Brewdog wasn’t going to have to do much to earn my affections. They have a lot going for them. First and foremost, they make beer. I know it’s a minimal criteria to tout a brewery with, but there’s no denying they’re doing God’s work. Secondly, they’re Scottish. I love Scotland. Its inhabitants are noble, stalwart souls, willing to unite even the most disparate clans in combating the tyranny of British despots who robbed them of their one true love. It bears mentioning that my knowledge of Scotland is solely gleaned from 204 viewings of Braveheart.
Brewdog is so much more than their roots, though. They bring a real punk DIY sensibility to their brewing. You could describe their approach as devil may care, but it’s probably better encapsulated as devil may well be their majority stockholder. They make beers that hit you like a Glasgow Kiss with few flavors beyond consideration.
Ambitious brewing is enough to earn my respect, but if you want me to be a fawning superfan you have to bring something more substantial to the table. As it happened, the events that first brought Brewdog to my attention immediately cast them in the role of modern day folk heroes.
I know even brewing company history has the potential to run a bit dry, so I’ll compensate by concurrently weaving in my newest pictorial series “Sexy Folk Heroes” to go with it.
Brewdog made a media splash a few years back with the release of their Tokyo imperial stout. It was most unusual for a stout to incorporate jasmine and cranberries, but for some reason the only thing anyone wanted to focus on was it being 18.25 motherfucking percent fucking alcohol. If you haven’t said “Fuck…” aloud for this yet, you really should.
There’s no question that this is a mental amount of alcohol for a beer, especially considering most yeast can’t even survive in an environment that high in alcohol. Dumping yeast into this tank was the microbial equivalent of storming the beach at Normandy. There was some worry that this beer’s outrageous alcohol content would encourage binge drinking, but at £9.99 (~$20) for a 330ml bottle Brewdog believed no sane person would concern themselves with it. Thus it was inevitable that the government would come to the opposite conclusion.
When Scottish Parliament took immediate action to ban the sale of Tokyo Ale, a measure that would finally usher in the utopian paradise they’d been promising, Brewdog knew better than to thwart them. Instead, Brewdog directed their efforts into creating a tribute beverage called “Nanny State”, which at 1.1% ABV was too low in alcohol to meet the UK’s legal definition of beer.
In short, you gotta love these guys.
Punk IPA (6% ABV)
This golden-straw brew has a patchy, beady head. It has some mild flowery aromas, but is mostly nondescript. This is what I imagine a weak hop tea would smell like. I’m beginning to fear that this beer may be taking its cues on punk from Good Charlotte.
Luckily the first nip of this beer is anything but nondescript. It’s very hop forward with a noticeable bite. It’s light in mouthfeel if somewhat oily, but the retention in the mouth isn’t quite as long lived as others of its ilk. It tastes like they got their paws on a bunch of west coast hops and just let the grassy and piney notes sing.
This doesn’t have a lot of depth, but it has some punch while remaining relatively clean in the finish. It’s a straightforward IPA experience that will test some, but is likely to be enjoyed by hopheads without too much strain.
Considering how big the talk is from this brewery, it’s hardly extraordinary. It may be punk for the UK, but this is Standard Operating Procedure for West Coast IPAs.
Hardcore IPA (9.2% ABV)
The curmudgeon in me instantly hated this beer. It’s one thing to playfully name your beer something foreboding, but simply declaring it hardcore seems like cashing in on humanity’s cretinous fascination with all things extreme. All it needs now is a muscle-shirt cozy and some bad tribal tattoos.
As if that wasn’t silly enough, it’s labeled as an “explicit imperial ale.” Pardon my l33t, but I don’t know wtf that is supposed to mean. The prior designation of hardcore made it evident that this beer was not going to receive my Nana’s seal of approval, so why belabor the point?
And then I saw it was 9.2% alcohol by volume and all my venom instantly evaporated. Let’s hug it out, Brewdog.
The Hardcore IPA is a reddish-amber ale with a rocky, taupe head. It has a distinct spicy, peppery aroma to it. It may actually warrant some of the edginess alluded to in its name. I’m not ready to call it hardcore yet, but I’ll concede it resides somewhere on the continuum.
The hops in this are better contextualized than in the Punk IPA. The sweetness in this beer has more potency, popping in the mix with cherry and sticky fruit flavors and provides some substantial body. When the piney hops arrive on top of that, the maltiness shifts the balance to be more reminiscent of chewing on a pine needle than sucking on a tree-shaped air freshener.
(For those of you that don’t know what pine needles taste like, you should try backpacking with my father. After enduring reconstituted meals reinvented as “au gratin” by dusting the orange powder from macaroni and cheese on top, you’ll happily eat anything else. Plus, if we all do our part to eat nature, soon he’ll have no forest to drag me to.)
The Hardcore IPA has a wonderful balance with big flavors and weight that is really gratifying.
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