Saturday 14 November 2009

BrewDog In New York: Epilogue

So, in the last thrilling instalment, BrewDog were featuring in a Wednesday night beer event at the Blind Tiger in New York, which, since I didn't already mention it, is my favourite NYC drinking hole.

I did some asking around, and had a BA secret shopper on the ground. First, from a BT insider...
I think that kind of extreme movement is always fun and jazzy, but what ends up really playing through is the quality, which Brew Dog does have. It is not just big beers for the sake of big beers - there is a real foundation there - heck, the black lager was a hit. That said, at the price point, most of the beers are special adventures for most patrons... some are solid beers with great stories, while others are new dynamics of classic styles.
Looking back over the BT Wednesday events in 2009, I think this is only the second time a European brewer has had a dedicated event. From the comments I picked up, it seems beers like Atlantic IPA got enough attention that the Tiger were keen to give them a play. They also have an importer and distributor network working for them. In NYC, its the same people who distribute Budweiser from AB-Inbev.

So, bars who want to sell BrewDog have some infrastructure to work with. What about the view from the other side of the bar? My man on the ground had a slightly different perspective:
Got [to BT] late, like 7:30. Place wasn't packed like some brewers can accomplish.

The regular Smokehead Imperial Stout fooled me. I got a taste, knowing it could suck, but the tiny sip was ok enough that I got a glass... All plastic and baby diaper.

So the Punk IPA can't suck, right? Wrong. Thin, one-note, no malt to speak of. Got a little better by the time it warmed up to room temp. Still shite.

The Zeitgeist Schwarzbier was appropriately roasty. However, it was inappropriately diacetyl-y. Fortunately, not so laden that it was undrinkable. I'd give it the "gentleman's Meh".

This was the most disappointing "event" this year at the Blind Tiger since Kuhnhenn.
This isn't the exception. US beer drinkers on one forum I read are still leery of BrewDog, especially since the beers are priced at a premium. One noted that "bad reviews across the board = avoid, esp considering they aren't cheap". Atlantic IPA was on sale at the Tiger for $40 a bottle. Unbelievable for a beer that sells at The Rake in London for £12, even through the US distribution system BrewDog says tripped them up when they first started shipping Stateside.

There's a piece about the brewery from last weekends' Sunday Times. It seems their new 'A' shareholders are on-board to help with breaking the US market. I wonder though, while problems of pricing and quality scare beer drinkers off and BrewDog don't have an Aunt Sally to shy at like they do here (all other 'boring' microbrewers, CAMRA, Portman Group) to differentiate their brand, how do they fix this?

I might be inferring a lot from one night in one bar in one city. However, it seems to me that at some point BrewDog will have to abandon their po-mo pranksterism and concentrate on brewing consistent, quality beers for all their markets.

BrewDog will be at LoveBeer@Borough next Saturday, 21st November, for another 'Meet The Brewer' event. Tickets are selling fast, so they tell me...

Wednesday 11 November 2009

New York, New York - If BrewDog Can Make It There..?

A lot has been written about BrewDog over the past few days and weeks. The equityforpunks announcement and then the revelation (press release?) that they themselves made a complaint to The Portman Group about Tokyo* has garnered them a lot of attention, mostly unfriendly.

Another big day looms up today. New York City beer bar, the Blind Tiger, is hosting a BrewDog night. This extract from co-owner Alan Jestice's email, sets the scene...

Now we have all heard the hype but it is time to walk the walk with Brew Dog. This cutting edge Scottish brewery is a true member of the craft beer movement. We are lucky enough at the Tiger to have a handful of their kegs (and casks), to let you all join in this Scottish revolution.

Join us this Wednesday Nov. 11th at 4:00PM, as we host Brew Dog at the Blind Tiger.

The brewer also featured at the recent third anniversary weekend at Hamilton's Tavern in San Diego, with casks of Hardcore and Smokehead, and the 'other' keg of Tokyo* (renamed 'Tokio' for the US) on offer.

James Watt recently gave an interview to US-based beer website Apart from the comments about the UK craft scene and CAMRA (presumably offered for less well-informed US consumer digestion), he is quite candid in responding to questioning about prices and quality of BrewDog beers in the US. So, my question is this. Is this a relaunch of the brand to recover ground lost due to high price and poor beer? Or part of a business plan to launch draft BrewDog and get on the fonts of influential beer outlets across the 25 states their beer is available?

A look around beer rating websites suggests the former and indicates the extent of the problem with price and quality. The $30-35 price point for Atlantic IPA, though extreme, is mocked, while $12-14 for Punk wasn't uncommon. Meanwhile, many craft beer lovers appear from anecdotal evidence to be gunshy of the brand after paying over the odds one too many times for beer in deteriorated or less-than-ideal condition. It's a price-sensitive market and they question why they should pay for the label if they can drink better from local brewers.

A glance at the equityforpunks prospectus shows the importance of this market to BrewDog in terms of sales, with about a fifth to a quarter of their business coming from here, and with their professed ethos and inspiration tying them so closely to the US craft beer scene, I wonder if, as Alan Jestice remarks, their beer will indeed "walk the walk". Or, will the brand sink beneath the gaze of smart and savvy craft beer lovers who can pick and choose from a remarkable choice of American-made brew?

My spies on the ground will hopefully have some feedback in the next day or so...

Monday 9 November 2009

From The Times* Letter Pages...

Glyn Roberts, estimable manager of the globally-famous Rake at Borough Market, has reported on the 1st Utobeer Awards at his blog. A correspondent writes...

I have just read with interest the results of the First Utobeer Awards, and notice the omission of a key staff member. Mr Glyn Roberts was not in receipt of an award despite attending the lavish ceremony. Was this an oversight? I had heard that the Victor Meldrew Award was scheduled to be awarded at this event. I trust this was omitted from the list in error and will be corrected forthwith.

I remain, your servant etc etc

*By Times, I am not, of course referring to the London Times owned by News International. As far as you know.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Strange, But Probably True...

1. George Formby invented the guitar solo.

Watch his films, and there's always a little banjo solo when he sings. You could quibble and point out he's not playing a guitar but it was the War, Britain ran on coal and Fender Stratocasters were rationed.

If you have evidence to the contrary, please post it here...