Sunday, 21 February 2010

Freddie Starr drank my Bismarck!

Ok, he didn't (nor, apparently - and much to my disappointment, did the erstwhile Saturday night TV star chomp on a rodent). But the five-month incubation and subsequent naming of BrewDog's latest publicity stunt brewing innovation, the 41%, freeze-concentrated hop leviathan Sink the Bismarck!, seems to be equal in its attempt to catch the eye as the infamous tabloid headline.

This 'quadruple IPA', currently the strongest beer by ABV in the world, has been named in response to Schorschbräu's recent 40% bock, which itself - albeit briefly - took the wor
ld record from BrewDog's own 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin. All of which screams 'Gotcha!'

The online debate over the choice to name a beer after an event that saw some 2,000 lose their lives has
been all too Manichean in character, overly polarised between those who see the name as a total disgrace traducing the memory of the fallen and those who see it as 'a bit of a laugh'. For my part, I think it's dreadfully silly. I'm less offended, to be honest, by the connection to the deaths of drafted sailors than the implication given by the naming of the beer in the here and now that we can still only see rivalry with Germans through the prism of the war. At least, given BrewDog is a Scottish enterprise, we are collectively saved the indignity of MD James Watt screeching 'one World Cup and two World Wars, doo-dah, doo-dah...'

If Stella is 'wife beater', Sink the Bismarck! is evidently 'Sun reader' - and I'm enough of a liberal lefty to wince at that.

'And so to beer,' as Pepys would no doubt have put it. The seventeenth cent
ury diarist would have approved of BrewDog's excellent choice of the Rake to launch STB! last Friday, given as he was to drinking in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral himself ('Lo, I spake to Lizzie, how many drames of thee Bismark have I hadde? Is it mee or does the Citee fire still grow?' - 2 September 1666.)

Up we trotted to
the first floor of this fine establishment, my wife Claire and I in the first of several groups to get to taste the furore. The session began very well, with the formal unveiling of the tweaked Hardcore IPA, itself lifted in ABV to 9.2% from 9.0%. It is a splendid beer and this reboot surely wins it the accolade of the most delicious US double-IPA-style beer brewed in the UK. The hops remain warming and multi-layered but the malt balance is notably thicker (the beer is darker than its ancestor) and has a solid working relationship with the booze to usher the intense bitterness through without the drinker wishing to give up and swig some water by way of respite.

Tokyo* was up next. I've tweeted about this 18.2% imperial stout before - unflatteringly, I have to say. Claire and I settled on a description of it as 'like burned plastic blended with candy sugar.' 'Nuff said.

STB! It arrived, as one would fully expect - Alcohol Fuckwits Focus Scotland take note - in a spirit measure and was met with reverent hush by the fan boys and gals, all forcing their beaks down into the glass to get a first wave of what this might actually be like. It smells very fresh, like a dewy meadow but with a pine-meets-citrus backbone. The look is pale and oily; this is not deceptive, as a sip is seriously viscous. The first wave is a hop hurricane, but the sweet, golden-syrup body carries it. The bum note for me was that to support that intense, take-your-breath-away bitterness clearly required the beer to have a Geoff Capes-esque body. This, in turn - and unexpectedly - neutralises the taste of much of the massive alcohol content, which I would want to burn away at the richness of the beast.

It's an intriguing beer, one that seriously and sensationally tests the boundaries of beer production, but I do not rate it as an out-and-out taste success. I wonder what a few drops of water would do to it (as this can open up a rich malt whisky), but at £40 per bottle, I suspect my first port of call would be a bottle of rich malt whisky. There is one final problem; as Hopdaemon brewer and fellow blogger Pete Brissenden has so succinctly put it:
'one of the main things I struggle with BrewDog's new Sink! beer is that I can't really ever imagine a time or place I would really want to drink it.'

Introducing STB!, James Watt failed to convince even his biggest fans with a faux-naïve ejaculation that '...we weren't expecting such controversy.' This was greeted, rightly, with cynical laughter. It's one thing to go, as Alan Partridge would put it, 'balls out of the bath' to whip up interest, but to knock on the door and run away impresses no-one.

It is difficult to talk about BrewDog without getting sucked into the vortex of their PR agenda, but talk about them we do and the reason for that is the beer. Punk IPA astounded when it hit the market and on cask is one of the very finest beers you will ever taste. BrewDog's brashness grates when it misses the mark but even their efforts here will surely persuade other UK brewers to rethink how they get themselves to market; many make superb concoctions and then issue a pumpclip of a thong-wearing Princess Zelda to flog 'em. Any effort to break out of this ad paradigm can only be welcomed.

Watt says 2010 is 'all about the beer' for BrewDog. Let's hope so - if as much effort goes into a 4-7% ale as went into STB!, craft beer fans up and down the land w
ould have much to cheer.

I'd very much like to thank BrewDog and the Rake for hosting what was a most enjoyable event. The Rake has been my spiritual home of late and should be recognised not only for its splendid beer evangelism but also the strides it has made in recognition of suggestions made by its patrons to offer a more friendly face to the world. Duly noted and appreciated.


Paul Garrard said...

I have been quite an admirer of Brewdog and their beer when I've had an opportunity to try it. Their PR is first class. But you do have to ask what is the point of this latest nonsense. For me one of the joys of beer is being able to sup good measures. You can hardly do that with beer this strong.

Tandleman said...

I just wish they'd concentrate on the quality of their beers more. The cask 5 am Saint I had recently tasted like they just tipped a lot of bottles into a cask. Thin and disappointing. It is hard not to be sucked into their publicity vortex though.

They oddly enough never invite me to their bashes. I might become a convert, but maybe preaching to the converted is more of their thing? (I am keen on their cask offerings, but they are somewhat rare in the free trade)

I'm in London next week and will try the Rake again and see if I'm impressed, even though you do need a bank loan to sup there.

Woolpack Dave said...

I'm waiting to try the beer before I form any further opinions.

jesusjohn said...

'maybe preaching to the converted is more of their thing?'

...I assure you I was not invited - the event was free to all-comers, though I was made aware of it via twitter.

I had a rather uninspiring bottle of the Physics a month or so ago - this off the back of my raving about it on cask at Holborn's Ye Olde Mitre.

Tandleman - you're not the only one to have commented on the mercurial nature of the beers' quality (indeed, James Watt said on Friday they've been grappling with quality issues). I hope it is now sorted - the Hardcore IPA is certainly on fine form at the mo.

I agree the Rake is expensive, but with one caveat - if you stray into the rarer beers. A pint of cask ale (usually impeccably chosen) is usually around the £3.00-mark - utterly average for the area, if painful in itself. Admittedly, a pint of Goose Island IPA will set you back the best part of £6.00 - but where else can you try it on keg?

Remember - I say this as a former critic of the place. Though I feel you might prefer Cask in Pimlico. Boak & Bailey have waxed lyrical about the place - and with good reason, as I found on Saturday.

Tandleman said...

"Admittedly, a pint of Goose Island IPA will set you back the best part of £6.00 - but where else can you try it on keg?"

Chicago? I'm going there in April, so no need to get it from the Rake.

I must try Cask - need to find out where Pimlico is first though!

Cooking Lager said...

Put more pictures of your missus on the blog. She's quite tasty.

jesusjohn said...

@ Tandleman - it's on the Victoria line, so very easy direct from Euston, where I assume you'd be coming in. I'll do a post on it soon as it really is worth a mention. They have three Thornbridge beers on cask regularly - a definite rarity down these parts.

@ Cookie - there's nothing I can say that will reflect well on me in response to that, from both of us.

Tandleman said...

Tower Hill or Aldgate, so yes, straightforward. I usually have a wander while my lass is out working. Or I might take her there at the weekend.

jesusjohn said...

It's a lovely neighbourhood and a delightful interior (there's what seems like a good German beer selection, though if you do pop in there I'd be grateful for your casting an eye over it and reporting back)- so well worth an excursion à deux. Food terrific.

"Eddie Rowles" said...

Although the Cask is closer to Pimlico station, it's often easier to just walk from Victoria station - especially if you're changing to the Victoria line there.

I've been a critic of the Rake in the past - I was there earlier in the week and they seem to have removed some of the sour-faced staff but the bottles of stout and porter still seem to be chilled to death in the freezer cabinet...