BrewDog and the Fight for Supremacy
With the speed of lightning and the power of dynamite, James Watt and Martin Dickie blasted onto the beer scene in Fraserburgh, Scotland in 2007. Their mission, in the beginning, was to squelch the boredom created by macro lagers and “stuffy” English ales, as they explained it – to add some zing and excitement to the beer world in the UK. They were going ballistic, perhaps not in the wee hours of launch; but it took only three years to initiate a war for supremacy in the world of high alcohol beers.
Claiming to be Scotland’s largest independent brewery, BrewDog creates beers that, in the USA, would be aligned with the Extreme beermakers. Watt and Dickie like to call them “classic styles with a contemporary twist.” But a horse of a different color is still a horse, and BrewDog beers are as extreme as any brewed in the world.
They make some massively award winning beers. Hardcore IPA seized Gold at the 2010 World Beer Cup in the Imperial IPA Category and Silver in the 2011 Copa Cervezas de America. Paradox Grain Imperial Stout, aged in American bourbon whiskey casks, won a Gold Medal at the 2008 World Beer Cup in the Wood and Barrel-aged Strong Beer Category, while Punk IPA won Bronze in the International Pale Ale Category. At the 2007 World Beer Awards, BrewDog Rip Tide won World’s Best Imperial Stout, and The Physics won World’s Best Strong Pale Ale. In 2008, the fast-and-furious brewers of BrewDog won the 2008 Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
With such a surge of success, why wouldn’t these free-wheeling brewers shoot for the moon? On their state-of-the-art brewing system of 50 Hl brewing tanks and 2300 Hl fermentation tanks, the BrewDog team is slamming out beers like Trashy Blonde, using American Amarillo, Simcoe and Moteuka hops and a triple dash of select malts to produce flavors of biscuit, kiwi, tropical fruit, and passion fruit. 5 a.m. Saint gets a late hop addition of Nelson Sauvin and Amarillo hops, followed by a dry hop treatment of Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial, Ahtanum, and Nelson Sauvin. Punk IPA claims to be “the fastest growing alternative beer brand in the UK,” with its healthy dose of New Zealand hops and a finish of lasting bitterness and warmth in the throat.
How did it start? Prior to the opening of BrewDog, James Watt and Martin Dickie had met Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, the world’s leading authority on beer, in London. Watt asked the Bard of Beer to taste their beer – a beer that would eventually be called Paradox. “Quit your jobs and start making beer,” he exclaimed, giving fuel to their already-burning desire to go-professional. They selected hops that were more punchy, more dynamic, and more exciting in character. They stayed “outside-the-box” – in fact, there was no box.
Toward the end of their second year, they began a crusade to break the record for ABV in beer, while still crafting a tasty brew. Tactical Nuclear Penguin was their first in a set of highly-charged beers. They began with a complex malt bill: Maris Otter, Dark Crystal, Caramel, Chocolate Malt and roasted Barley, slammed it with Galena and Bramling Cross hops, and double barrel-aged it for 14 months in dark Scottish whisky casks. They set their sights on brewing an über Imperial Stout with the highest alcohol content in the world. It was frozen; then frozen again; and frozen again. They proposed the silly idea that it was “frozen by penguins…” - James, as the Emperor Penguin and Martin, the Assistant to the Emperor Penguin. The result was a beer of 32% ABV.
Not long after, Schorschbraeu of Germany brewed a 39.44% ABV beer, knocking them out of the top spot. Not to be outdone, BrewDog then released Sink the Bismark, a quadruple IPA, weighing in at 41% ABV. It had four times the malt and 4 times the hops, added in the kettle, dry hopped, and freeze hopped. It was frozen four times. It has flavors of fruit, pine resin and spice; yet, it is smooth on the tongue with malty, honey-like flavors and an oily feel from the high level of hop oils, with long-lasting bitterness and warmth. There is no head, but long legs linger on the side of the glass.
The next challenge was one made against their own record – creating a beer with 55% ABV. This was the ultimate challenge, and they called it “The End of History,” taken from the book “The End of History and the Last Man” written by Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, political economist and Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford. BrewDog’s intent was to make this “the last in a series of high strength beers.” This Belgian Blonde Ale, aromatized with nettles from the Scottish Highlands and juniper berries, has soft hints of spice, orange, and American hops in a whisky-like base. Only 12 bottles were made, but this is where the story becomes more bizarre.
Watts’ girlfriend had kids and a loving dad who doted on his grandchildren. About the time that The End of History was being brewed, the granddad hit a white stoat with his car and thought it would make an interesting show-and-tell for the children. He brought it home and put it in the freezer, where his daughter and Watts were startled upon opening the icy box. With quick recognition of an opportunity, Watts called a taxidermist. He reasoned:
(Taxidermy = art) + (Beer = art) = a way to salvage road-kill + showcase 2 unconventional art forms
BrewDog packaged The End of History in a limited-edition of 12 bottles, every one covered in road-kill that was beautiful and unique. Each sold for ₤500-700, with a certificate of authenticity. In less than 24 hours they were sold out. The 12 bottles included four grey squirrels, 7 stoats (weasels) and 1 hare, and were purchased by consumers in the USA, Canada, Italy, Denmark, Scotland, and England. One consumer, Blake Coleman, bought his collector’s item mainly for its taxidermic appeal, although the craft beer aspect appealed to his enthusiasm for fine brews.
Advocates for Animals in the UK protested that such use was “degrading” to an animal. But in my mind, preserving road-kill as a work of art surrounding BrewDog’s work of art is the highest form of flattery.
Feeling inspired? Brew your own:
Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit (K6) with 6 Gallon Glass Carboy
Don't forget the glasswear:
Libbey 12-Piece International Beer Glasses Set
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