This is a retrospective blog on the beers I’ve experienced in the past 3 months, of weekly commuting to London.
Brewdog bars in Camden, Shoreditch and Shepherds Bush, all on the itinerary, after Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen (x2) the summer / autumn before, and a couple more before that. (Shoreditch BTW is by far my favourite, if you’re interested.) I’m a “punk-equity” holder 3x over, and been active consumer of the craft beer revolution since 2006 in west coast & regional US, and 2008/9 is Oslo and Stavanger. There’s a lot of it about.
I like it. “Real Ale” and all the other campaigns to encourage (preserve) beer “from the wood” or “from the cask” are creditable, but essentially conservative or backward-looking. Stopping the corporate rot, nostalgia leading nowhere in particular – a holding pattern. In markets where entrepreneurship could flourish (Smallville, USA), or where state-regulated alcohol pricing disguised marginal costs (Scandinavian capitals) nostalgia was irrelevant. What mattered was differentiation, and people could choose what they liked at prices they wanted to afford to pay.
Brewdog deserve massive credit for breaking the mould. Massive, but cheap, social-media-based, marketing campaigns, focussing on the whacky dare to be different “punk” image, to sell novel (revived) products into the existing market at price-premiums. You get what you pay for, takes courage.
Interesting that in this last week – after massive success selling back to Scandinavia – that Brewdog should be opening their latest bar in Rio – ahead of the World Cup and Olympic years. At the bleeding edge of any market, your life-expectancy is slim. Fun, edgy, maybe even lucrative, but short.
In London, the revolution is established – if that’s not an oxymoron. The first mover has hundreds of whipper-snappers at their heels.
Camra were involved in spats with Brewdog over what constituted real ale and craft beer. Recipes, processes, “authentic” ingredients, the wooden casks and unpressurised “draw” pumps, pasteurisation, filtering, corporate ownership, you name it. In the UK (and elsewhere) lots of “real” ale brands are of course part of larger brewing concerns where production is a long way from the operations that originally created the value behind the brands. There are creditable exceptions everywhere of course, but that’s not the point here. (On the rules for brewing and marketing – gimme a break – the only rule is transparency. What are you selling me? I’ll tell you if I like it or not.)
The point is, the market here in London is well beyond the control of any one company’s campaign. There are so many pubs selling so many beers. From the tied-house chains with guest beers to the genuinely free houses, you could die of choice.
By way of example only, just two (or maybe a third).
The Old Fountain, where I am as I type (in the city, EC1), and The Harp (off Trafalgar Square, WC2 on the same block as Prior Guisborians’ favourite The Chandos – ‘cos it sells Sam Smiths Yorkshire beer, like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese off Fleet Steet (rebuilt in 1642, LOL), and ….) and maybe …. a handful more actually.
Are a new phenomenon to me.
Independently, landlord owned bars, selling dozens of different cask, keg and bottled beers to packed houses. Real (cask) ales at £3.50 to £4.00 a pint to craft (keg) beers at £5 to £12 a pint up to 12/15% abv. And what is most interesting, despite wider UK, Europe and US brewed examples, 50 to 75% are from London and Greater London breweries I’d never heard of 3 months ago. Each with a huge range of beer styles.
You’ve unleashed a monster, with an independent life, Brewdog.