Say ‘real beer’ and many people think of flat caps, tweed and country pubs that smell a little fruity. The following words do not usually signify real beer ‘punk,’ ‘young’ and ‘attitude.’ However some young punks on the British brewing scene are challenging this idea and last week landed in Manchester – home of flat caps and ale sippers galore – opening their alter to the craft beer with a big bang, right in the city centre.
Brew Dog are newbies on the beer scene, first brewing in 2007 as a reaction to British beer being a choice between stuffy real ale or some watery chemical piss and nothing in between. Brew Dog are very much the in between with their feisty DIY spirit, their willingness to try new (and sometimes crazy) methods and their appeal to a wider, younger audience than the CAMRA crew. Obviously something’s working as they’ve become Scotland’s biggest independent brewery, bottling about 120,000 bottles a month for export.
So this beer then? Based in Aberdeen you could think Brew Dog would go the way of a traditional Scottish mild, but instead they’ve looked over to the pond to the craft beers our American cousins are brewing, mixed it up with some crazy attitude and quality ingredients, then given a nod to another Scottish export -high strength tramp juice. Known as much for their high strength beer as their crazy stunts (they got in to a beer strength fight with a German brewer, made a beer called The End of History that was 55% and then bottled it in taxidermy – indeed, then got in to an eight month long dispute with the Portman Group…), Brew Dog are now branching out and taking their craft beer ethos to the masses.
So what’s the difference, it’s just a real ale place right? No. Brew Dog Manchester is a proper bar, none of the old sticky carpet shtick – there’s funky neon lights in the company blue, there’s the on trend hip distressed look and there are actually other drinks on offer; mainly different craft beers they look up to – but there’s also wine, spirits and the odd soft drink or two.
However we’re not here to chat about the other drinks, it’s the beer that does the talking at Brew Dog. The draughts and guest kegs change regularly – it’s best to check their Twitter for the day’s specials, or they can be found on the chalkboards that are dotted around the place: we sampled the Dead Pony Club, a light, malty session beer; their infamous (and the beer they first brewed) Punk IPA, a feisty, citrusy, tropical kiss on the gob that doesn’t taste half as strong as the 5.4% (my favourite); the ruby red 5am Saint and the Riptide, an 8% stout that’s full of chocolate, mocha and berry flavours. Yeah I just said 8% stout. Mental. And that’s not the highest they had on when we were there…
As we has popped along on opening night, we also got to sample the limited addition Dog A, which comes in at 15.1%. Darker than the stout and served in an impressive branded chalice (to let the aromas out apparently) it tasted akin to salmiakki mixed with marmite. Not two flavours I’d put together willingly – I drank it because I know it’s about £20 a bottle – plus I was given it, so I would have been rude not to. I don’t think t’boy was that happy with me drinking so much of it though. Let’s just say I don’t remember much of the journey home, apart from that he was driving. And grumpy.
There’s food too. Designed by an ex-masterchef person, they’ve gripped the zeitgeist with posh burgers, pizzas and the odd cheese/charcuterie board chucked in too. To be honest I’m not going to give them too much ‘oh you’re just jumping on the band wagon’ stick for this as they are a bar and this is bar style food. From the bits we tasted they’ve done a bloody good job of it too, serving the burgers rare and juicy. Word of warning – don’t venture near the veggie pizza unless you have an asbestos mouth – I had to gulp down a pint in record time (well a half, I am a girl you know) just to stop from jumping off the balcony.
Brew Dog’s bar looks like it’ll be a success and because it’s owned by the brewery I’m hoping they won’t be tempted to dumb down to the level of their neighbours just to pull in the punters; hopefully they’ll spread the message that quality and quirkiness can go together to make a very drinkable, very likable product. There will be some bite back from the real ale purists, but personally I’d prefer to go to a place that I at least feel safe to sit down in as I know I’m not going to get stuck to the carpet topped bar stool that’s had thirty years of over weight male buttock sweat seeping in to it.
Brew Dog Manchester, Peter Street, Manchester – Twitter