So – Brewdog Birmingham is finally here! After an interminably long wait – first for them to decide on Birmingham as a location, then to find a suitable place, then get through the planning applications and refit processes – it finally opened its doors on Tuesday evening this week for a “soft launch”, and on Wednesday with a full-fanfare party night.
My first experience of Brewdog was also in Birmingham, in 2007 – at the Black Eagle pub in Hockley, where some dedicated volunteers put on a cracking beer festival in the lovely garden each July. They had selected a cask of Punk IPA from this brand new brewery – they’d only started producing beers commercially in April of that year – and I thought this was a pretty outstanding and revolutionary beer at the time. It was a 6% pint of one of the hoppiest real ales I’d tasted, and with the careful cellarmanship of the pub & volunteers, the perfect cask conditioning and assertive hops meant we kept coming back to this beer during the festival, and it sold out pretty quickly. I made sure I ordered some in for the CAMRA beer festival I was running in September that year to bring it to a wider audience in Birmingham, and sure enough, it was one of the first to sell out there too. So I’ve always watched what they’ve been up to with interest – and it’s been entertaining and frustrating in equal measures!
Over the years, Brewdog’s company philosophy and beer production has gone through many shifts – they’ve certainly deliberately stoked up controversy and chased column inches, and hardened their branding along an “attitude heavy” stance, and made the decision to phase out cask beers in 2012. Their marketing may annoy the hell out of me at times with it’s silly posturing and “punk, yeah?” sloganeering, but it’s the decision to drop cask that’s the most upsetting as my tastebuds tend to tell me that for certain beers, you’re only going to get that lip-smacking satisfaction and complexity when it’s from a well-kept cask, rather than keg. But criticisms aside, I still like an awful lot of the beers they make, and enjoy checking out the new ones they produce at an alarming rate.
But – and this is the key thing when it comes to Brewdog Birmingham’s opening – Birmingham has not had any bar like this before. We do have some great pubs offering cask ales and craft bottles – The Victoria and the Bartons Arms being my personal favourites, and this isn’t meant to do them down at all – but Brewdog Birmingham does bring something entirely new to our city’s beer party.
So I checked out the beer range over the Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and it was easy to sample a large range as the staff were keen to give out a taste if there was something you fancied trying at the bar, and friends were happy to pass their beers around the table so we each had a taste of most of the draught offerings. I enjoyed the refreshing and easy to drink Juniper Wheat 5%, the well-balanced Dogfight 8.5%, and sought a Simcoe hit with the Hardcore IPA 9.2%. The darker beers were good too – particularly the Chocolate & Coffee Stout (an Imperial Stout at 9.5%), but with this and the Alice Porter, the cold temperature at which they were served did dampen down the flavours a bit, and we had to nurse them to a more welcoming temperature before getting the most out of them. In bottle, I tried @RichTheVillan’s Never Mind the Anabolics but it didn’t do much for me – however the Hoppy Christmas was right up my street – a single-hopped Simcoe beer, which had all the resiny and piney notes there, like it had been stirred with a fir tree – but also bringing out a lot more sweet tropical fruit than I’d experienced from this hop before. One I’ll definitely revisit, while stocks last; it’s a very drinkable 4.2%. It goes without saying that I loved the Mikkeller and Firestone Walker too – I hope they get in some Firestone Walker Double Jack at some point, as I tried that in Brewdog Edinburgh and it blew me away. I even enjoyed the Morimoto Imperial Pilsner from Rogue, which is single-hopped with Sterling; pilsners and lagers are a style I just struggle to like, but I’d certainly be happy drinking this again – maybe it’s the hop choice that made the difference? Strangely though I’ve yet to try the Punk or 5AM Saint on keg here, but I’m sure that will be rectified within a couple of days.
On the “official” opening night, they had a few extra treats on the blackboard – a slightly framboise-sour Raspberry Revolver 4.1% which had sold out by mid-evening, and Dog A – another hefty Imperial Stout at 15.1%. We happened to be standing by a group of lads who had bought a round of this for the bravado, but it was funny to watch their faces as they took a sip and decided it was not for them. I guess they were lager drinkers who were lured in by the shininess of a new bar, but it all worked out fine as they decided to donate their Dog A measures to our party instead, so we could check it out without denting our wallets further. This conjured up marmite, liquorice, cigar tobacco & treacle toffee in my mouth, and was definitely a sipper which needed some savouring. They also sell small measures of the ridiculously strong beers for a more pocket-friendly price than buying a whole bottle – so a good opportunity there if you want to try Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32%, or the 41% Sink the Bismark, to see if they stand up taste-wise to the marketing bluster. I’d recommend the TNP as a whisky-tinged warmer to sip at the close of the evening before heading out to the sub-zero streets.
There was certainly a buzzy atmosphere, but more than that, it felt like the people of Birmingham were there to celebrate their luck in having a big slice of the beer pie now on their doorsteps. I was so busy chatting to the many Brum beer Twitterati that were there, that I didn’t have time to check out the fridges and bottle list, other than to spy a line of Kernel in there, and some Alesmith too. I’ll hopefully visit soon at a quieter time and have a good read through what’s on offer. Sadly it was also just too busy to consider ordering food, so that’s something else I’ll need to work on. I do think cheese and meat tasting platters are a good foil for a session sipping high-flavoured beers, but I’d like to see what other more substantial meals are on offer too. They seem keen to make friends with local burger supremos @themeatshack, so perhaps we’ll see something with a Brum twist on the menu sometime soon.
Overall then a very positive move for Birmingham’s beer scene, and there’s a tingling in the air that other craft beer ventures will be opening over the next year, so it feels like we’ve finally arrived, and can now start experiencing all our pocket money being handed over in large amounts for the pleasure of a properly hoppy beer on draught.