Oh, Camden…

I don’t have much to add about the unfortunate Camden BearD situation [oh, link has gone deadAnd it is back again.]. I understand the desire for brand protection on Camden Town Brewery’s part in this situation… I don’t have a problem with that. But it seems that they’ve handled this very badly. This is perhaps where “craft brewing” becomes “suit brewing” – where the accountants and lawyers are running the show.

Colin has only this to offer…

Oh... Camden... *sigh*

Oh... Camden.

Beer–Matched Festive Vegetarian Dinner

This is a much belated write–up of 2011’s festive feast. It has become a habit of mine to host a dinner for folk who’re otherwise orphaned in the UK, it is a great excuse to go the extra mile in preparing and presenting great food. With, of course, the inclusion of great beer!

I have a growing tendency to be sympathetic towards vegetarians. Animal welfare concerns me greatly, I like to know that any animal that has died for me hasn’t been mistreated (including in, and after, death). However it is pretty much impossible to guarantee this and still willingly consume animal products — including eggs, milk, and cheese. If your concern is strong enough then “going veggie” is a laudable sacrifice to make in the name of animal welfare. These days I no longer make fun of vegetarians, refer to them as cattle, or try to convince them that chicken is a vegetable — well, not often. If I have a vegetarian around for a meal I always have something appropriate prepared, so for 2011 I decided: why not try going the whole hog! (Or no hog at all, as was the case.)

I also like trying to match beers to the dishes I prepare, so this brings about the second theme of this dinner: beer matching. Hopefully with vegetarian–friendly beers. (I checked and I’m pretty sure all the beers on the menu involved only the death of yeast cells & other micro–organisms.)

All in all I think both the full–vegetarian festive feast and the beer matching was a success. With my highlight being the mushroom tordelli dish matched with Hardknott Queboid. It looked and tasted stunning!

As for the festive element? Well, the dinner was held between Christmas and the new year so I tried to “festivize” it a little. Use of chestnuts, colours in the salads, spices in the pie — just light touches really. I haven’t prepared full recipes for any of the dishes, as I just didn’t have time and keeping track takes a bit of the fun out of the cooking. Consider this a TV–chef Christmas–show style of thing, where they show you an amazing array of food and an insufficient amount of information to replicate it.


Chestnut & Celeriac Soup with Saffron & Carraway Sodabread Crostini and a Roast Garlic & Chestnut Puree

Beer: Summer Wine Brewery ∼ Kahuna, NZ IPA

Chestnut & Celeriac Soup, Chestnut & Garlic Purée, Summer Wine Kahuna NZ IPA

The soup was inspired by one in the 2011 River Cottage Christmas show. Hugh prepares a chestnut & sage soup which sounded rather good and I liked the coffee–cup presentation. I love celeriac and decided to add some into the soup. Before serving the soup is warmed on the stove and a generous addition of crème fraîche is made to achieve a more desirable colour and consistency.

Sodabread is great if you need bread in a hurry. In this case the bread was leftovers, it was made the day before using milk in which a pinch of saffron threads had been soaked and a generous addition of caraway seeds. The leftover bread was cut into centimetre thick slices which were put into a low oven for 30 minutes to make them crisp.

I love the rich sweet flavour of roasted garlic cloves, the same pretty much goes for chestnuts. An equal quantity of garlic and steamed chestnut was “whizzed” in a small food processor with added olive oil to achieve the desired consistency. Grated mature goats cheese and salt were added to–taste as well.

Serve as shown in the photo!

The beer match in this case was picked to be something zesty and uplifting, a modern BritIPA seemed in order with NZ hops providing the uplift: Summer Wine’s “Kahuna” NZ IPA. It worked, much as a dry yet rich white wine would in the context.


Mixed mushroom and local “Wobbly Bottom” mature goat cheese tordelli in herbed butter with a hint of truffle. Served with festive salad of julienne snow peas, red pepper, and celeriac.

Beer: Hardknott ∼ Queboid, BelgianStyle Double IPA

Mushroom Tordelli, Festive Salad, Hardknott Queboid

Quite the looker this dish, and very easy to prepare if you have the confidence to make up a bit of pasta dough. The pasta is a typical egg pasta, rested for a couple of hours and then rolled through a pasta machine.

The filling is a simple fry–up of onion, a medely of mushrooms from the supermarket (chestnut, oyster, enoki — for example), and butter. When the onion and mushroom is nicely caramelising add crushed garlic, sizzle a little then add a splash of stock. Finally grate in plenty of mature goats cheese to create a sticky, stringy, mess. I also added a sneaky dash of truffle oil at the end.

Make up your tordelli (just big tortellini) and pop them into boiling water for just about 2 or 3 minutes when you’re ready to serve. Don’t overcrowd in the water, if doing them in batches have a warmed and lightly oiled plate handy to place them on with a bit of plastic wrap handy to put over them.

The herbed butter was made up in advance with a selection of herbs from the garden (oregano, parsley, garlic chives, rosemary — in approximate order of amount added) and a little garlic. I keep a stick of this in the freezer. Melt, but do not sizzle, a good medallion of butter per serve in a fry–pan, gently toss the tordelli in the melted herb butter and serve into warmed bowls sharing the butter out as a drizzle over each bowl. Do the drizzle at the last second, just before serving.

The salad is a colourful combination of briefly blanched snow peas, raw red capsicum, and raw celeriac. Tossed in a little lemon juice and a dash of oil.

Queueboid was picked for its richness and Belgianesque earthy tones, a nice complement to the mushroominess of this dish. The beer’s non–Belqianesque hoppy bitterness prevents the combination from being too heavy.


Warm–spiced homegrown pumpkin, toasted walnut, & local “Wobbly Bottom” soft goat cheese flan, topped with caramelised red onion.

Beer: Magic Rock ∼ Rapture, Red IPA

Pumpkin Flan, Magic Rock Rapture

We had a couple of little pumpkins in the back garden, a far–from–bumper crop from a couple of vines we’d let ramble around under the apple tree. I cannot recall the exact variety, just something we got in a free packet of seeds once. In my opinion pumpkin really needs to be roasted to get the best value out of it, roasting intensifies the flavour and sweetness of the pumpkins. So in this case they were simply cut into chunks, drizzled with a little cooking oil, and popped into a 180°C oven with a scattering of rosemary until soft. Right at the end I turn the oven up to about 250°C until black/brown crusty bits start to form on the corners of the pieces.

To be honest I can’t remember exactly what went into the flan filling, the pumpkin would have been mashed and heated in a large pot. To this I would have added any/all of: softened brown onion, a couple of handfuls of toasted walnuts, a dash of veggie stock to loosen the mix up if needed; plus grated nutmeg, ground corriander, salt, pepper, etc “to taste”. I’d have a teaspoon handy to sample the mix as I built it up and I just stop when I’m happy. I probably threw in some fresh chopped parsley too. Right at the end before putting the flan in the oven I’d have gently stirred through the crumbled soft goats cheese. In this case from Hitchin’s local Wobbly Bottom farm and picked up either at their market stall of Halsey’s Deli.

The flan topping is simply caramelised red onion. The important thing when caramelising onion for a job like this is to do it slowly in a big open frypan. The browning of caramelisation should be from a slow reduction of the water content and not burning of the onion. Start off with just a little oil and after 5 to 10 minutes when the onion is looking translucent and tacky sprinkle over just a little salt to draw more moisture out. Keep going until the onions are seemingly candied and lightly browned. If you want add and melt in a little brown caster sugar near the end for extra caramelly goodness.

To avoid making this dish too heavy I’ve skipped the usual crusty flan casing and used instead about 3 sheets of melted–butter–brushed filo pastry. The pastry is cut into squares then placed in the flan tin at angles to each other to form a sort of star. Carefully press into the flan tin (the pastry breaks easily, so this is more an action of gentle folding) and fill with the hot pumpkin mix from the stove. Top with the caramelised onion and a scattering of pumpkin seeds and a grating of a hard mature goats cheese. Into a oven at about 200C with this and bake just until the edges of the pastry are a deep goldenbrown. This won’t take long, don’t take your eyes off it!

We’re done. This is best presented on the table as a whole, perhaps with a final extra grating of the hard mature goats cheese on top.

A side–dish of quinoa was served alongside this. Dressed in a drizzle of oil and balsamic and tossed with a finely diced version of the festive–colour salad used in the tordelli dish with the addition of toasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

The beer match is a red hoppy ale. A red–IPA perhaps, or even a rye–PA? ;) In my case the scrumptious Magic Rock “Rapture” a rich, but not sweet, hoppy ale which I think held up well in the role of washing down the robust pumpkin flan.


Layered vanilla & wasabi white chocolate semifreddo mousse, with a rich wild berry coulis.

Beer: Brewdog ∼ Prototype 17, Whisky Cask & Raspberry Aged Lager

Vanilla & Wasabi Semifreddo, Poached Pear, Berry Coulis, BrewDog Prototype 17

White chocolate… I hate the stuff. But it makes an OK mousse, and that mousse makes for a very good semifreddo. The template here is simply to make chocolate mousse the way my mum makes it. I should write down my (probably inaccurate) version of the recipe some day as it is always popular. The difference here is the use of white chocolate instead of dark chocolate. The mousse flavouring is made by melting chocolate in some butter with a dash of brandy. Into this chocolate sauce the yolks of some number of eggs are blended (simply because it is something to do with them). Finally flavourings are added. In this case the mix is divided into two and one has a few generous teaspoons of real wasabi powder added and the other a dash of vanilla essence. Whip cream until smooth and thick, whip the whites of the eggs from the above until stiff, carefully fold the two together. Split into two bowls and carefully fold in the chocolate mix. Sorry this is entirely inadequate as a recipe! It is something I “just do” and (almost always) it works well.

If you want perfect layers then this needs to be split into three stages, making the mix each time and placing into a tin after the previous layer has set. I’m impatient and imperfect however so I do it all at once. Line loaf tins with plastic film and carefully pour the mixture in in three layers with the wasabi layer in the middle. Put the tins in the freezer.

The coulis was made using wild blackberries from nearby hedgerows and “wild”/alpine strawberries from our garden. About 200g of berries are placed in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt, a dash of brandy, and a tablespoon of caster sugar. Heat is applied until the berries are pretty much totally mush. The mix is strained through a course sieve into a bowl and then through a very fine sieve back into the cleaned saucepan. Simmer until the desired thickness is achieved and then chill.

Where did the pear come from? It is simply a pear poached in red wine and warm spices (stick of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, etc). I had these sitting in the fridge at the time and they became an impromptu addition to the plate. It rounded the dessert off quite well I felt.

The beer is another hit of berry, a crisp lager–y sort of thing from BrewDog called “Prototype 17″. It’s aged in whisky barrels with the addition of some raspberries. Served well chilled alongside this dessert it cut through the richness of the semifreddo mouse and complemented the berry flavours.

That’s it! All in all I was very happy with this foray into producing a festive vegetarian dinner. With food like this I suspect I could even survive as a vegetarian myself, maybe. Well, probably not. Next step is vegan? No… that really is a step too far. Anyway, I hope the above can provide some inspiration to any others endeavouring to produce tasty courses for the vegetarians lurking amongst us, doubly so if you’re keen on beer. To the best of my knowledge all the beers served above are also fully vegetarian–compatible. (Many beers aren’t!)
Of course it isn’t a festive feast without a final tipple and a biscuit..
Orkney Dark Island Reserve and Gingerbread House

BrewDog Does Burns Night 2011

Beer and food matching is becoming an ever more popular theme in the craft beer world. I’m all for it and have written about my own attempt at beer matching for Christmas dinner and how that turned out. Recently I’ve been doing more cooking and matching with beer than usual, exploring the possibilities. However, I’d never been to a professionally
prepared beer and food matching dinner. So when the BrewDog Burns Night at the White Horse
in London showed up on the radar I was quite keen to sign up. Unfortunately I left it too late, waiting to see if others wanted to attend, and by the time I
called the White Horse it was fully booked. Onto a waiting list for us! Fortunately they had a big enough waiting list that they put aside another room to accommodate the overflow.

On Burns Night we rocked up to a very busy White Horse just before things kicked off. Enough time for a sneaky half of AlphaDog and 4.1% RipTide. Us
“overflow” people were in the room at the back of the right hand side of the pub. Our hosts were Tom Cadden, London sales manager, and Josie Ludford,
Northern England sales manager. The usual sort of intro was made, explaining BrewDog and the concept of matching beer to food and soon we were into the meal.

Haggis Spring Rolls

With Spicy Chilli Sauce

Punk IPA 5.4%

Haggis Spring Rolls

We’ve had haggis spring rolls twice before, exclusively at Musa Aberdeen, and we enjoyed them so much we’re considering making some. (Kat is quite the spring-roll ninja, though she’d call them haggis lumpia – the Filo name.) The pairing with the new Punk IPA with its hop-punch aroma works well. The Punk might be a bit much for some spring rolls but as haggis is heavily spiced these hold up well.

The new Punk IPA was interesting to try, especially since I’ve done a side-by-side between the “old Punk” and “new Punk”. The Punk IPA served with this beer was a little “less” than the bottled “Punk X” I have. Less cloudy, less biscuity malt aroma and flavour, a bit less hop aroma too I think. This Punk was served
from cask, presumably it had been given time to drop quite clear. There was a slight haze to the beer, probably from hop oils I guess. I think they’ve toned it down a little, finding a balance between the previous Punk IPA and the bottled “Punk X”. Keeping the clear-beer folks happier at the cost of hitting the drinker with a bit less flavour? Or rounding out the beer in the quest for perfection? Anyway, this Punk IPA is still definitely a better beer than the original incarnation in my mind.

Scottish Salmon Sashimi

Pickled Cucumber & Soy Sauce

Hello, my name is Ingrid 8.2%

Scottish Salmon Sashimi

Ah, sashimi! We used to eat loads back in Sydney and miss it dearly. Unfortunately sashimi (sushi in general) in the UK is crap, and if it isn’t then it is very expensive. The salmon served here was good stuff and I dug in without remembering to take a photo first. Oddly they seem to have left out the pickled cucumber and served this with a bit of mixed leaf salad instead. Ran out perhaps.

The Hello, my name is Ingrid was quite drinkable (we all drunk it quite happily). Though I recall calling it “muddy” and now wish I’d made some more detailed notes about the beers we tried. This beer will not be available in the UK, except for a couple of special events like this one. It was brewed especially and exclusively for BrewDog’s Swedish distributor.

As for the pairing – nothing wrong, but I didn’t feel there was a notable synergy between the beer and the salmon. I’m thinking something simpler would be a better match. Less malt for sure and a clearer crisper beer. Possibly late-hopped with Sorachi Ace, a bit of a play on the Japanese theme and the lemony note fits as a classic combination for fish. (I like dark soy with a squeeze of lemon with my sashimi.) Or, how about something like the Mikkeller “Spontonale”?

Cullen Skink

With Homemade Bread

Bitch Please 10.5%

Cullen Skink

A sweet and thick potato and onion soup with chunks of smoked fish in it with a big strong barleywine. Seems too much, but it worked. The Bitch Please is a mouthful of flavour, my notes at the time were: “pretty crazy super-malty barleywine cross rich hoppy US super-IPA – late night sipping beer.” This bitch really is crazy, a collaboration between BrewDog and US brewers 3 Floyds, the beer has all sorts in it – not literally, I think. I’m uncertain of the exact details as I keep hearing new stories about it. At the very least there’s toffee and shortbread, as documented on the BrewDog blog.

It’s the IPA side of the beer that makes it work with this food pairing in my mind. Without the big hops the whole meal would probably be a bit over-sweet. I usually find barleywine style beers cloying, and it is probably the hops that transform this beer into something very drinkable.

Haggis with Neeps & Tatties

Roast Winter Vegetables & Mashed Potatoes

Alice Porter 6.2%

Haggis, neeps, and tatties

(There was also a sneaky nip of Talisker (single malt whisky) served with this.)

To start with we had the full haggis ceremony. Bagpipes, haggis on a platter, recital of Burns’s Address tae the Haggis (not quite so perfectly recited), dousing said haggis in whisky, then eager haggis stabbing. Quite a show.

Alice Porter is an excellent beer, I came upon it in Borough Market’s Market Porter a couple of weeks beforehand and couldn’t stop knocking back pints. (Then I realised it was 6.2% and decided I’d better stop and embark on the hour-long journey home.)

How does it go with haggis though? Just fine, this beer and our haggis were both dark and rich so they stood up well against each other. The pairing seemed to me more a meeting of equals than a complimentary relationship. The beer washed down the haggis perfectly without drowning it or feeling thin.

The big surprise for me was that the Alice Porter also stood its ground against the whisky. In fact the Talisker complimented the Alice rather well… as tempted as I was to tip the whisky into the beer I held back and enjoyed the beer in the warm afterglow of whisky sips.

TNP Float

Vanilla Icecream with Tactical Nuclear Penguin 33%

TNP Float

The Tactical Nuclear Penguin is an unusual beast. I got two bottles of this about a year ago, one of which remains unopened. This TNP was all syrupy burnt flavours and smoke. I loved it. It’s the Smokehead variety of the Paradox Stout (~10%) that’s had a bunch of water frozen out of it. Smokehead itself is a sublime beer, for those of us who like our smoke. To obtain this flavour Smokehead is aged in the used whisky barrels of its namesake, Smokehead whisky – which I’ve had and enjoyed.

There are some further complications however. I have had cask Paradox Smokehead three times, all different. One was rich and smoky, one was thin, astringent, and smoky, and the last rich but barely smoky. On my first visit to the BrewDog brewery I was told by one of their brewers that they were freeze-distilling a batch of Tokyo* for TNP. I tasted a bit of this as it was being drained from a large plastic container and it really did seem like super-concentrated Tokyo* – it was a beautiful thing.

Now, this TNP Float – to my nose – lacked smoke. The aroma was sweet and dark fruity richness. This seemed to me to be Tokyo*, not Smokehead. So I asked one of our hosts about this, the London sales manager, and he was certain it was Smokehead and had never heard of TNP being made from Tokyo*. So where do I stand? Utterly confused!

That digression aside, the “TNP Floater” worked extremely well. Next time we have people over for dinner I’m tempted to give it a shot!

Raspberry Cranachan

Fresh Raspberries, Oats, & Whipped Cream

Black Tokyo Horizon 15%

Raspberry Cranachan

Just the memory of this dessert makes me close my eyes and lean back. Trying to re-live it.

Cranachan is a most simple pleasure but something I’d not order because it is often just too thick. Not enough fruit, juice, and acidity to fight the cream. This was one of those cranachans. But it was rescued, enlivened, and made most enjoyable by the Black Tokyo Horizon. A spoonful of the dessert, a sip of the beer, repeat. There was an edge to the beer that cut right through the cream, an umami that rounded out the whole dish. This goes right up there with Mum’s rich Grand Marnier chocolate mouse in my dessert hall of fame. Then again, that could be under the influence of strong ale.

Black Tokyo Horizon rocks. My mission is to track down bottles of its constituent ingredients. The BTH is a blend of beers: BrewDog’s Tokyo*, NøgneØ’s Dark Horizon, Mikkeller’s Black. The Tokyo* is what I drink if I feel like port. Seriously round, rich, deep beer. This blend takes that and fills it full of roast dinner and goose fat. Rich, dark plum conserve, toffee pudding, smoked sausage. Smoked sausage!? Yes! There’s a following mouthfeel of bonfire smoke… I love this in a beer.

Scottish Cheese & Oatcakes

Dunsyre Blue, Isle of Mull and Clava Organic Blue Cheese

Hardcore IPA 9.2%

Cheese! IPA!

Cheese! A step too far? Never!

I do like my cheese, yet this final course was the one I was most concerned about. I love cheese, especially mouldy cheese. I love US-style strong IPAs, especially BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA. But could these two work together?

Almost… but not entirely. As robust and full-on as the Hardcore IPA is, I think it didn’t stand up to the tasty cheeses. That said, the “Clava Organic Blue Cheese” is, as far as I can determine, a “typo” that should be: “Clava Organic Brie”. (I’d have preferred a blue brie personally.) Amusingly, I think of the cheeses provided the brie was the best compliment to the Hardcore IPA.

It’s not dire however. While I felt the strong cheeses were far bigger than the Hardcore IPA I do believe they whipped it into submission and, with their salty richness, smoothed out the hops character and brought out an almost barleywine side of the IPA.

Wrapping Up

I, Kat, and our 3 invitees, all enjoyed the BrewDog Burns Night at the White Horse. It was a continuing education for our non-beergeek friends, two of whom had survived my Christmas dinner. There’s still some way to go to break the mental barrier separating beer from wine though. Note however that we were all Australians, “back home” the culture of beer is even further separated from dining than it is in the UK.

Personally: I’ve been to a few fancy degustations matched against specific wines and feel that this meal was a better effort than all of them. An important element to the beverage that we call “beer” is that it can provide an incredibly huge variety of flavour dimensions. Wine, in my experience, is more limited. (I’m going to get in trouble if I’m not careful. I grew up in a wine region in Australia and love and appreciate good wine.) The point is that a brewer can sit down and produce a beer with a particular experience in mind, possibly therein lies an interesting future of beer in gourmet circles. In the BrewDog Burns Night experience the feeling was that an excellent range of beer had been chosen then a series of dishes had been arranged around this. I think there is a potential to take a degustation menu and design a range of ales to match. Beer really is that flexible. You don’t have to drop to El Bulli levels and create the Estrella Damm Inedit – a beer so bland it’d go with anything (much like water does).

Long live craft beer! And hail those who can see and appreciate beer for the versatile medium of multidimensional flavour that it is.

BrewDog AGM: Epic Beer Journey

Tactical Nuclear Penguin

So, I’m an “Equity Punk” – AKA a shareholder in the company known as BrewDog. I’ve explained the history leading up to this in a previous entry, now it is time to write about the events of December 4th 2010 and the surrounding days.

As part of being a company with shareholders you must have AGMs (Annual General Meetings). Horribly boring things AGMs… but this is BrewDog, how could it be boring? We almost didn’t go actually. We’d visited the brewery before, back in September when we were in Scotland for a friend’s wedding, so it wasn’t new to us. On that visit we were warmly received, had a great personal tour, tasted some beers from the fermentation vats, and came away from the place thinking “wow, just brilliant” (neither James or Martin were there, but – believe me – there’s more to BrewDog than the top dogs.) It didn’t really seem necessary to travel all the way up to Aberdeenshire again. In the end I made a very last-minute decision: go we must! I already had a car arranged for the appropriate time (we had other uses for it if not driving to Aberdeen), but hotels for the trip weren’t booked until about 48 hours before we left.

To the North!

A80 – between Glasgow and Perth

Getting to Aberdeen was the main problem that needed to be solved. I considered all the options: bus, train, plane, car. I’m a little bit of a control freak, so the car won out in the end. We were a little worried actually, in the week prior to the AGM Scotland was snowed under literally. There were reports of people being stuck in snow on motorways, the Scottish authorities were having to air-drop supplies of deep-fried pizza. People I was in contact with in Scotland were saying: “no, don’t do it!”. Regardless – on the evening of Thursday December 2nd we got in the car and headed to “The North” to see how far we could go. We only went as far as Cheshire though, to overnight in a Travelodge, the ground there was icy with packed snow but the M6 was still clear and easy driving. On Friday morning we awoke at a leisurely time, scraped the ice off the car, and set out for Aberdeen. (We’d originally planned to visit Edinburgh and stay there on Friday night, but it was one of the worst-affected places in the lowlands so we changed our plans.)

Although slow, the drive up through Cumbria, southern Scotland, past Glasgow and on towards Perth was actually all plain sailing. There was a bit of snowfall, and some slowish traffic in places, but we made good time. Things slowed down between Glasgow and Perth, thanks to a combination of roadworks and snow-cover. Perth to Dundee was worse. The road was down to a single lane mostly, with a treacherous on-again off-again passing lane. (Looks clear, try passing, oh bugger… thump, thump, ice cover, slow and pull in back behind the car doing 40mph.) After Dundee and upward to Aberdeen wasn’t too bad however. From beginning to end, with minimal stops, the drive had taken about 7 hours.

Other people we spoke to had similarly interesting journeys. @anthonyqkiernan caught a rail replacement bus from Glasgow. It was just him, a bottle of whisky, and the bus driver for the entire journey. @BrewDowg and his wife came up from London after rescheduling a flight from Gatwick to Luton, they arrived in Edinburgh to discover the trains had been cancelled, then luckily a direct Edinburgh to Aberdeen service was run – on they hoped, with much relief I presume!

After checking into our hotel in Aberdeen we went straight to the BrewDog Bar. The bar lived up to, and beyond, my expectations. To the initiated the photo of the beer list should be enough, to others: I really can’t explain. It was an excellent evening, the staff at the bar are brilliant, and the atmosphere convivial. We even met such luminaries as James Watt and Johanna Basford. James even shared an Angel’s Reply with us – a king amongst all the beers I’ve ever drunk. The BrewDog bar is just excellent, an amazing array of bottles craft beers are on offer, a great range of kegged BrewDog beers, and even kegged guests! On Friday there were kegs on from Mikkeller and Nøgne ø. The Spontonale from Mikkeller was memorable, it’s a “spontaneous fermentation” beer – i.e. lambic style.

The bar closed at midnight, which seemed early but it was a sensible time for us to pack it in.

The AGM day begins

Musa Aberdeen

Saturday morning… AGM time! On awakening the first thing I did was hit Google to try and find a decent espresso in Aberdeen. My search was: “has bean” aberdeen. I found Kilau Coffee, a coffee house that I’m happy to recommend (if you like short strong espresso ask for ristretto). They don’t actually use HasBean beans, no, even better: their beans come from as roaster on the same street. (Coffee and espresso is another love of mine, I’ll shut up about coffee now though.)

We rocked up at Musa (the James Watt / BrewDog café/restaurant) at about dead-on 11AM. The place was already well filled with Equity Punks. The scheduled events of the day included a brewery tour, a business talk with James and Martin, and a beer tasting. This was run in two streams, we chose the one that started with business. So while we sat down to free gourmet food and beer in Musa a bus-load of punks was on its way to the brewery in Fraserburgh. I’d been to Musa once before and thought it was pretty good, this time around it was even better (that’s ignoring the fact that it was all gratis!) Good beer, good food, a perfect match.

The business talk was interesting and, in typical BrewDog style, amusing. Including details of upcoming beers and developments that I dare not mention, as well as amusing anecdotes about not wanting to have sex with Mother Teresa, Martin’s lesbian porn collection, and eating stoats for breakfast. The inside information on business developments was interesting and encouraging and I wish I knew exactly what I could and couldn’t repeat here. I’ll offer a few seemingly benign facts about BrewDog’s FY2010:

  • Distributing to 22 countries
  • Brewery planning permission granted
  • BrewDog bar fonts installed in 25 pubs
  • Securing 2nd bar site in Edinburgh imminent (signed and sealed)
  • Profitable! Yay!

There was also information about special beers planned for 2010, some of which I’m very excited about… but you’ll just have to wait.

It isn’t all perfect of course, capacity is a major issue causing the company headaches. Not just brewing volume, but infrastructure and staff too. They just can’t keep up with demand. The new brewery is still a lot of paperwork, red-tape, and construction away. Stop-gap measures are being made in the short-term, but all our beloved but less produced brews must continue to fight for a spot on the schedule with the core money-makers. (Not the worst of problems for a brewery to have, but quite frustrating nonetheless.) Plans to improve in all these areas are afoot, including hiring new staff and deployment of improved technology.

Beer tasting at the BrewDog bar


Beer Tasting

After a bit of Q&A we trundled a couple of blocks up the road to get to the BrewDog Bar. There were some special beers on for the AGM, the most special of these being AB:04. In the bar Martin conducted a beer tasting, backed by music (this was to save us from James’s oral-sex beer-tasting approach, which we did get to witness for one beer at least.) The tasting beers were: Zeitgeist, Eurotrash, 5AM Saint, Punk IPA, Hardcore IPA, and AB:04 (OMG, mmmm…) I’ll avoid detailing each beer, there are some brief notes copied from my Twitter feed in the AGM photo album if you’re interested (click the beer links).

A period of continued beer enjoyment ensued while we waited for the other AGM-stream to return from their brewery trip. We met and chatted with a few people in this time, and even said hello to the HardKnott brewery gang (Dave, Ann, Alfie, and Sooty). (We’d been in Twitter-contact over the previous 48 hours reassuring each-other that the drive to Aberdeen was actually possible.) We’ve actually been following HardKnott brewery for some time, having visited their former brew-pub, The Woolpack in Eskdale, on a Lakeland hike in 2009 (they’ve since given up the pub to focus on brewing great beer.) Anyway, before long a coach appeared outside the pub and we filed all aboard. Brewery ho!

Brewery ho!


Fraserburgh is about 45 minutes from Aberdeen in good conditions. I’d say the bus driver did a good job getting us there in about an hour; despite slow cars, lorries, and gritters. The first thing to strike me on arriving at the brewery was that when we were there in September there were two 200 hectolitre fermenters outside, now there were six! On arrival we were introduced to a tap that dispensed 5AM Saint, I think a few people would have happy for that to have been the whole of it. But, 5AM Saints in hand, we were then led on a comprehensive brewery tour by head-brewer Stewart Bowman and the animated German brewer Franz. From grain & hops to bottling the entire BrewDog process was explained and discussed.

Stewart was very clear and facilitating, and certainly passionate about what he does. We learnt some of the history of brewing and brewing improvements at BrewDog and some of the ethos behind their brewing. Stewart is very keen that beer should be as pure and unadulterated as possible. One of the interesting points was about not using isinglass to help beer drop clear; why cut off an entire segment of the population from enjoying your beer? (Sure, they’re vegetarians – the poor people won’t eat meat, they should at least be able to enjoy a good beer.) This, of course, then extends to the whole debate about cloudy beer and filtering beer. I’ve still got a lot to learn about this aspect of beer style and brewing, it’s only quite recently that I discovered that most cask ale wasn’t vegetarian-compatible.

At the end of the tour there was also a punk-shop (i.e. stuff on a table) where people could buy beer and merchandise at a considerable discount. After a short period of purchasing, admiring an End of History squirrel (right), milling around and chatting we popped back on the bus, waved the brewery goodbye, and headed back to Aberdeen.

Punk evening in Aberdeen

Sorry about the flash!

The bus trip back to Aberdeen was somewhat soporific, there was a small chorus of snores in the background. We were unceremoniously, and somewhat gratefully, dumped right outside the door of the BrewDog bar. Beer time! Actually, we only had a couple of beers before our stomachs called out for some beer-absorbing food. Not knowing where else to go we popped down to Musa for a quick dinner, which turned out to be a 3-course dinner. The food was great, including the challenging blue cheese icecream. It’s a bit of a pity that some damn punks had drunk all the good brews earlier that day!

Back to the bar! Our last session at the BrewDog bar was “OK”, the highlights being the people we met and spoke to. While the beer we drank was also excellent we didn’t really cover much ground. The problem with there being just the two of us is that it takes some time to get through a beer, especially a 660ml bottle of rich, tasty imperial stout. Thus an abrupt midnight closing and turfing-out was the lowest point of the whole trip. Midnight, on a Saturday? Things were just warming up! Perhaps I’d paced myself too slowly, and allowed dinner to get in the way of the enjoyment of good beer. I think my main problem was that there was such a great beer list and we had to leave the next day. I even missed out on the half of AB:04 I’d been looking forward to. To be honest, I ended the day on a “low note”, returning to the hotel in a bad mood. The hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, compounded matters by making a bit of a mess of our booking. It all worked out in the end, where “worked out” means I didn’t have to break any of my own fingers.

The day after, back to the brewery?!

Brewers in their natural habitat

Sunday morning! I awoke feeling a bit bad about being so grumpy the previous night. But regret as I might, the night was past and we must move on. (All the minor, aggravating, and probably co-incidental cock-ups aside… breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn was superb if you like fry-ups and waffles.) Anyway, an over-priced purchase of a CF card (knew I forgot something), a trip to Kilau Coffee, and a complicated hotel-cockuped car-departure later… and we were on our way out of Aberdeen in the opposite direction to home. Back to the brewery!

Far from finishing our AGM trip on a bit of a BrewDroop, we had something else planned. The drive to the brewery wasn’t problematic and we arrived in decent time. BrewGod extraordinaires Bowman and Franz (do these guys sleep?) were busy mashing in a RipTide at the time but were happy to let us get in their way and chat to us about their brewing. We’d come to the brewery with a purpose: to leave with a keg of beer. And that we did, with a little 30lt keg of 5AM Saint. (Plus a few more odds and ends.) This may seem all a bit ad-hoc, but we’d been talking to a SalesDog about this prior to our trip, and had spoken to Martin Dickie about picking up a keg in the bar the night before. The keg was destined for a local restaurant way-down-home in Hertfordhire: Hitchin’s Radcliffe Arms. Before we left the manager had suggested that we could bring him back a keg… so we did!

BrewDog Bar

BrewDog Bar

It snowed a bit while we were at the brewery and for a moment I was worried that we’d be stuck in Fraserburgh. It wasn’t that bad in the end though, and we made our way back to Aberdeen for one last bar visit. The BrewDog bar doesn’t open until 15:00 on a Sunday, which is about when we made it back to Aberdeen. The bar was quiet when we got there, and we ordered a platter or charcuterie and cheese. While Kat had a beer I had to settle for some non-alcholic fizz, amusingly this was Bundaberg Lemon-Lime-&-Bitters all the way from Australia. The cheese was good and smelly, there was even some live music – he sang about the smelly cheese (it really was smelly.) I had a chat with Bruce (the manager) and bought a selection of expensive, yet delectable, foreign bottled brews – mostly from the US. All good things must come to an end however, so we returned to the car set off on the long journey home.

All over

The drive south to an overnight stop near Carlisle was easy. The next day’s drive home, via Epic Fireworks in South Yorkshire (making our trip literally “Epic”), was scenic and unhurried. The M1 was buggered past Leicester but we managed an easy hop across to the A1(M) and that was clear all the way home. We arrived back in Hitchin with plenty of time to drop off our keg of 5AM Saint, unpack, tidy the car a bit, and drop it at the local hire place with an additional 1200 miles on the odometer. The BrewDog AGM weekend seems blessed in reflection, Scotland was snowed-in the day before we drove up and also the day after.

Homeward bound

The whole experience was intense and tiring. The beer and people were excellent. I’m already looking forward to the next AGM… but dudes, how about we don’t do it in winter next time? :)

The photos above, and many more, can be viewed in chronological order in our BrewDog AGM 2010 photo gallery.

BrewDog AGM: Background

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!:)

Beer Tasting Line-Up


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.

The Brew Shrine