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.