BrewDog is a fake. In a bid to continue their corporate expansion over the UK and Europe, the Scottish artisan beer company recently opened a new bar on Cowley Road. The interior inevitably resembles your textbook Islington gastro pub. You know what I’m talking about: the faux cheap and cheerful enamel tableware (think the fries mug at GBK), and the beers listed on old-fashioned cinema-style letter boards. I hope the wanky, millennial-suckering vibe is already riling you up.
Pride of place though is their flagship beer: the ‘Punk IPA’. Now we come to the main reason BrewDog stretches my loathing muscles. Every aspect of its brand is desperately aimed at cultivating an image of rebellious and antiestablishment bandits, leading the charge in the fabled ‘Craft Beer Revolution’. Just look at the cringe-worthy rhetoric that drips cynically from their marketing blurbs: “All we care about is brewing world class craft beer; extraordinary beers that blow people’s minds and kick start a revolution.” Ew.
Maybe this was slightly less disingenuous when they started back in 2007 as two brothers and a dog selling attractively branded homebrew out of a car boot in Scotland. Skip forward to today, and the brand couldn’t be any more mainstream. BrewDog is a constantly growing international corporation, opening new bars all the time, selling their beers in every major supermarket and charging through the teeth for pretentiously served goblets of piss.
Purists will cry: “at least they didn’t sell out to Diageo or ABInBev”, two behemoths of the drinks industry. Fair point, but the alternative is pretty dreadful: ‘Equity for punks’. An exceptionally ambitious effort to turn buying shares in a capitalist monolith into a cool, hipster activity.
This oxymoronic slogan perfectly sums up BrewDog – what sort of ‘punk’ buys shares in a business? Certainly not Sid Vicious and co., wearing bin bags and sporting homemade swastika tattoos on their foreheads. There’s no chance they’d fork out the best part of a tenner for two thirds of a pint of organic, responsibly-sourced, quadruple-hopped ale served in a brandy glass.
This marketing bullshit seeps into their kegs too. Just take a look at the names of some of their offerings: ‘Jet black heart’, ‘5 am saint’, ‘Elvis juice’ (which, I hate to say, is easily their best beer and the only characterful one), ‘Cocoa psycho’ and the laughably incongruous ‘Vagabond’, their gluten-free beer.
These names, coupled with the faux-edgy presentation, are nothing but a puerile effort to carve out a sexy and dangerous aura around the brand.
Even when it comes to the actual quality of the beer itself – surely the most important question in all of this – BrewDog is exceptionally mediocre. Practically everyone I’ve spoken to thinks that they’re over-hyped. The crucial issue links in with their branding – they’re trying too hard. BrewDog beers are simply over engineered, gratuitously hoppy and unpleasantly strong.
That’s enough about BrewDog. A far better example of an independent brewery doing something genuinely exciting is Flying Dog Brewery based in Frederick, Maryland. Back in May of this year, I was in the area and was lucky enough to go on a tour of the brewery. It turns out that George Stranahan, the brewery’s founder, was a close friend of maverick gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. The Brewery’s punchy and original style certainly reflects his influence, as well as the ‘Gonzo Imperial Porter’ produced in homage to the infamously wild writer.
The beers themselves are of a far superior quality, boasting a playful love of experimentation coupled with great taste. It would be impossible not to be impressed by the striking artwork on the bottles and cans, all produced by Thompson’s illustrative partner in crime, Ralph Steadman. His intensely unique and grotesque style lends each type of beer a distinctive character and helps achieve the image where BrewDog fails to do so.
After falling in love with Flying Dog, I brought a six pack back to the UK, imagining that I’d be hard pressed to get my hands on their beer back across the pond. So you can imagine my surprise when, like the prodigal son, I sidled back into my local Wetherspoons, and was able to sup triumphantly on a can of their ‘Raging Bitch’ – a cracking citrus IPA that doesn’t overdo the hop-factor.
You might scoff in my face. But I’m sure you’d agree that, compared to BrewDog, Wetherspoon’s is a considerably more anti-establishment and cooler place to drink.
There’s no denying that ‘Spoons’ “Pint Man-in-Chief”’ (the official title), the mullet-sporting Tim Martin, is one of the few true heroes of our generation. They couldn’t have been more antiestablishment last year, when they actively supported the Brexit vote with Leave magazines and coasters. Don’t get me wrong, I voted Remain, but that was objectively hilarious.
It might be the unique carpeting in every chain of Spoons. It could be the new app that allows you to order ten portions of garden peas and a pint of milk to your friend’s table on the other side of the country. Or maybe it’s the fact that Spoons offers a lively atmosphere, unbeatable prices, and exceptionally consistent quality. But whatever the reason is, no-one has ever had a bad time at Wetherspoons. So, grab yourself a pint of guest ale and thank god you didn’t end up at BrewDog instead.