Pub of the week: BrewDog Bristol

31 10 2012

BrewDog Bristol is the latest opening from the rapidly expanding brewery in Aberdeenshire who make “beer for punks”. Although, on closer examination, it’s a particular type of punk who chooses to drink thirds of ale and eat charcuterie platters in a bar with exposed brickwork and trendy lighting.

These punks are also certainly not Camra, with the brewery and the UK’s biggest real ale advocacy group not on speaking terms after Camra cancelled their bar at last year’s Great British Beer Festival.

This ding-dong goes some way to explaining both BrewDog’s appeal and why there are also many people who take an active dislike to the cocky new kids on the block.

In less than six years, BrewDog have gone from a small outfit founded by two 24-year-olds to creating beers of world record strength and driving a tank through the streets to herald the opening of a new bar, of which Bristol is their ninth.

But is all of this a triumph of marketing over substance or the most significant new bar opening in Bristol this year? I am firmly in the latter camp, and just to be sure of this opinion I could be found at the bar, in a table in one corner and a booth in the other on three nights over the past few days.

The only near equivalent in Bristol to here is Beerd on St Michael’s Hill. Both have a wide selection of beers on tap, and fridges packed with bottles from around the world. You can also choose to have these beers in both establishments served in thirds or two-thirds – the Australian “schooner”. But there the similarities end.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Dead Pony Club, Hardcore IPA, Hello My Name Is Beastie. BrewDog beers don’t just taste damn good, but also have some splendid names.

Dog A is served only in thirds. At 15.1% it must be the strongest beer on tap in Bristol, and at £5.65 a third, definitely the most expensive. Tasting more like port than beer, on Monday night I drunk it with Stichelton blue cheese.

As well as most of their own-brews, guest beers on tap at the moment are  Shakespeare Stout from Rogue Ales in Oregon, Weizenbock from Copenhagen’s Mikkeller and Firestone Walker Union Jack from California.

Fresh from the Wild Beer Co. near Shepton Mallet was all consumed by thirsty customers in the first two days.

The one cider on tap is Sandford Orchards’ Devon Red, and I spotted Laphroaig whisky from Islay in Scotland and The Kraken black spiced rum from the Caribbean.

A selection of Pipers crisps can be seen in a fishing net above the bar, rather like in the Port of Call off Blackboy Hill, while other food includes a cheese and meat board, and cured sausages from Castellano’s of Fishponds.

Where BrewDog can now be found on the corner of Baldwin Street and Welsh Back used to be the Sceptre Tavern, before becoming BJ’s Liquor Emporium and most recently O’Brien’s sandwich shop.

The building is now unrecognisable since those days, with exposed brickwork, metal lamps above the bar and dangling bulbs. Both seats and tables are made out of wood and metal.

Beers are chalked up behind the bar, and in the corner nearest Welsh Back and Bristol Bridge are cartoon chalk drawings of the staff (above), which includes assistant manager Ned, formally landlord at the Portcullis in Clifton and Three Tuns in Hotwells.

BrewDog Bristol will certainly not be to everybody’s tastes. It is loud, brash and uncompromising. But it also has one beer kept behind the bar in a taxidermied squirrel. That might keep Camra out, but there will be plenty of other beer lovers flocking in. Perhaps even a few real life punks.

BrewDog Bristol, 58 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1QW

Twitter: @BrewDogBristol



3 responses

28 11 2012
Tom Gammons

Though I can understand his approach given the lack of column-inches here, I feel the writer of this article has rather glossed-over the reasons why a schism now exists between CamRA and BrewDog. The cause was not simply pettiness of the former’s part by cancelling the latter’s place at the GBBF; the roots of the dispute lie in the fact that BrewDog took an executive decision to only brew their beers for keg dispense, as opposed to cask. While some people don’t wish to distinguish or get ‘hung-up’ on methods of dispense, CamRA at least had to take a stand against this because they advocate consumption of ale in cask format, not keg, primarily on grounds that greater flavour and character can usually be found in the former as it allows the beer to continue fermentation, whereas keg is filtered and often pasteurised, thereby preventing onward development post-brewery. CamRA have, after-all, spent over 40 years campaigning against the scourge of keg!

This isn’t to claim that keg beer always lacks character or flavour in 2012; BrewDog in particular have mastered concoction of ale that clearly packs a punch on both despite coming from keg. This is achievable at the higher-strength, well-defined flavour styles on the beer spectrum. But I would suggest that it is far-less so with weaker or more subtle beers, which tend to flourish best in cask. I have to say that BrewDog’s beers that were available in cask before conversion to universal keg were as good – if not better – in the cask incarnation, and it begs the question, is trying to make kegging ‘trendy’ just a cynical marketing ploy to underwrite producing beer more cheaply (for keg is a cheaper means of production) while conning the public into thinking it is ‘premium’ and so extract an inflated sum from them per pint? I don’t think even the keenest BD fan can rule this out; those boys are smart in business and no mistake.

I don’t mind a spot of CamRA-baiting, and many of us can appreciate why BD were desirous of setting themselves aside from what some perceive as a too-entrenched, backward approach to beer promotion. But I fear that much of their project has in fact been predicated on canny marketing of a keg format which remains less-creditable than cask, while driving up profit and driving down production costs.

I would urge people not to accept (fall for?) it without considering this and deciding where they stand first. If you don’t mind, are curious, like the other aspects of the BD bar concept, or actually prefer their keg products to other brewers’ cask options – possibly because you just really love super-strength beers – then enjoy the new bar in Bristol. I have no doubt it will be a roaring success despite what I’ve said above.

28 11 2012

It always amazes me how much people get hung up on the way the beer is dispensed. Surely what matters the most is how it tastes. I watch CAMRA members swill down flavourless piss water and champion it because it’s stored in a cask, but shun new exciting beer simply because it comes in a keg.

CAMRA was set up to combat the huge macro breweries who where pumping vile cheap lagers down the throats of the masses, they wanted to champion small breweries who made something different and unique, and yet they turn on BD who have really made a go of it. They haven’t evolved with the market, and remain stuck in the 80’s with their views on kegged beer. Kegged beer isn’t some trendy fad, it’s not the anti-christ, it hasn’t come back to stab cask beers with a dull knife, it’s simply a way some brewers wish to dispense their brews, should these brewers be demonized because of this despite making good beer?

In my opinion CAMRA need to grow the fuck up. They expect a discount in pubs? Shouldn’t they actually pay more for their beer to help the little brewers they claim to love so much, not less. They’re views are as old as their sweaters, they are alienating the younger population of beer drinkers with their closed minded, head in the sand thinking on what beer should be. Beer from a cask doesn’t taste better, nor does beer from a keg. Good beer tastes good, crap beer tastes crap. The beer should be what they care about, not the bloody container. My only hope is that at some point in the very near future the the CAMRA old guard will all start popping their clogs from a mixture of age and heart failure brought on by the stress of some young whipper snappers put their beer in kegs, and a new open minded CAMRA will spring from the ashes and achieve some real good in the industry.

3 12 2012

very well said

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