I drafted up a “first” entry about the BrewDog AGM (Annual general Meeting), with the intention of writing 4 entries about our epic weekend trip to Aberdeen. But I don’t really have time for that it turns out. Anyway, the subject has been well covered by at least one proper beer writer now. Beer-blogging extraordinaire Dave Bailey of Hardknott Brewery has an excellent series of posts about the BrewDog AGM – read them, who better to blog about a brewery AGM than a brewer?! I’ll stick to a more personal coverage of my long-term BrewDog/beer journey and our AGM trip, more suitable for the few friends and family who read this. (Hi!:)
You probably know who BrewDog are since I have mentioned them before, but here’s a quick recap anyway. BrewDog is a rapidly growing craft-brewery based in Fraserburgh, way up on that bit of Scotland that juts out to the North-East between Aberdeen and Inverness. The brewery was founded in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie, who were old school chums I believe. Martin is a brewer and before founding BrewDog worked at the excellent Thornbridge brewery. I think James’s qualifications are something like law and/or economics. The story is that during a casual meet-up sometime, possibly over a game of pool, they got talking: “we can’t find beer to drink that we actually like, why don’t we just make it ourselves?” Thankfully for us beer drinkers they took the plunge. Zoom forward 3 or so years, through bank loans, funding, a public share-offering, and massive expansion – the brewery now fills all of the industrial building they started out in. It’s overflowing in fact, they have six 200 hectolitre fermentation vats out in the carpark! They now employ something like 40 people up in Fraserburgh, the brewery operates 24/7 and is producing at-capacity, and something like 70% of their production is exported.
While the capacity issues are a problem, everything else is looking great for BrewDog. This is also great for those interested in them continuing to exist so that they can continue to provide us with excellent beer. That’s what this is all about of course: beer! BrewDog aren’t popular because of their crazy eyebrow-raising PR stunts (which seems to be what they’re most known for), no
– people simply love the beer they produce.
A brief history of my alcoholism
I’m a very taste-oriented person who likes big & bold flavours. There are at least a couple of reasons for this. First, I grew up in restaurants in Western Australia with chefs for parents; second, when it comes to alcoholic beverages, I grew up on punchy Australian red wines more than anything else. In Australia I appreciated beer but never considered it a substitute for a good glass of wine. There were decent beers available, but even the best beers lacked edge. In my younger days Guinness was about the pinnacle of beer for me. In my university years in Sydney I discovered and loved the tasty (to my palate at the time) brews produced by the likes of James Squire and Little Creatures (what utterly crap websites!) However, my favourite beers were those I drank in places like the Belgian Beer Café, Chimay Blue for example. In 2005 I moved to the UK and the locals introduced me to Fosters and Stella, needless to say, I didn’t really drink beer for a while after that. Luckily it wasn’t long before I discovered and began to love what the British call “real ale”. So much flavour! I wasn’t keen on the lighter brews, but “real ale” stouts, porters and old ales quickly became my favourite alcoholic beverages – eventually I even joined CAMRA. At this point my love of beer was about malt flavours: toasty, rich, toffee, coffee, chocolate. I hadn’t really discovered hops yet.
Discovery of BrewDog, and hops
In 2007 I changed jobs. One of my new colleagues was keen on beer from this new brewery called “BrewDog”. I can’t remember my first BrewDog beer, but it won me over immediately – it might have been a Punk IPA. This was a beer from a bottle, British bottled beers are mostly pretty crap but here was one that I liked better than most cask ales. Insane! It was totally different too, I’ve long enjoyed Belgian and German bottled beers but this was both unlike them and also unlike the British bottled beers. The main difference turns out to be hops, an abundance of flavoursome hops. This was a beer with not only a shedload of hops in it, those hops were “new world” hops full of crazy fruity, resinous, citrusy flavours. I ordered more of their beers and discovered that they did even tastier brews with all kinds of flavours: hops, dark malts, whisky cask aging, crazy experimental stuff. Hardcore IPA, Paradox Imperial Stout, and Tokio* became my favourite beers. (I didn’t stop going to our locals to enjoy a pint of good real ale however. The real ale is still great, and the community of the local pub cannot be replaced by a bottle of beer at home!)
It has been a crazy and complicated journey since I discovered BrewDog. I could go on, and on, and on… I’ve got to a point where I upset and confuse even small-time CAMRA geeks, who retreat from my onslaught of hops, malts, and flavours, to the simple realms of “I just like a good beer, I do”. (Not meaning to stereotype CAMRA people, I am a CAMRA person! In as much as that I am a member, volunteer at beer festivals, occasionally find the time to join in on other official events, and even diligently enter beer scores as part of the NBSS. Although the latter is mainly to ensure that my local stays in the GBG as it doesn’t attract enough votes otherwise – I could go on about what I think is wrong with the NBSS and GBG now… but will spare you the politics and geekery. I also don’t have a “better solution”, so shouldn’t whinge.)
It turns out that the US doesn’t only make crap lager
Along the way I’ve discovered the delights of US micros, much to the detriment of my wallet. This is a natural progression, as it seems to be that the US brewing scene is a much bigger inspiration to BrewDog’s style than traditional British ale. My initial interest in US beers came through learning about BrewDog’s influences, becoming more interested in the writings of more “radical” beer bloggers, and finding a shop that actually sold the stuff. This shop being Bacchanalia in Cambridge. I exchange £s for beer there far too often, like a good addict I keep going back to the dealer.
I’ll save the details of my discovery of US craft beers for some other time.
And the world turns
I’ve also discovered a whole world of British and European “craft brewing” that is outside the normal world of CAMRA, and is, I’m afraid to say, far more vibrant and exciting. But– the world of real ale isn’t static, it is moving along too. A shortage of local hops led brewers to try more foreign hops, some liked what they found and have held onto their foreign flavours. (Some traditionalists do not approve.) Perhaps BrewDog’s news coverage has had a wider impact too. A favourite brewery of mine, Buntingford (our closest brewery), recently did an Imperial Pale Ale that was absolutely stonking. I had this from cask at a beer festival and was immediately reminded of cask Punk IPA. This was actually better than Punk though, it was a truly wonderful beer. I have to wonder: has there been some influence here? I think, and hope, that the entire micro industry here in the UK is approaching a state of upheaval that will jump it out of the conservative, traditionalist rut it seems to have been stuck in. Both Buntingford and Oakham breweries (local examples) have even been running a series of “single hop” beers, how the humble hop has moved up in life!
I think that up to this point I have thoroughly reinforced at least one point: I’ve become an utterly incurable beer geek. My discovery of “real ale” and CAMRA involvement were one thing, but BrewDog pushed me to an entire new, globe-encompassing, flavour-hunting level. Somewhere along this path BrewDog made a public share offering. They called this “Equity for Punks”. I can’t say that it looked like a wise investment at the time (although the lifetime 20% beer discount helped), then again… money sitting in the bank was (still is) actually losing value anyway. In the end the decision was more about loving the beer and hoping they could keep on pumping the stuff out. Kathlene and I bought a pair of shares and thus, IMO, became more committed beer geeks than all our beer geek friends! We became Equity Punks.
I’ve skipped a lot of finer details in the name of not turning this into an overly dull 10,000 word essay. But the above is a brief history of beer in my life up to now, and how it came about that I became an Equity Punk. In my next entry I’ll actually get on with describing our BrewDog AGM weekend.
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