The End of History: One Idiot’s Opinion

Apparently Scotland’s BrewDog has only been brewing since April 2007, but their unique beers and daft deft marketing has led to a meteoric rise in their profile. They’ve created beers with “attitude,” with names like Hardcore, Chaos Theory and Punk.

In the past week, they have gotten some mainstream attention for their newest concoction, The End of History, a 55% abv beer that is served in a 12 ounce bottle which sticks out of the mouth of a small, deceased (of natural causes, they insist) rodent.

Oh, and each bottle costs more than $700.

There seem to be two camps: 1) those that love the no-holds barred approach of BrewDog, and welcome their innovation and staid refusal to kowtow to the status quo. And 2) those who are unimpressed by the “xtreeeeme!” nature of their beers, and their apparent need for an “abv arms race.”

On one hand, this brewery has done in just three short years what many established breweries haven’t been able to do in a decade or more: that is innovate, invent new product, and distribute widely. (I still can’t get Bell’s Two Hearted Ale or New Belgium’s Fat Tire in Syracuse, but I can get most of the BrewDog beers.)

In fact, whereas just a few short years ago, there were only a handful of beers that broke the 20% barrier for alcohol percentage (by volume), BrewDog has already created three — Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%), Sink the Bismark (41%), and now, The End of History (a whopping 55%, or better, 110-proof).

The question remains, do we need beers like this? I mean they are a neat parlor trick and a gimmick that will get your name in the newspaper. But does it advance beer, and the brewing community? Is this an example of innovation and departing the surly bonds of earth? Or is it going to cause a glut of “extreeeeeeme!” brewers only out to make a quick buck with a clever name and an off-the-charts alcohol percentage? When they say that it’s “the end of history,” do they mean undoing all the yeoman’s work that brewers have put in thus far?

That’s part of what worries me.

Since I am poor, I have not tried any of these BrewDog offerings, but my guess would be that they are much less like beer and a lot more like liquor. They might be fantastic, but I’m guessing that I would have to drink them out of a highball glass instead of a nonic pint glass. And this is another problem I have with it their high-octane offerings.

I have absolutely no interest in liquor.

To me — as I’m sure it is with many of you — beer is half visceral pleasure, half intellectual exercise. I drink beer “in context,” knowing the brewery it came from, identifying style, identifying flavor and aromatic notes. If I was just looking for a quick buzz, I wouldn’t be a craft beer drinker. I would drink Captain and Coke, or Vodka and Red Bull. As one who is enamored not with spirits, but with beer, I’m not piqued intellectually into trying these beers. But that’s just me.

There is another alarming aspect to this, and that is the demeanor of the BrewDog folks. Their marketing director, James Watt, left a somewhat blistering screed on the BeerAdvocate forums, addressed to “the haters,” and “numbered for [readers’] convenience.”

Watt also curiously takes a shot at Americans as a whole, saying “[m]aybe sarcasm and irony does not translate that well on the other side of the Atlantic.” [Sidebar: Europeans better get their heads out of their asses if they think that Americans somehow fail to grasp the concept of irony. It’s just a horseshit, cop-out argument, really.]

This approach seems to be anathema to the otherwise tight-knit brewing community. It also seems to be an ill-advised and poorly-timed chastisement of the very people that BrewDog should be courting: beer geeks. Watt’s manifesto against those who “hate on” the brewery might end up doing more damage than good for growing a loyal fan base.

It would be smart for Watt to keep in mind that unlike the apparently homogeneous Euro breweries that Watt laments, the U.S. has plenty of alternatives. And underestimate the savvy of the craft beer drinker at your own peril, because he will leave your beer on the shelf to buy a (perhaps lesser) beer from a brewery he supports.

This could end up being a very interesting litmus test as to whether this kind of in-yo’-face marketing will fly with the craft brewing world, or whether it will actually turn the tide against BrewDog. (A poll that BeerNews.org conducted stated that only 27% of respondents saw BrewDog more positively after this new campaign.) If it works, will BrewDog’s model bring craft brewing a higher profile? Or will it spawn a litany of copycat breweries with a gimmick and a weak product, a la the craft brewing boom/bust of the 1990s.

Keep your eyes peeled, it’s about to get interesting.

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~ by William H on July 24, 2010.

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