Let’s face it—we all love the Scottish. Their attitude, their accent, their sheer non-Britishness. Can’t get enough of it.
That was pretty much just for my wife, by the way. She’s a big fan.
Anyhoo, as much as I love my Brit and Irish beers, I’ll admit to having become a bit bored with them. Not Guinness of course; no, I’ll never grow tired of pints. But I’ve done the Fuller’s and Tanner Jack’s and Boddington’s and Harp’s and Bass’s and Smithwick’s. They’re good beers, but there’s so much more happening here in the States and all over the world. I just don’t have the schedule to fit them in. Enter Scotland’s Brewdog Brewery: An upstart operation opened in 2007 by two then 24-year-olds. What Brewdog has going for it is its Punk DIY ethic—bored with an anemic beer scene letting the world pass it by? Make your own goddamn ‘extreme’ beer!
The philosophy has served them well. In less than three years Brewdog has managed to garner so much attention to itself that Beer Geeks all over the U.S. are clamoring for their stuff, and getting it. From the always entertaining screeds written across their labels to their recent brewing of the world strongest beer (the 32% ABV Tactical Nuclear Penguin) Brewdog has demanded a seat at the Big Beer Table, and gotten it. The first tale I read of them is still my favorite: When stuffy old UK officials tried to ban their Toyko* Oak-Aged Stout (at the time Britain’s strongest beer at 18% ABV), the boys responded with a beer called Nanny State. Nanny State is an ‘Imperial Mild’, with an ABV of 1.1% (!) and a “theoretical IBU” of 225 (!!). The kicker? The alcohol was low enough that Nanny State couldn’t be considered beer and could avoid the beer tax. Genius.
Distribution first started here in the DMV around fall of last year, with demand growing with each new gullet defiled by Brewdog’s mad science. I finally got around to snagging a couple bottles last week to see for myself what the fuss is all about. I unsheathed my trusty Sam Adams glass and went to work…
First up was Hardcore IPA. Hopped and dry-hopped with authority, Hardcore clocks in at 9% ABV and 150 IBU. The nose was focused, not nearly as piney as you might expect from a beer with this kind of insane hop level. It was still nice though, cutting like a martini with just the right streak of olive brine or an espresso first thing in the morning. It woke up the palate and got it ready to go; in its purposefulness it’s one of the more brilliant aromas I’ve encountered on a beer in some time.
The first sip is bracing, sharp and intense without killing the taste buds. It definitely leans more toward the earthy style of IPA in the vein of Stone Ruination, Moylan Hopsickle or Oskar Blues Gordon. There isn’t much of a sense of maltiness there, but there isn’t an big frutiness to the hop either. The same way a great cheddar can be robust and earthy but sharp as hell down the middle, Hardcore IPA finds not necessarily a balance, but each element has a purpose with everything coming together in the end. It’s kind of like The Raconteurs: You’re not getting all the Jack White you’d get at a Stripes show, but you’re getting a lot of him with a solid full band backing him.
Next up was Storm. Storm is an IPA aged in islay whiskey casks. Those of you who know me know I love Scotch.
So, anyway—Scotch. Love it. Brewdog takes a fruitier IPA and ages it in these Scotch casks for about 3-4 months and out it comes. I guess the boys can explain it better:
Now, you want to talk about a nose…man, this is unique stuff. The peat and whiskey notes are intense, dominant even. I’ll go along with the video and say I picked up a whiff of sea air as well. It smells like that last glass of Scotch before calling it a night. You know the one: the one you shouldn’t have poured for yourself in the first place. The one that takes forever to finish, and by the time you get near the end most of the ice cube has melted. The aroma isn’t near as strong as when you first poured it, but somehow it’s more complex now.
The palate is fascinating. Hops are present but serve to tone the Scotch notes down a bit, which helps make it a bit more approachable. My wife didn’t shy away from it and usually she can’t even smell whiskey without making a face. This really is the truest melding I’ve seen yet from a beer aged in cask. It’s like one long slug of ‘I’m done for the day, who wants to play cards?’. If Don Draper drank beer, this would be for him. Firm palate, great Scotch notes, long complex finish. Good stuff.
Hardcore IPA—Highly Recommended
Storm IPA—Recommended for the adventurous type; Highly Recommended for whiskey fans.
I hope you keep an eye out for Brewdog beers; they’re more than worth a try. Until next time, remember: Scotch is a drink; Scottish are a people.