Some time ago my mate and I took the new lad out for lunch. Looking to do something a bit different and show him the brilliance of Bristol as a city, we popped along to Sanctum. A programme of non-stop performances and music for 24 days, 24 hours a day in a purpose-built sustainable wooden structure within the bombed-out ruins of Temple Church. We enjoyed ten minutes or so of beautiful music from local composer and artist Daniel Inzani.
With enough time for a quick beer on the way back to the office, my mate suggested we go in Brewdog which is housed on the corner of the street of our office. He was almost apologetic; “I know you hate it mate, but it’s close.” Now I am not that much of a dick that I will refuse to go into a Brewdog for a swift lunchtime drink with colleagues when it makes sense geographically. But Brewdog does get on my nerves.
Once inside I perused the chalkboards and pump clips in search of something recognisable, knowing I wouldn’t find it. So I enquired as to whether that had any stouts. Amongst the craft revolution that I am about to rally against I sometimes find sanctuary in a stout and I’ve even begun to get vaguely excited by trying a Brewery’s alternative to my bezzie black stuff; Guinness. The very amiable barmaid informed me that they didn’t, but poured me a taster of what she described as “a dark ale… blah blah blah blah.” I switched off. It tasted alright. Like a stout, but one which had been heavily diluted with carbonated water.
Which brings me to my first point of issue with Brewdog. I’m afraid I just don’t like the beer. Anything I’ve ever had in there just doesn’t taste very good in my opinion, ranging from potpourri like piss to heavily carbonated hops. Now call me a philistine; perhaps my tastes aren’t as sophisticated as yours. Or my facial hair as impressive, but I can’t help thinking that when it really came down to it if you had a gun to their heads, a lot of people would probably admit the same – the beer doesn’t taste very nice.
And this brings me to my next point. Perhaps I am in the minority but I am more than happy with a pint of Europe’s average export lager; or if I’m feeling really fancy a premium Pilsner or ice cold bottle of Moretti. Sue me. I shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed. “Oh but come on man, Carlsberg tastes like shit. Try this organic craft lager brewed by a pagan ex-web designer in Suffolk.” I’m alright thanks, mate.
Underneath this craft beer snobbery often lies a sneering resentment and downright prejudice towards normality. “Bless those ignorant chavs drinking their Carling – if only they were as sophisticated as us.” It is the same thing that gets surfaced in sanctimonious, patronising articles “lol-ing” at the world of council estate pubs and old-fashioned city centre boozers. I bet the people in those boozers are having a much better time than you are at 7pm on a Friday night, surrounded by those dickheads from the “startup” who you share an office with.
And that brings me to the idea of Brewdog as some sort of quasi Marxist, revolutionary collective. Beers for Punks. Yes because there is nothing more punk than a chain bar with a global franchise model, annual turnover of £30 million and two multi-millionaire owners. Now I have nothing against entrepreneurship. I admire it; just don’t pretend Brewdog is something that it isn’t. Punks don’t drink in there, those wankers from the app start up do. The closest thing you’ll get to beer for punks is Buckfast; super strength cider or I suppose Astra the local Hamburg brew favoured by St. Pauli Ultras.
The company’s recent growth has in part been funded by their “equity for punks” scheme. Now if you can find a more oxymoronic phrase than “equity for punks” I’d like to hear it. Do they also have an AGM of anarchists?
Then there are their trite and shameless attempts to jump on the bandwagon of genuinely important civil rights movements. The “My Name is Vladimir” beer aimed to mock Russia’s stance on gay rights and felt fairly admirable at the time. The company promised that half the proceeds would be donated to charities that “represent oppressed minorities around the world”. I sincerely hope that the stunt has gone somewhere to help those oppressed minorities, but I struggled to find any figures or evidence to suggest that it has. What’s more the depiction of Putin on the bottle wearing make up felt rather childish – as if the hallmark of homosexuality was blokes in makeup. Perhaps I am being harsh, but it all felt rather like two straight blokes trying to show that they were liberal and had never called their mates “gay” in the playground aged 12.
More recently Brewdog have been criticised for a similar stunt attempting to show solidarity with the transgender community. After an advert for their “Equity for punks” scheme was criticised for being transphobic the company hit back with a beer titled “No label” and which claimed to be world’s first “non-binary, transgender beer.” Proceeds will go to London based lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organisation Queerest of the Queer.
Unfortunately for the Scottish brewery not all LGBT activists are on board with the campaign with a spokesperson for London-based rights group Stonewall explaining to The Independent that it’s misleading. Although the “No Label” concept is encouraging, “many trans people do not transition or identify with binary genders, and BrewDog’s language undermines that.” Again it all feels a little bit like they are trying too hard. Why not just quietly donate to LGBT causes and ensure that their bars are a welcoming and friendly environment for everyone. I’d hazard a guess that a post-work Brewdog on a Friday is probably not a place that immediately springs to mind for a trans person looking for a drink.
Perhaps I am being too harsh on Brewdog and that ultimately their hearts are in the right place. But regardless, mine’s a Carlsberg thanks.