BrewDog, Craft and Consistency: “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Last week I went to a bar in Leeds that I wouldn’t normally associate with interesting beer, only to find they had BrewDog Punk IPA in the fridge. And I really didn’t know whether to buy it or not.
I’m a BrewDog shareholder and, in a measured way, could be described as a fan of BrewDog’s bars and many of their beers. I would probably even qualify as a “scamp” (*shudder*). I do find some of their marketing tiresome, so I try to look past it; I’m not interested in paying a small fortune for their 330ml limited edition bottles, so I don’t. The trouble I have is that, over the last year or so, their flagship beer, which was a favourite of mine (including after the new recipe), has become one of the least consistent beers I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had bad keg, canned and bottled Punk. Now I’m close to giving up on it entirely.
Moreover, it’s getting a bad reputation. It appears to me, from various drinkers’ and bar workers’ posts on Twitter, that there’s a serious and persistent problem. There’s the odd great batch, but interspersed with terrible ones. This reflects my own experience: a few weeks ago I decided to give Punk another chance to see if the problem had been resolved, so bought a couple of bottles from an off-licence. They were lovely, fruity and crisp – a real return to form. A week later I bought two more bottles from Waitrose and they were undrinkable.
I know that consistency is not a problem that’s unique to BrewDog, and I’ve also experienced occasional disappointments in the consistency of certain other forward-looking breweries recently. I know that BrewDog are aware of this problem and have said they would deal with it, but six months on from this post I’m yet to see the resumption of consistency and a corresponding restoration of trust.
I am conscious that BrewDog are in an interim phase in their growth, as they stand on the edge of crossover success, and that they’re having problems keeping up with the demand they’ve created with supermarkets. However, “mainstream” drinkers are used to the rigorous quality control and consistency they get from the multinational brewers, so when they pick up a bottle of beer from the supermarket shelf, they rightly expect that it tastes like it was intended to taste. For the “scamps”, or at least for me, if the “craft” ethos is to mean anything, it has to imply a minimum of quality and pride in your product: “first and foremost, great tasting beers.”
I bought the bottle of Punk in the bar last week. It was better than some I’ve had and actually drinkable, but still not as good as it should have been. Perhaps I’m simply judging each bottle too harshly because I’ve accrued such a prejudice against it. Whatever the case, it didn’t have me scampering back to the fold.