Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
It’s a Monday night and I’m making my way to Brewdog Camden to meet up with my friends Steph, Greg and Jo. We’ve signed up to take part in the bars weekly ‘Beer School’ event which is a tutored tasting of six Brewdog beers accompanied by some fine meats and cheeses.
I love Brewdog Camden, I’ve been here several times now, I’ve never failed to have a great time and consistently seem find myself well lubricated by the time I leave. They have an excellent selection of ever rotating Brewdog and guest draught beer, a superb collection of bottles and a friendly and enthusiastic team of staff who are more than happy to advise you on your next purchase or offer you a taster before you order your next drink. In addition to the excellent beer selection the menu, which was designed by 2011 Masterchef winner Tim Anderson is brilliant and features burgers, pizzas and cheeseboards at reasonable prices, the Milwaukee Pork and Fennel burger being a particular favourite of mine.
I arrive at the bar at a few minutes to seven just before the event is due to begin but a few attendees are running late so I order my friends and I some halves of the new Brewdog pale ale, Dead Pony Club. I’ve seen many glowing reviews of this beer but I personally found it to be a bit lacking, the initial hop hit of lemon rind, pine and grapefruit was incredible for such a low ABV beer but that was it, there was very little body, no detectable malt backbone and the finish was so crisp and dry I found myself questioning whether I’d actually taken a sip or had it just been a figment of my imagination. I can see why it would be popular for summer drinking but I’d rather go with a Punk which has all the hop flavours but is properly balanced with a decent amount of malt in the brew.
Soon it was time to begin and after tonight’s ‘teacher’ Joe had introduced himself to the cosy group of ten he popped upstairs and returned with the first of this evenings six beers, Punk IPA. Before he began talking about how Brewdog go about their business he talked us through how best to taste and appreciate the beers we had been presented with. ‘You have five senses, use them’ ordered Joe, I couldn’t have said it better myself and with the beer being served in Brewdog's wonderful Teku glass it was easy to appreciate every aspect of the beer. First we held the beer up to the light to appreciate the colour and then we moved on to the aroma, cupping our hands over the glass, swirling it around and letting the carbonation build up releasing a huge heady aroma from the glass. I hadn’t actually used this technique before, usually I just stick my nose straight in but along with the shape of the glass this really helped those citrus and mango aromas leap out.
We then moved on to the tasting and Joe asked the group to say what flavours came into their head as they drank the beer. Punk had everything Dead Pony Club was lacking, all that mango and grapefruit hop bitterness balanced by digestive biscuit and caramel malt flavours, it was delicious. This beer was tasting great, I’m yet to taste one of these so called bad batches of Punk, in fact I could have gone for a whole pint but still had five more beers to work through so thought better of it.
The next beer was Zeitgeist, Brewdog's black lager and it went down a treat, all of those robust coffee and chocolate malt flavours ending with a really crisp, refreshing finish. The food was brought out at this point and the Zeitgeist went exceptionally well with the selection of cheeses on offer, the Oxford Blue being the unanimous favourite. After we rinsed our glasses we were then presented with a glass of 5am Saint which I hadn’t had for a while. It was like welcoming an old friend back into my life with all of those marmalade, pine and grapefruit aromas being wrapped up in sweet, bready malts, I had really forgot just how great this beer is.
Next up was Chaos Theory and if ever there was a tribute to the Nelson Sauvin hop, then this beer was it. Describing this beer as vinous almost feels like an understatement, it has such a strong Cabernet Sauvignon quality that if it wasn’t for the robust malt platform you’d probably be able to fool someone who doesn’t drink much that it was in fact wine. Well, probably not but this is a beer I would love to offer up to a stalwart wine drinker who doesn’t have time for beer and see if it altered their perception, brilliant stuff. Chaos Theory really shows off Brewdog's mastery of the Nelson Sauvin hop which they seem to use an awful lot in their core brews.
Moving on and beer five was one I had been itching to try for a while but hadn’t had the chance, Libertine Black Ale. I notice that this beer was originally billed as a 6.1% porter when it was first released but they seem to have settled on calling it a black ale and it’s been amped up to a slightly more boozy 7%. I told Joe that this is what I would class as a Black IPA, it had all the qualities, in fact the aroma was so full of citrus that it was almost beguiling, just like a Black IPA should be. It was a beautiful beer, those citrus flavours joined by pine and an almost spearmint like sensation and then a wash of coffee and licorice came through in the beers long, bitter finish.
Joe got his Squirrel out
The final beer of the night was Brewdog's Imperial Stout, Riptide and after the pithy onslaught of the last few beers I was ready for something a little different. Riptide didn’t disappoint, it was a bombardment of coffee, chocolate and red berry flavours with just a little bitterness keeping it balanced, after all that strong cheese I really fancied a massive slab of chocolate cake to balance all of the riotous flavours that my tongue had experienced this evening but the cheese was tasting so good I had no choice but to power through regardless.
It was then time to finish, or so I thought, once we had finished our beers we were invited up to the bar for a seventh taster of our choosing. I felt a bit cheeky asking but couldn’t resist going for the AB:10 and to my surprise Joe was happy to oblige. I’ll admit that I think barrel or oak ageing a beer doesn’t always work for me (take Great Divide Rumble for example) but AB:10 is a beautiful example of it being done well, an 11.5% imperial brown ale that has been aged in sweet red wine barrels from Malaga. The first thing you get when you stick your nose into this beer is that huge, boozy red wine smell with hints of oak, port, bourbon and molasses. I was expecting it to be a messy melange of flavour on the palate but the flavours were blended beautifully, combining to create something that tastes like a decent tawny port but with the body and mouth feel of an imperial stout, superb.
Beer school was a fantastic experience and Joe was a great tutor who talked about Brewdog and their beers with genuine passion and enthusiasm and most importantly without pretension. There was a range of people attending from out and out beer geeks like myself to relative craft beer newcomers like some of my friends and I think we all took something useful away from this experience. Perhaps most importantly I think this session builds a rapport between the bar staff and the customer, something that is sorely lacking in modern drinking establishments, it literally makes you want to go back and drink there again. I also thought that for only twenty pounds it was actually quite reasonable, with the taster servings being quite generous and the portions of food being more than enough to go around.
Joe did mention that they would be taking a break from Beer School during the Olympics but at the time of me writing this there are still places available on next weeks session, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org should you wish to attend.