Hanging out into the icy North Sea, in the distant fishing town of Fraserburgh in Northeast Scotland, a flying Punk IPA-blue flag tells you where you are.
Hidden behind huge silver conditioning tanks, towers of bright casks and lock-ups loaded with ingredients, it’s like the kind of base camp you'd expect in an ‘80s kids movie: chaotic, cramped, loud, energetic. This is BrewDog.
It’s cold here. Remote. Nearer to Norway than the lights of London. Everything is overcrowded, piled up high; space is the stuff between everything else and there isn’t much of it. The upright silver torpedoes dominate because there are lots of them – 20, 24, 27, I don’t remember. In the far right corner as you enter is the mash tun and copper, heavy metal is blaring out of a stereo nearby, an assistant brewer is shovelling a mush of used hops. Turn left and the middle of the brewery, hidden in shadow behind a wall of boxes and tanks, is the bottling line, a clanking, chiming, busy unit. Next is packaging with pallets wrapped in black and a mountain range of boxes. The little online shop area takes up the back wall, a few t-shirts, open cases of beer, flat-packed boxes ready to be filled and sent to your house. Then towards the head offices, past a freezer turned to -80C, past a little kitchen and toilet (complete with Kerrang magazine and empty can of Lynx), past a wall of awards and into James and Martin’s office, which is empty apart from two tables, an old armchair, a corner unit and a few bottles. This is BrewDog HQ.
A little later we see the barrel store: “Do you want to see the barrel store?” Martin asks. Of course we do. It’s across the industrial unit, another lock up. Outside are empties, blackened by time, ready to be filled. Martin removes the bung and we dip our noses in. A ghost of the whisky within is like an olfactory echo, the angels share still sloshing around. Inside is like walking into an abandoned gangster movie. Derelict, cold, dark, tripping lights, broken glass, puddles on the floor. The barrels are piled up next to an open unit which feels incomplete without a battered and bloodied guy tied to a chair and facing three bruisers with guns and brick fists. It’s a strange building but made remarkable with a stack of old barrels, faded branding telling you of their past life, chalk-marked telling you of their future life.
To look at the brewery from the sea is to get a new perspective on it. The beach arcs around almost beautifully, a redness to the sand, a darkness to the water. There’s not much around and you realise how far from everything this is. From this side the brewery looks small, like a makeshift castle, like something from a kids’ fantasy story, patchwork and cobbled together. And in many ways it is just that. This place has been built from the imaginations of James and Martin, almost four years of work, quickly adding more and more, expanding until there was nowhere left to expand, no more room for big silver tanks or turrets of orange casks which can’t be built higher. It’s an incredible place.
And it makes you feel like anything is possible. Everything is possible. Less than four years from nothing to this. Another 18 months and it’ll be a new site, a bigger one. Breaking their own records all the time, brewing 24/7 to attempt to keep up with demand, it’s a frantic place, always busy, and over 30 work in the brewery alone, yet it’s like a choreographed routine where everyone knows their own parts as well as everyone else’s. It’s mesmerising to watch, to be a part of, even for just a day.
|Yes, that is an ice cream van.
I like BrewDog. You don’t need me to tell you that. Seeing the brewery, making a beer, hanging out... it’s made me like them a whole lot more, to get a new respect and perspective on what they do and what they’ve done. Could you start a brewery today and then come back in March 2015 and say you will turnover £6million, have a restaurant and three bars, be available around the world, including major UK supermarkets, sending out 8,000,000 bottles of beer a year? It’s awe-inspiring. It’s awesome. And the brewery itself is a mad place, just like you’d expect, never stopping, always busy, filled with energy, controlled in chaos. It’s made me realise and appreciate just how much hard work has gone into it and that’s something you don’t see or hear about very often.
I’m now excited to try the beer we designed and brewed. It’s been lagering for six weeks and it needs some dry-hopping but it should be ready soon. I can’t wait.
|Here I'm teaching Avery about hops. They add bitterness and aroma, I tell him.
This has taken a long time to post because I’ve been writing about it for a magazine and wanted to get that done first, ensuring I didn’t double up on my words or the story. I’ve added some photos to facebook, if you want to see more (again, not all of them, as the best ones went to the magazine).