Home > Beer > BrewDog, Craft and Consistency: “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

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. 

For discussions on wider consistency issues beyond BrewDog, see HopZine and Boak and Bailey.

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Categories: Beer Tags: , , , ,
  1. June 25, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Did you note the batch numbers and use by dates?

    • June 25, 2012 at 9:38 am

      I’ve not been making a habit of it, although I do have one as I took a photo of the batch and use by date and tweeted it to James and the official account (to no response): “133 01-05-13”

  2. landells
    June 25, 2012 at 10:42 am

    It is a strange scenario. Punk is the flagship beer of BrewDog but it seems to be the only beer in the core range that is suffering. I don’t drink 5am Saint very often but I’ve never had any problems with it – including the 2 bottles I had on Friday night. And Hardcore, which I’ll usually indulge in a few times a month, has always tasted as delicious as the first time I tried it. The continuing woes of Punk is a really sad saga for what is, when at it’s best, probably the finest “supermarket” beer in the UK. Hopefully, the arrival of the new brewery will see Punk return to its former consistent glory and in years from now we’ll be able to sit around a table and laugh at those crazy days when Punk was shit.

    • June 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Indeed, although as I understand it moving to a bigger brewery and brewing the same beers is a challenge in itself.

  3. June 25, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Surely anyone still buying BrewDog has only themselves to blame.

    • June 25, 2012 at 11:42 am

      The Sale Of Goods Act would suggest otherwise.

  4. Zak
    June 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    There is also a risk that should you hypothetically be making beers with hops that are limited by virtue of being produced under licence, you may theoretically run into a sticky patch if you ran short, as covered here. Of course, the brewing world is a friendly place, and brewers would usually be able to beg, borrow or swap hops that were limited, should such an unlikely situation theoretically arise.

    • June 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      James attributes the failings in Punk in 2011 to a lack of Simcoe etc, but even that raises questions: should you even be attempting to produce a certain beer if you’re missing key ingredients? What do you do when you’re forward-contracted to produce X amount of a beer for which you simply don’t have the hops?

      • Zak
        June 25, 2012 at 1:11 pm

        I got given a rocket pizza once, with spinach in place of rocket. I sent it back.

  5. June 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Interesting post.

    Other people seem to have much worse luck than us. We’re still drinking a few bottles of Punk a month and haven’t had a dud for a while, while we have had dud bottles of Brooklyn Lager, Pilsner Urquell and (amazingly) Fuller’s Bengal Lancer. So, for now, personally, we’re still giving Brewdog the benefit of the doubt.

    We’ve been reading about Belgian brewers a lot recently and one trick seems to be to use such a complex blend of hops that, if one isn\’t available and has to be substituted, it’s not such an obvious change to the overall profile.

    But it’s hard not to feel that beers which ’star’ a particular hop variety aren’t really viable as large-volume ’supermarket beers’.

    • June 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      I’m glad not everyone’s been having as bad an experience as I have. Brooklyn Lager’s an interesting one in itself as I understand it’s mainly contract brewed, and historically always has been, but seemed to me to have pretty good quality control. I have experienced a small amount of inconsistency though.

  6. June 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I think the last comment you make Nick is bang on the money, if it’s not the same recipe don’t say it is or folks will notice and question the consistency.

    Plus, I’m so glad you mention the “scamp” bollocks, I’m not a shareholder but it makes me cringe whenever I read it. A little like Ales By Mail’s “elves”…

    • June 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Thankfully they didn’t call the share issue “Equity For Scamps” or I reckon it would have died on its arse.

  7. Jenni Nicholls
    June 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Great post, and one that makes me wonder, how long can you go on selling your mainstay beer that really isn’t up to scratch without people stopping buying it all together? BrewDog set the standard for many aspiring breweries with heavily hopped American influenced brews, but they’re letting themselves down with their desire to grow so quickly when they can’t maintain their quality control. Surely when you’re quick to point the finger and put down other beers and styles, you need to be 100% sure what you’re selling is the best you can produce?

    • June 26, 2012 at 9:22 am

      “First cast out the inconsistency out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the liquid cardboard out of thy brother’s eye.”

  8. June 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Interesting piece. I had an illuminating conversation with a brewer once when I complained about the consistency of his beer. His reply was to the effect that there was nothing wrong with it. I replied that he expected me to drink a few pints of the beer every week and then not to notice when it wasn’t the same or was sub standard and that was treating customers with contempt. He was offended, but I feel I had a point. It would seem BD are doing the same.

    • June 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      I think we have to acknowledge a certain amount of variation is almost inevitable from smaller brewers, but there’s a limit. Perhaps the normal variation you get in cask beer (between various pubs, with better or worse cellarmanship, depending when it was tapped etc) normally hides a few sins?

  9. John Clarke
    June 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    As a Brewdog shareholder surely you are doing yourself a disservice by noy buying the beer every time you see it. After all wasn’t one of the lines when they were trying to sucker people, sorry, persuade people to buy their shares that you would “literally get richer every time you buy a beer” or some such guff?

    • June 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      I think I’ll try to make my money back in discounts in the bars instead, provided they eventually get a licensed premises in Leeds.

  10. dave.d
    June 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Sooo glad I’m not the only one who has noticed the difference. Great blog and agree with all that you say. I think Punk is so consistantly poor at the moment I’ve given up buying it and wiped it from my top 10 list, even when I do cave and buy a bottle I’m left wondering why the hell I did.
    Brewdog are becoming very tiresome and perhaps they should spend a bit more time on their core range of beers rather than breweing ridiculous ABV special brews, having said that I’ve just ordered a box of beer from their site…ooops!!

  11. June 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Now then Nick – hope you’re good. Nice post, totally get where you’re coming from. Have you seen Tandleman’s latest post? Could be a sister piece to this one – check it out!

  12. holcus lanatus
    July 27, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Great to see this post bro, I thought my tongue had been playing tricks on me. Could this be something to do with the rumour the london meantime brew for Brewdog ? Keep up the good work !

    • July 27, 2012 at 8:45 am

      Cheers. Previously BrewDog’s literature has stated that some brewing, such as Zeitgeist, is done at Meantime, but with a qualification that they would always brew their most hop-forward beers themselves (or similar). Having said that I have heard similar speculation about Punk being brewed at another brewery (not Meantime).

  13. Sean H
    October 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Stumbled across this after pouring 3/4 bottle of Punk down the sink. I’d heard of bad Punk but, being relatavley new to the scene, I figured the grumbling was sour grapes because Brewdog is finding success.. But, yeah, mine was bad, metallic, chemical, definitely not the beer that was the source of my beer epiphany. I’m not going to let one bad bottle put me off, hopefully they’ll get things sorted with the new brewery… If not, there’s plenty of other beers still to discover.

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