Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Punk IPA is dead. Long Live Punk IPA

In getting to where they now are, BrewDog have done things their own way and made some bold moves, but changing the recipe for Punk IPA is the bravest thing they’ve done so far.

Punk IPA is their best known brand; it’s the beer which built the brewery and it’s in supermarkets up and down Britain and on beer shelves and fridges around the world. With a successful beer, why would they change it? Taste the new version and you’ll see why: it’s better.

Original Punk is uncompromising in its flavour, bitter and very dry on the palate, bold with tropical fruit and big hops. Some love it, others don’t. It’s probably the beer I’ve drunk more of than any other in the last three years, always having a bottle in the fridge for when only the familiar brashness of Punk will do – it’s to satisfy a hop craving, the bottle I can open and enjoy without thinking about it.

Why is new Punk better? I've had in from keg and bottle and for me it’s more drinkable; it’s something I would drink all night long whereas with old Punk I’d rarely reach for bottle two. The dryness is replaced by a little residual sweetness, there’s more body which is really satisfying, the lower abv of 5.6%/5.4% (the website says one thing, the pump clip says another...) is enough to encourage slightly more reckless consumption and the IBUs have dropped but the aroma hops at the end give the sort of gift a happy nose wants to receive on a regular basis with an overflowing bowl of tropical fruit. I think the new version is a perfect beer, still reminiscent of the original as it uses the same hops, just tweaked in the best of ways.

It’s undoubtedly a brave move because it’s changing the brand they are best known for but I think they’ve created a better beer and one which more people will want to drink. It’s a mature decision to make, beyond bravado, Bismarck and brash stunts, and I hope it’s even more successful than the original.

Punk IPA is dead. Long Live Punk IPA.

Who’s had it? What do you think?


  1. In BrewDog, Aberdeen there have been a number of iterations of Punk X IPA so I wonder which they've finally chosen. The least likely candidate was my son's favourite and looked like a cloudy wheat beer. Lots of fruit and hops the though.

    The most likely candidate used the same ingredients as Punk but changed the quantities. Here was a beer similar to what you described but I thought of as a car crash between Punk IPA and 5AM.

    Sadly, I'm one of the purists who love Punk and wouldn't want it changed. I'd suggested to Brewdog they market the two side by side. There's no reason for it to be one or the other when they have such a wide portfolio.

  2. Haven't tried the new one yet - but the concept of 'reduced potency punk' hardly gets me pumped up...

    I'll always welcome a great new beer, but perhaps an entirely new label would have been the better route.

    Agree with JB on this.

  3. Funny, Punk is one of my favourites of the BrewDog lineup too, but the new one sounds great. I'd also like a new label, if only to be able to tell what I'm getting in the German online beer store, as I've gotten older versions of their beers before when thinking I was getting a new recipe.

    Will it also confuse ratebeer :D

  4. The new Punk IPA I tried as Punk X here in London. I think it is the version they are going for. I wasn't a massive fan of the original as it was a little too on the bitter side.

    The new IPA I've ended up buying some of the last bottles from the online store. It is one of my favourite beers since first trying it. It's much more rounded. Well worth a try! I need to order more when it's re-released.

  5. John - Interesting. I wondered if they had tried a few out. I had a keg of one of the first batches in London a few months ago and then a bottle from their website more recently. The bottle was cloudy but I think that added to it with more body. I'd like to see that one but most people will worry about the cloudiness, no doubt. Also interesting you mention a car crash between Punk and 5am as I saw someone mention that the other day and couldn't quite believe it based on what I'd drunk - maybe it was another experiment (perhaps a blend?!). I'd be surprised if we don't see Punk Original pop up a few times a year.

    THG - It might be less potent in the booze front but not so on the flavour front and that's where this wins for me. It's also a beer I want to drink more of and that's not a bad thing!

    Barry - I'm looking out the RB forums posts trying to understand it! I guess the label will be a little different (new abv and all that) but primarily the same. We'll have to see...

    Francis - Punk X was how I tried it. And like you I want to buy some more. I'm also looking forward to seeing it in a can as that will become my fridge staple, no doubt about it.

  6. Well I have to declare myself as preferring the original. Sure, the new beer is good and I’m sure it will do well, but it’s not as good the original. Why? For exactly the reasons you gave for liking the new version-but in reverse. The residual sweetness and toning down of bitterness mark it as a retrograde step. In my book, anyway.

    It’s very, very, rare for a brewery to tweak the recipe and lower the ABV of a successful brand and still maintain the essence of the original. Many have tried. Many have failed. And so Brewdog, clever as they are, haven’t, in this case, rewritten the record books.

  7. When I was over in Scotland just before Christmas (beautifully timed to coincide with some of the worst winter weather in years) I had the opportunity to film myself and James trying the latest reworking of Punk X.
    In the video James explains the brewery's decision to tinker with their top-selling brand and we do a side-by-side comparison of old and new Punks.


    I agree with Mark on this one - Punk X is a more complete beer than the original.

  8. Got to agree the new Punk is an improvment. Was tasting awesome in Aberdeen on Saturday. I think its 5.4% not 5.6% tho? which means you can drink even more...

  9. Rich - I thought it was 5.4% but the BrewDog website says 5.6% on the Punk IPA page... Maybe it's still in transition!

  10. I am glad to hear there have been several versions of Punk X doing the rounds as that reduces the likelihood that the kegged version I tasted in the Rake is the new Punk.

    That was *bubblegum* sweet, after a grassy whack, and all out of kilter. So I hope that's not the one. In truth, I think they've tweaked Punk quite a bit - I've found some bottles/kegs to be wincingly astringent while others have seemed to get it spot on.

    Funnily enough, despite an ecumenical approach to storage and dispense, I've much preferred well-kept cask Punk to its kegged/bottled siblings.

  11. Ha, think it was 5.4% in the bar... we need a definitive answer!

    I'd guess the variable bitterness/flavour in Punk is down to hop batch quality which I believe can vary a lot season to season.

  12. The keg version they're sending to the SIBA competition in Nottingham is 5.4%.

  13. I couldn't agree more Mark. The Punk X (5.4%) I had in a bar in Edinburgh last year was smashing, and I stayed for 3 pints of it. As much as I love(d) the original, I hadn't done that since I first had it at a beer festival in Dartford in 2007! Punk X is sure to turn into a great supermarket stock-up beer.

  14. I've had a love hate relationship with the original Punk. At times it blew me away with its brutal bitterness, its massive hop aroma and flavour. A difficult beer to drink but a really rewarding and delicious one. Then at other times it's been down right terrible, some of the bottles I've had taste like they're missing a late hop addition, just massive bitterness and nothing else. I remember a pint of it at The Rake that I literally couldnt finish through IBUs.

    The Punk X I've tried has been outstanding. Less bitterness, more sweetness, bolder hops. I'm with you that the right decision has been made to make the swap.

  15. Did Brewdog ever put out anything on their blog to explain the reason for the recipe / ABV change?

  16. The one thing that's missing from this discussion is any reason to change the recipe. The consensus (if such a thing exists) is that the two beers could co-exist.

    I fear that it could be the bankers calling the shots here as BrewDog's expansion will have a voracious appetite for capital.

    Punk IPA is indeed the flag-ship brand but isn't shifting the volume because of its demanding nature. If you need investment you have to be shown to be maximising returns from your prime asset i.e. make it more accessible, sell more and get the cash flow moving. That's easier, quicker and, arguably, more effective than building a new brand from scratch.

    Don't you just love a good conspiracy theory?

  17. Punk IPA changed for one primary reason.
    It was the first beer we brewed back in March 2007. Since then the recipe stayed the same. In the past 40 months we have progrssed a fair bit in terms of brewing uncomprimising beer and trying to underdtand the science of Dry-hopping. We have also been exposed to most of the great ipas around the world.
    In April 2010 James, Stewart and I tasted all our beers in a line up and felt that Punk IPA (our Flagship Brand) was nolonger the best IPA we felt we could brew.
    As we are hellbend on the end quality of our products it ment Stewart, Graeme, Franz and Red and the rest of the brewing team had an intensive 6 months of tiny batch trials working out how to make Punk IPA - The IPA.
    We have kept true to the original ingredients, we use the same 4 hops and added a touch of cara malt to give the malt backbone a touch more sweetness (or maybe that is just a touch of sweetness)
    We have taken the beer from being an easy beer to brew to now being a dry hopped son of a bitch. But these are the lengths we feel that we have to go to to make sure we are always at the top of our game. There is nothing more frustrating in nowing you can do something better but not being allowed or having the balls to make the change.

    Please try the new Punk IPA and let us know what you think. There is no acountants telling us to moderate our beers in fact quite the opposite, by dry hopping the beer we are using about 15% more hops than we did previously and now the losses are much higher too due to the process difficulties you face when you try to put a beer full of hop particles through even the roughest of filters.

    In essense, Punk IPA now has 20% less bitterness, less filtration - about 8 micron (for anyone who cares) more hops, more aroma, more mouthfeel, more flavour and most importantly it is the best IPA we can make in our cold factory up in the North East of Scotland.

    Pirate Salute
    Martin - BrewDog

  18. Interesting insights into the evolution of a beer and the passion that BrewDog bring to the process, thanks Martin.

    What's still missing though is an understanding of why the two beers can't co-exist. The flavour profiles are so different that one couldn't be confused for the other.

    Original Punk built BrewDog's reputation and must still be enjoyed by many customers. Why lose that?

  19. This is taken without comment from another blog other than to sat the poster was/is a BrewDog fan:
    " They're really not doing themselves any favours when it comes to changing beers that people have grown to love. However, I wouldn't expect it to bother them too much if they manage to dramatically increase sales.

    It's a standard (and ridiculous IMO) problem when bloke at the bar doesn't know what he wants and decides "ooh that 6% beer is too strong for me, I'll stick with this 5.2% stuff..."

    The new Punk is a shocker isn't it. I'm gutted. All nose and no trousers. The hops in the snout are fantastic but the flavour hops are just engulfed with sweetness. A shadow of its former self.

    Good news is it's going to be sometime before the big customers (supermarkets) will allow the new Punk to replace the current bottled version. How long I don't know but while they're calling the shots, it's stays as the far superior 6% version. Hopefully, making two versions of Punk will make them see sense and they'll drop this sweet stuff. Hopefully.

  20. Well just learnt that the PUNK IPA I had in bottles from the supermarket last week are the new version. How dissapointed I am. Just not the same beer. I hope they bring the old one back!

  21. Such a shame that the Punk IPA recipe has been changed, what used to be a truly ridiculus (sic) IPA packing a Glasgow kiss of bitterness has now ,alas, become a rather bland watered down version of it's old self. I've not been so disappointed since I found out that Santa really just was me neighbour wearing a mask. I wouldn't say the new one is a bad beer.. but it's just not PUNK anymore, it's more like the nice old lady next door who always offers you boiled sweets.

    While the old one could be a bit demanding for some due to it's massive "I'm gonna kick yer teef in" attitude others loved it for that exact reason. It used to be a beer that boldly went where no other beer had gone, it did not care if people did not like it, it simply couldn't care less.. now.. nah.. now it's just one of those niceish beers you drink because you couldn't be bothered finding something else..

    It's a shame really, it was this beer that made me a Brewdog "fanboy" in the first place, now it seems that it's the exact same beer (albeit a new version) that'll turn me away from them..

    ps. I know this comment comes months after the original article was written, I just haven't had any PUNK ipa for a long time until to day.

    pps. I'm Norwegian, so my English isn't that good.

  22. I hope I am not too late on this topic, but only today I managed to grab a sample of the NEW Brewdog Punk IPA, while I had been happily drinking the OLD version for a couple of years. The NEW Punk IPA is said to be more drinkable and it certainly is, but by becoming so it looses its most important feature. In my opinion, it is more bland now, slightly flatter while still being a bit hoppy, turning at the same time towards the edgy belgian style and to the flat german lager. Most significantly, the once ultra-crispy citrus hoppy flavour now seems to be lost and is replaced by something a little stale. I do not need another just-so beer and am disappointed by this development. Going towards mass-market appeal, I think.