Some Thoughts on Brew Dogs

Eno Sarris, October 10, 2013

James Watt and Martin Dickie of BrewDog are punks. They'll agree themselves. Their break into the UK scene was three-fold -- the popularity of the Punk IPA, the innovative business model called Equity for Punks that allowed people to buy shares in the company, and the fact they have thrice brewed the strongest beer in the world (most recentl with, as they put it, "a 55% beer ... packed it in road kill making it the world's most expensive beer ever as we fused art, craft beer and taxidermy"). That sounds punk-like.

Now they've got a show on Esquire that travels the country with three missions. These missions are flawed, and yet beautiful. Maybe like punks.

The first mission is to convert a million craft brew heads. We can all get behind a mission like that. Craft beer is much more interesting than big beer. The two punks do it by accosting random people in the street and making them taste beer. Maybe accosting is harsh, they people seem to enjoy it. And free beer is free beer. But, from the standpoint of a viewer, there's little to be gained during these segments aside from the occasional snicker or awkward moment. (They steal beers from a couple at one point, even.)

The second mission is to learn more about a market and their beers. The two travel to different breweries in each area, and rank their top five. In San Francisco, they went with 1) 21st Amendment; 2) Drake's Brewing; 3) Magnolia; 4) Pacific Brewing Labratory; and 5) Speakeasy. If you take Anchor Steam out of our rankings on the site here, you pretty much get the same results... with one major missing brewery. Almanac, and especially their sours, seem to have gotten short shrift here. But that's picking the nits, perhaps. At least they went to City Beer Store.  And Almanac got a shout-out there.

The third mission is to brew a beer that is unique to the market. And this is where the show gets strange. In San Franscisco, the two go to a tea place for 20-year-old aged tea. They go to a fortune cookie factory. They collect fog in Marin. They make an open-air fermenter to give a nod in Anchor Steam's direction. They turn the beer back into fog when they serve it.

On some level, this is fun. On another level, it's completely ridiculous. Not only do we not get to taste any of these bizarre beers they are fermenting -- so we have no idea if these beers are any good -- but the gas pedal is all the way down. When they go to Seattle, they don't make a coffee stout, they make The Most Caffeinated Beer On The Planet. If these beers went on the market, we couldn't afford them.

Is this what we want from our craft beer? The Most Mostest of the Most? Every dial up to eleven? The strongest beer ever, the most expensive beer ever, the most caffeinated beer ever, the most foggiest beer ever... It's a bit exhausting.

It's a great show. These punks even teach you things about brewing. They make sure to talk about the history of an area. They rank the best beer bars in each market (though Zeitgeist would not get my number one ranking in San Francisco). You get to dream on beer pairings with food, and with beers you might brew when you get your homebrew system back up and running.

But maybe you won't be brewing up a beer that's 55% alcohol when you do.