilst exuding an endearing pseudo vigilance and reverence for Mr. Stoat. This is to be enjoyed with a weather eye on the horizon for inflatable alcohol industry Nazis, judgemental washed up neo-prohibitionists or any grandiloquent, ostentatious foxes.