With the Schools out for Summer and A level results received last week, this time of year is for celebrations and planning for the future. My school days are a distant memory but not wanting to be left behind, and being a keen supporter of life time learning, I leapt at the opportunity to attend “Beer School” at Brewdog Brighton.
If you are not aware of Brewdog where have you been? Since their creation back in 2007 this Scottish craft beer company has been at the forefront of the UK craft beer industry. Started in a small town called Fraserburgh by lifelong friends Martin Dickie and James Watt, Brewdog wanted to shake up the beer world – not literally.
Brewdog’s mission is to make other people as passionate about craft beer as they are. What started as two blokes and a dog has grown into a global brand with 44 bars across the UK and beyond, their mission appears to be working.
Beer school at Brewdog in Brighton offers groups the chance to experience first hand that passion for craft beer that runs through the Brewdog brand. Not only do you learn about the brewing process and ethos behind the craft beer movement but also how to taste craft beer and get the best out of it.
When it comes to beer I would not claim to be an expert, although you could say I am a graduate of the University of life on the subject, and so I was intrigued to learn more. I was also interested in hearing about Brewdog as I had heard lots of mixed opinions and press about the company.
I was greeted by Alex, my host and teacher for the evening, and quickly tucked into a pint of Punk IPA which was freshly kegged. Alex tells me that one of the reasons for opening their own bars was to ensure that Brewdog beer would be served at its absolute best. I have to say it was one of the most refreshing pints of Punk I’d had and was actually slightly mellower than I’d previously experienced. I could really taste the freshness and complexity in the beer compared to when I’ve purchased it bottled or canned.
I’m told this is because they can control how it is stored and kept whereas supermarkets and other pubs might not always have the same quality controls in place. This is something that we discuss further and Alex tells me that Brewdog place quality and consistency at the centre of their production. Throughout the brewing process their beer is subjected to rigorous laboratory testing and if it does not meet their standards it doesn’t leave the brewery, well not for public consumption anyway.
After watching some videos about the company and the brewing process we get started with the tasting. I appreciate that a beer tasting might sound a little ridiculous to some, however, craft beers can really rival wines in terms of depth and complexity. Understanding how to fully experience the beer is vital in appreciating the work that has gone into it, and a lot of effort does go into every one.
We start with “Jet Black Heart”, a milk stout that is as dark as its name suggests. Checking the aroma first I pick up woody notes with a bitter smoked coffee edge. When tasted these flavours continue with a creamy yet dry and bitter finish.
Next up is a Belgian fruit beer which takes me by surprise. I was expecting a red beer along the lines of Kriek or Fruli but this is totally different. It has a powerful aroma of passionfruit and reminds me of Rubicon juice. I’m therefore expecting a very sickly sweet mouth feel but instead it is very dry hopped and reminiscent of a pilsner style beer. It is a really accomplished and delicious beer.
Next up is another dark beer this time one that is aged in whisky barrels. “Bourbon Baby” as you can imagine is a beer with a strong whisky undertone, think vanilla and dried fruits. It has a very interesting taste and weirdly reminds me of Malibu and coke, not that I’ve drank that in a long time I might add.
Brewdog is not only about beer as they also serve food and so we take a break from the tasting to sample some of the menu. As you would expect the food is mainly burgers, wings and hot dogs with a healthy amount of veggie options. I try the Korean chicken wings which are sweet, spicy and tangy with a crisp coating and a blue cheese dip accompanies them. I also try the veggie dog which is surprisingly similar to a meat frankfurter and the seitan burger which is another veggie option. Compared to the beer the food pales in comparison but it fits the brief for a beer focussed bar.
The final three beers start with the impressively hoppy and potent “Jackhammer” IPA. Coming in at 7.2% you can see where it gets its name from and it doesn’t hold back. Jackhammer posses the usual grapefruit notes that you often get with craft IPA’s but there is a much more grown up malty bitterness to it that comes with the strength. I like this beer a lot.
Our penultimate beer is something very new and different in Brewdog’s arsenal. “Live Dead Pony Club” is a craft beer that is based on a real ale tradition. Conditioned in the keg with live yeast it is a light session ale which comes in at just 3.8%. I am a real ale fan and this beer really does resemble a light summer ale with a smooth mouth feel and gentle hoppy aroma. If you are taking your ale drinking Dad down to Brewdog and he turns his nose up at all this “modern rubbish” stick a pint of this under his upturned appendage and see what he makes of it.
We finish on something rather special, “Barrel Aged Albino Squid Assassin”. Despite the somewhat ridiculous name this is a very serious beer that is only produced in small batches. It starts as a rye IPA and then spends six months in rye whisky barrels giving it a deep and complex finish. It tastes a lot like Christmas with dried fruits, rum and liquorice flavours coming to the fore. Definitely one to enjoy next to a roaring fire with your feet up, and at 9.2% you would probably end up having a nap afterwards.
I leave Brewdog with a much more informed view of the company and their beers. They often receive a lot of negative press as a result of their somewhat “in your face” marketing techniques and aggressive self promotion. From speaking to their staff they are a company that really looks after the people that work for them, investing in training and offering very generous benefits. They also reinvest in the industry as a whole offering start up support to new brewers and featuring guest beers in their pubs.
Whether you are already a craft beer convert or completely new to this movement it is hard not to admire what Brewdog have achieved. Brighton has a strong craft beer community and Brewdog are a big part of that. The pub has a fantastic choice of beers and whilst they may be expensive compared to standard ales and lagers that is because a lot of care and attention has gone into producing them. The Beer School experience is a fantastic way to understand more about craft beer whether you are a complete newbie or already an armchair aficionado. Craft beer is not just for hipsters and beer snobs it is for everyone, and Brewdog are spearheading the campaign to spread that message.
52-54 Grand Parade, Brighton, BN2 9QA
t: 01273 691 919
This review first appeared in the August 26th edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent. I was asked to review and the food and drink was complementary, my opinions were in no way affected by this.