15 Jun 2012

Beer for Punks: The BrewDog Phenomenon

I am lucky. The White Horse in Parsons Green is my local pub. For anyone with an interest in decent beer, it is an amazing place. Sometimes it can be overrun with pushy, entitled Sloaney types, which earned it the nickname the "Sloaney Pony" many years ago. But it has a nice garden out the front, does great barbeques in the summer, has a lovely quiet bar upstairs, a restaurant at the back, and an amazing selection of international craft beers. And most of the people are just fine.
The pub hosts a few events during the year. For the past five years they've held an American Beer Festival over the July 4th weekend, at the end of August they have a celebration of Belgian Beers, and then there's a British Ale event in late November. Occasionally they host one-off events, and so the hubby and I excitedly booked tickets for a BrewDog beer dinner.
We'd just visited the wonderful BrewDog pub in Camden, and had previously tried the rather extreme Tactical Nuclear Penguin, via a mail-order purchase.
I'm not an expert on beer, and I'm not giving a detailed review of the beers, but just a bit of a flavour of the evening. We were greeted with a small glass of Dead Pony Club, the first of many delicious and interesting beers, the antithesis of the tasteless stuff that had led the creators to start the company in the first place. It was full of flavour and depth. We sat down at communal tables and made new friends. It promised to be a very good evening.
James Watt, an ex-fisherman from Fraserburgh in north-east Scotland,  started off by telling us the story behind BrewDog.
He and a friend were fed up with rubbish beer that had nothing going for it other than the fact that it got you drunk and was relatively cheap. They longed for something with some real flavour and so decided to try to brew their own. To cut a long story short, their passion, determination, good taste, hard work - and a few early white lies to unsupportive bank managers - have brought them to where they are today: a world-renowned brewer of incredibly diverse, and incredibly delicious, craft beers. James' story was an incredibly inspiring one. Some of the beers are very drinkable, every-day IPAs and lagers. Some of them are so strong and distinct in both flavour and alcohol content that they can only be enjoyed in small doses! Their notoriety has been part of their success, and is the reason my husband found out about them in the first place - no publicity is bad publicity, after all. Tokyo*, at 18.2% had problems after its label was banned in Scotland as it was seen as encouraging excessive drinking. They followed this up with a statement beer called "Nanny State" at a mere 0.5%, before heading back on track to produce Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32%; this had the accolade of being the world's strongest beer. Some Germans were determined to recapture this record, producing a beer of 40%, encouraging BrewDog to go one further: the final creation was Sink the Bismarck, at 41%. It is now out of stock; I'm not sure if there's any more on the horizon.
James talked us through each of the eight or nine beers, before we were allowed to try them. He told us that we had to get to know our beer, to commune with it, to say hello to it.
With the first few beers we were given delicious amuse-bouches, the taste of the beer complementing the taste of  mouthful, and vice versa. Over the first smaller few courses we were given samples of Punk IPA, Barrel Aged 7.7 Lager, before being supplied with blindfolds, for a blind tasting of AB:08, possibly my favourite of the evening. I took a few snaps around the table while wearing my own blindfold - amazing what you can achieve with good autofocus.
The beer tasted very dark-coloured to me, perhaps even black, but it was a rich amber-colour; we were all quite surprised when we removed the blindfolds. Next was the main course - a scrumptious pork belly, accompanied with a glass of "I Hardcore You" - a blend of BrewDog beer with a brew from Mikkeller, a Danish craft beer company with whom they have had a few collaborations.

Stilton was helped along with the intense, almost chocolate-like Tokyo*,  chocolate parfait was paired with the 15% Paradox Jura, a stunning stout aged in old oak whisky casks (you could taste the peaty Jura influence), and finally we got to taste the infamous Tactical Nuclear Penguin, accompanying a Scottish Coffee (the cream was infused with the Penguin for double impact). We toasted "To Evil" and said hello to our beer before hitting our mouths with each wonderful mouthful.

At the end of the tasting some people left, but living a stone's throw away we could linger a little and not worry about catching the last tube home. We hung around, met some more fascinating people, drank a bit more beer and went home thoroughly satisfied.
If you want to try some amazing beer, please head along to the BrewDog pub in Camden, or any other of their bars near you - they're popping up everywhere. I highly recommend the 5am Saint - a lovely rich "iconoclastic amber ale." Beware, though, it may become addictive...

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