BrewDog’s brewery is a cavernous, cathedral-like brewing hall with its steel ribs reaching out and holding up the sky; it’s a lively animated space on brewing day as rock music plays and brewers mull about, clambering up steel ladders to check brewing vessels and ducking beneath metal pipes through which beer flows. Outside sit the fermenting vessels, silvery, towering cylinders that receive more hops as the beer sleeps, through something called a hop cannon. This feels like a brewery committed to the future.
However, there’s one thing missing. BrewDog don’t make cask beer, they stopped making it in 2011. They did make some very good cask beers such as 5AM Saint, Paradox and, yes, even Punk IPA, but that was then this is now. Their beers are either in bottle or what is called, for want of a better word, craft keg. Go to any of the brewery’s bars in Bristol, Sheffield and across London and you won’t find a hand pull (but you will find friendly bar staff who are exceptionally knowledgeable about beer, but it won’t be cask). The brewery has also a fractious relationship with CAMRA, to say the least.
Yet, BrewDog cannot be ignored. Their craft keg might not be cask but it’s neither the tinny-tasting, strained keg of the past, which had as much a relationship with flavour as processed cheese has with the Slow Food movement. BrewDog is also seen by many drinkers as one of the most significant and — yes — exciting developments in the world of beer for many years, and that would probably include a fair amount of CAMRA members.
Important? For a start, without them we probably wouldn’t have had the likes of Magic Rock (whose High Wire could be seen as a tribute to Punk IPA), The Kernel and Wild Beer. For better or worse they have been an inspiration. BrewDog has brought many young men and women to beer and, in a similar way the Sex Pistols broke out of the punk ghetto, they have also transcended the beer bubble. They have been heard of by people who rarely drink beer, a recognition factor many breweries would love. Your mum has probably heard of them.
Even though it’s not cask, BrewDog brew some good beers. A bottle of Punk IPA has a pungent and arousing nose of ripe peach and apricot skin; lychee, papaya and mango trips off the tongue, while there’s a gentle touch on the elbow of white pepper in the dry and grainy finish. Meanwhile Jack Hammer is a big beast of a strong IPA with its bitter finish clanging away like an alarm bell and the even stronger (9.2%) Hardcore IPA has an intense swagger of grapefruit, blue cheese and pine cones on the nose while in the mouth it is fulsome with a concentration of sweet grapefruit alongside a resiny hoppiness — this is a beer able to hold its head high against anything the likes of Stone can produce.
Yes they can be wearisome. There have been the controversies: by and by the world of beer is a relatively cordial one but some of BrewDog’s comments on the nature of British brewing not only upturned the apple cart but starting throwing the fruit about. This is something that James Watt acknowledged when I met him up the north of Scotland, where the brewery have their home, early on in 2014: ‘there are things we wouldn’t do now.’
That was then, this is now and who knows, there might be things they will do in the future: such as brewing cask, because if you cast your mind back several years they brewed some excellent cask beer.