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
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.