BrewDog are known for pushing boundaries with their brewing. From brewing beer under the sea, or ice distilling IPA to make the strongest beer in the world they put a lot of stock in the value of experimentation. Each year they produce a range of prototype beers, each with their own little (or perhaps not so little) twist and let the customers decide which one is best and should be turned into a permanent fixture.
Some amazing beers have come of this process, including probably the best IPA BrewDog make, the mighty Jackhammer! So this being the first time I’d been able to try all four entries I was pretty excited to see what the team had produced. On Saturday I popped over to the Nottingham bar and racked up a flight board of the four offerings and got stuck in. Here’s what I thought…
All Day Long | English Style Mild | 2.7% ABV
The aroma is woody, grassy hops with some orange pith and a digestive biscuit sweetness from the darker malts. Flavour follows suit with more citrus and a lot more body than I was expecting for a super-sessionable 2.7%. A pleasant dry bitter finish makes it extremely drinkable.
Oddly, its closest kin is the 0.5% Nanny State however it is much better. There is more balance from the extra malt presence and a much fuller body from that modest alcohol content. Good beer.
Alt Amber | Altbier | 5.2% ABV
This one was always going to be the oddball of the bunch. You hardly ever see this style come through from a modern craft brewery and if anyone was going to make it great, it would be BrewDog. On the nose you get buckets of sweet caramel, fresh bread and a little bit of spicy, yeasty funk. There are notes of orange peel and something like nutmeg or a warming allspice.
Flavour is more of that lovely caramel and soft pale stone fruit. You also get big biscuity malts and just a little bit of hop character in the background. There is a lovely amount of body and just the right amount of carbonation. Very wintery, very moreish!
Vagabond Pale Ale | Gluten Free American Pale Ale | 4.5% ABV
As it happens, this is the entry that was chosen as the favourite this year. It’s true, the beer has a lot going for it; big hop-forward citrus flavour, sessionable strength and best of all gluten-free, making it a slam dunk for celeacs or people with other gluten-sensitive dietary conditions.
On the nose it is quite a standard American pale ale with notes of grapefruit and orange with some piney resin, similar to something like Beavertown’s Gamma Ray, though slightly less juicy.
Flavour delivers more of the same with intense grapefruit and refreshing hop bitterness but what really surprised me was what the beer *lacked*. I’m going to guess that something in the process of making a gluten-free beer means that you lose some body. There was a certain thinness in the beer, the kind of thing you usually find in alcohol free beer or at least those with really low alcohol. It tastes okay, but left me wanting.
Hop Fiction | India Pale Ale | 6.5% ABV
Ah, the inevitable IPA. If there’s one style that pretty much defines what BrewDog is all about, it’s the IPA. Massive amounts of flavour and aroma from the aggressive use of hops represent why they’re all about. This IPA is different, though. The only addition of hops is in the boil. No late hops or dry hopping is used at all which seems, especially in modern IPA to be totally against everything we know to make a good beer. But did it work?
Sadly, for me, it did not. No dry hopping has meant there is little to no hop aroma, just the faintest bit of ripe orange comes through if you really want to smell it. Similarly, the lack of late hops means there is almost none of the classic pithy grapefruit or pine flavour you want in an IPA instead you get a slightly metallic flavour with a bit of a nondescript trailing bitterness from the initial use of hops in the boil. Definitely the weakest of the four and a surprising miss from BrewDog.
So there you go. The actual winner wasn’t my personal favourite but you can’t really fail to see why if did win. For me, that Alt Amber was an absolute show stopper. I hope this style gets more attention from BrewDog and indeed other brewers in the future.