Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The BrewDog Prototypes 2011

The first time I ever bought beer online was to buy three BrewDog prototypes. I’d only just started this blog. I’d only just discovered BrewDog via a couple of bottles bought from Utobeer. The deal was: three bottles each of three new beers; you buy them, drink them, vote for the best and they make it. Those bottles cost about £6. I ordered them and a few days later a case of beer arrived at the door. Beer being delivered to my house was revolutionary in itself – I can sit at home and beer comes to me – but so were the flavours in those bottles.

There was Zeitgeist, Bad Pixie and Chaos Theory. The best two eventually got made. When I first had Chaos Theory I ‘discovered’ hops. It was rasping, bold, bitter and so full of aroma that it irrevocably changed my drinking. Those three beers and the fact that BrewDog had made them and were asking people to vote for them – that I had some kind of input into the choices made – was exciting, different, cool.

I love BrewDog. They’re at the forefront of a change in British beer. I look out for the new beers with excitement, wondering what’ll come next and how it’ll taste. That excitement is what I love. They also do stupid stuff which I don’t love. Sadly, the stupid has overtaken the exciting. Of all the beers they released in 2011, only one really excited me (apart from Avery Brown Dredge, of course): Sunk Punk. It had story, it was fun, it wasn’t just a beer made for column inches and it wasn’t a middle finger rammed into someone else’s face.

We have this awkward relationship now where I love them but feel constantly disappointed by them. It’s just a brewery so it’s irrational to feel this way but it’s like a first-love kind of thing, and like a lover hooked I still follow them around waiting, hoping, for the good moments to return.

And so when they announced the 2011 prototype challenge I had to get the four beers. It was the thing which got me hooked in the first place. This was a chance to bring it all back again. I get to drink four new beers, I get to taste what 2012 might bring, I get to vote.

Blitz! is 2.8%, made with just caramalt and then lavished with West Coast hops. It’s a dark caramel colour and it’s got this mad, brain-teaser of an aroma which keeps you puzzled throughout: it’s like walking into a cake shop with a sack of open C-hops in the corner - marshmallows, sweet caramel, candy and toast, then tangy American hops, piney and pithy. The bitterness is nicely done, it’s balanced and it’s easy drinking and the body is really good. A 2.8% triumph.

Prototype 17 (4.9%) is a pale ale (Trashy Blonde?) plus Belgian yeast and raspberries. BrewDog like raspberries, don’t they. It smells slightly funky with cloves and berry fruit. There’s not too much going on, which is a shame. The raspberries aren’t big, the yeast detracts rather than adds, the hops seem to have disappeared. Disappointing.

Scotch Ale (7.5%) looks incredible in the glass: a deep red-brown, like embers just about to burn to black. Take a mouthful and it shocks: sweetness, caramel, an over-powering aniseed and liquorice, as if some bastard mate tipped Sambuca into your other-wise delicious beer, then some peat, a medicinal twang and something floral wafting in the background. The body is full which makes it really satisfying to drink but it feels discordant with loads of stuff going on and none of it really coming together.

Hops Kill Nazis (7.8%) is like 5am Saint’s badass bigger brother. Deep red in colour, toffee, flowers, red berries in the nose and a bitterness which builds in the background. It doesn’t taste super-fresh but that’s probably because it isn’t. It’s a fine beer but I expect more from BrewDog when they add lots of hops to things – it’s just a little inelegant.

None of the beers made me jump up and shout wow, which is what I want from BrewDog now. Blitz! is the best and it surprised and teased me in a good way and I like that (so I voted for it), but the other three aren’t beers I’d buy again. But that’s almost not the point. It’s not what I went into it looking for. I went to see if we could work things out.

And we can. These beers are what BrewDog thinks are potentials to add to their range for 2012 and that’s interesting. One is low-ABV, one is all about the malt, one is about the hops and one is about experimenting with what they already have. That’s four beers covering four very different areas and all of them are approachable. They are all probably first-time brews; if brewed again then they’d no doubt improve.

I always look forward to what BrewDog do. With a bar 10 minutes from work, it’s where I’ll drink most in 2012, I’m sure. And in 2012 I’ll be looking at what BrewDog do: how they grow, develop, deal with the challenges they faced this year. With over 6,000 Equity for Punk members they’ve got to think about more than just themselves now. I also hope they make a few new beers which make me go wow and which get me excited. I’m pretty sure they will.


  1. Pretty much what I thought from the bottles, though trying the scotch ale on keg made me pick that as it was less "messy". The Blitz didn't quite have enough body for me. Interestingly in the bars the prototype 17 is now 17.5, not sure what they've done differently...the original batch earlier in the year had much more raspberries in the flavour and was promising. Its 77 lager by the way, with Belgian yeast, heather honey and raspberries.
    I was excited to try hops kill as i love 5am saint, but it was just a bit meh for me

    AB08 is great, definitely one to look out for if you haven't had it yet

  2. Steve, my understanding is the 17.5 was trashy rather than 77.

    And on tap i thought the Scotch was best. Blitz was too thin, i preferred Original nanny state to it

  3. Ha!

    I know exactly what you mean.

    Nice work, nail on the head etc etc etc. x

  4. HKN sounds like my kind of beer - despite the cringeworthy name. Can't believe people voted that in! But it's nice to see a BrewDog post about the beer, for a change. They really need to get 'back on the ball' in 2012 and turn some people's attitudes about them around. Let's hope they can.

  5. I wrote about HKN on keg back here. Definitely a WTF? beer for me, and not in a good way. I've raved about some BD beers, but not for a while.

  6. I remember buying the first prototype case too

    I honestly didn't like the scotch ale, HKN was great but the name is shite.

    Prototype 17 was a poor version of the one they released earlier in the year..no whisky no raspberries..just tasted like a poor lager.

    Blitz was interesting but if im honest i much preferred Adnams low abv one.

    Like most Im sick of the brewdog publicity machine, the tweets, the silly names, dodgy blog posts and the photos all spoil what originally started out as love affair back when i bought my first bottle of punk and the first prototype case.

  7. I don't buy anything from Brewdog anymore as I can't help but think 'twats' when I see their beers.

  8. Hey All,

    thanks for the review Mark - they are prototypes, a chance to taste the first generation of these brews with no refinement. Your comments are very fair and all with definitely go through phase 2 tinkering before any would actually be released.

    In terms of the other points in the blog and the comments, over the last couple of years we have perused an unorthodox strategy of trying to raise our profile by doing things which are often controversial, often edgy and a bit provocative.

    We would have hoped you guys would have been able to see past as the game that it is and also understand the reasons for it. If by pushing the boundaries a little we get more people aware of the craft beer movement, we feel it is a good thing.

    However, what we did not anticipate was that by doing so we would alienate some of the early adopters and main supporters we had. This was the last thing we wanted to do.

    So 2012 is going to see an evolution of BrewDog. Less of a focus on the bizarre and extreme and much more of a focus on ensuring our core range of beers is consistently awesome (we know they have been a little inconsistent at times in 2011 and are working on it) and more of a focus on providing great bars where drinkers can get their paws on a selection of the best craft beers on the planet.

  9. Great to hear James. I'm not fed up with Brewdog, I'm more fed up with hearing people talking about how they're fed up with Brewdog! Look forward to visiting the new brewery when all is up and running. Any more news on AGM yet?

  10. Seem to be in a minority here but the scotch ale was actually my favourite of them all. HKN was good if nothing special, P17 just seemed confused about what it was trying to do and , as for blitz, how about just bringing back nanny state.

    As for my views on Brewdog as a whole, still love them but its time to just stop with some of the stunts and let the beer speak for itself (how about some more paradox soon). Looking forward to spending far too much money in the Newcastle bar when it opens.

  11. 2012 is going to be a bit of an evolution for us. Getting back to basics and ensure people are talking about what is in their glass rather than anything else.

    And you should not take everything we have done over the last couple of years too seriously, we certainly didn't.

  12. Though I'm sure there's an element of 'tongue in cheek' to Brewdogs approach to the industry, which is at times both entertaining and beneficial for promotion of an industry we would all love to see more appreciated, the cause of fustration for myself and others I have spoken to is that the customer or client seems to come second in line to time spent creating wacky headlines or lengthy promos.
    If you have your consistency of supply, consistency of quality, consistency of customer service covered then do as you wish. If you don't, then perhaps time is best spent concentrating on this before someone else comes along (which they will) who does what you do but better.

  13. James - I think we can all agree that what's in the glass matters the most!

  14. Sarah - I agree completely.

    Back to basics for us this year. Our aim is to cause a buzz by how awesome the beers are.

  15. Getting back to basics

    Cask? Please please please go back to cask. You would convert at least one cynical grouchy critic into a massive fan.

    And you should not take everything we have done over the last couple of years too seriously, we certainly didn't.

    We didn't take what you were doing seriously, we just thought you were being tw*ts instead of concentrating on brewing. Glad you've reached a similar conclusion!

  16. Hi Mark,

    I have also just reviewed these four beers over at my blog. I really enjoyed the Hops Kill Nazis one though, but did not care that much for the others.

    The Prototype 17 one tasted (and looked) different from the last time I had it. Do you now if the one you write about in this post is the same recipe as the Prototype 17 that was sold on brewdog.com some months back? If James reads this comment he might answer?

  17. Mark - couldn't agree more with the blog. I love Brewdog to bits, but I don't think this has been a great year for their beer. Delighted to hear James and Co are planning to go back to basics - because, on their day, there is probably no-one better.

  18. Liked Blitz! too when I had it on draught during my review visit to BD Camden. I'm always interested to see what brewers can get out of 2.8%. But it didn't set my world afire. Avery Brown Dredge is a great beer that almost made it to my Top 30 Tastings of 2011, but was squeezed out because there were just too many other good beers to fit in this year.