Sunday 24 May 2015

BrewDog Born To Die 04.07.2015

My last post covered something I called the IPA/DIPA "conundrum" - the challenge of brewing those styles consistently, year round, in light of the increasingly hard to come by hops. While Stone and Lagunitas are in a position to overcome that challenge, there a few breweries this side of the pond who can afford that luxury. The one obvious exception is BrewDog, who are rumoured to have very substantial contracts for Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin - hops that feature heavily in their core range, which is being brewed in increasingly larger volumes as they continue expand at an astounding rate.

BrewDog of course already brew a number of IPAs, with flagship brew Punk IPA forming part of their "headliner" core range and the delicious (and personal go-to) Jackhammer being joined by Hardcore IPA in their "amplified" range. They also have an annual series called IPA is Dead that explores hops from around the world by taking the same base beer and using a different single variety in each brew. More recently, their Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents tackled the pale and dry end of the DIPA spectrum - the opposite end to where I'd put Hardcore IPA, which has a substantial malt body to counter the hops. Restorative was a fantastic brew and perhaps a pre-cursor, or the brewing equivalent of a beta release for their latest take on this style, Born To Die.

Born To Die takes an idea pioneered by Stone's Enjoy By, in that it is labelled and marketed to be enjoyed immediately - as fresh as possible - with a marked date indicating when it will turn into a beery pumpkin, or at least when it will start to decline in terms of freshness. The short shelf-life date is a statement and I believe the first such release in Europe. While it might pose a risk for retailers, that's more than likely offset by demand for such releases being high. Indeed, this is already one of BrewDog's fastest selling beers ever.

So, what's it like? As it pours into the glass, the first observation is it's super pale with a colour similar to a lager. The grist is made up of Extra Pale, Pale and Maris Otter - no specialty malts. That's where the similarity to lager ends, though. On the nose I find the melon and citrus notes of Mosaic dominating with some mango and 'cattiness' lurking behind. On the palate, it's all about the hop flavour. With no discernible malt body to counter, the bitterness has been kept relatively low (or at least that was my perception) which allows the flavours to shine through. More melon and tropical fruits come to the fore before the rasping dry finish kicks in, the effect of which makes this a beer that's hard to put down despite its weighty 8.5% ABV. This release is hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra and Mosaic, which play together very well even though the Mosaic and Citra perhaps shine through the most. I'm not sure if BrewDog will rotate the hops with each release - as Stone does with Enjoy By - but even if they don't, the recipe as it stands makes for a fantastic beer and one I will certainly go back to again and again.

Disclosure: This bottle (and glass) were sent to me by BrewDog but I don't think that affected my opinion of the beer. I'm also an EFP shareholder.

Monday 4 May 2015

The IPA/DIPA Conundrum

In the past I've written about the perils of coveting those wonderful US hop bomb IPAs/DIPAs, only to be disappointed when the product arrives here 3 months old, already on the decline in terms of quality. Since that post around a year ago, we've seen changes in the industry. Changes that perhaps both cement and counter some of the points I made in that previous post.

What happens when a top U.S. Craft Brewery teams up with a European counterpart to bring that 3 months down to 10 days, with a product that remains chilled from conditioning tank to tap, arriving here in consistently good condition? It becomes disruptive, that's what. Why? That word: consistency.

Photo: epicbeer on flickr
What happens when a second top US Craft Brewery (partly) crowd-funds* the opening of a European operation ~1/9th of the distance from these shores than their current base with that same buying power and brewing prowess? We'll find out next year but my guess is it'll be equally as disruptive.

Compared to the likes of Lagunitas and Stone, most UK brewers are probably fighting for scraps when it comes to US hop selection. Fighting not just on volume and variety but far more importantly on quality. Imagine what the brewers in that 'top' list spend on hops each year. Enough to hand-pick their most contracted varieties on a farm by farm basis every harvest? Yes, I'd wager but you can be sure they are at least purchasing at the very top end in terms of quality and at the quantities they need to maintain production. That's what their buying power brings them. 

That's not to say brewers here can't make superb US hopped IPAs/DIPAs - we've already seen some - just that it's going to be relatively harder to achieve that year round with a consistently good product brewed at a scale to rival what their US counterparts can supply to the UK. That's why Lagunitas are gaining such traction through imports in my view. Their IPA gets here fresh, is consistently good and available all the time, plus at the volumes they're bringing in they can price it competitively. 

This is not a level playing field. It's an open market and money talks.

* A tandleman style footnote here to add that, in my view, the crowd funding had nothing to do with money and everything to do with ensuring that venture will be nothing short of a resounding success in terms of marketing. Well played, Stone.