Tuesday, 1 December 2009

BrewDog -- a reply to critics

Let me start by stating what I do. I'm a full-time professional beer writer. As well as running this site with Tom, I edit the Good Beer Guide, usually write at least one book a year and contribute to many newspapers and magazines in Britain and abroad. I've been doing this for mroe than 30 years and have built up a lot of knowledge of brewing processes. I've no idea what any of you do but I don't do a lot of web browsing simply because I don't have the time.
I accept two points of criticism: I should have looked at the BrewDog website and I should have thought more carefully before rushing in to print. It's clear from the contributions to this debate that I'm not the only one who has occasional rushes of blood to the head. I'm also disappointed that this issue has generated so much activity whereas there has been hardly any response to the news that the Burton museum has been saved. Have we got our priorities right -- is a £30 bottle of beer more important than a national brewing centre?
Where yeast is concerned, I have studied the work carried out at the Swiss Hurlimann brewery where Samichlaus was first produced. The beer was made to test the tolerance of brewer's yeast and the brewery found that a normal culture could not produce alcohol above 14%. I have visited the Sam Adams Boston brewery and tasted a Triple Bock that, from memory, was around 18% -- that was finished with a champagne yeast. Those of you who scoff at my suggestion that wine or champagne yeast may have been used by BrewDog may care to keep this experience in mind. Doghead Stout, which was around 22%, was also finished with a wine yeast. I have also studied the way in which the Ice Bocks of Bavaria are made.
I have now looked at the BrewDog site and seen the piece about the strong beer. It raises more questions than answers about how this extremely high level of alcohol was achieved. I will attempt to visit the brewery next year -- it's a long and daunting journey from southern England and Fraserburgh does not have a railway station but I will attempt to work something out.
Having just returned from the BBC Food Show where I conducted eight tutored tastings to large, receptive and friendly audiences, I am once again disappointed by the tone of some of the contributions to this debate. We all love beer -- that's the starting point. Lets be good, bibulous friends. Criticise by all means but let's keep the venom out of it.


Blogger Eddie said...

A fair plea for peace - OK Roger but come on, lay off the brewers eh? And do go and visit them and try and 'get it'.

The rest of us have.

1 December 2009 at 14:06  
Anonymous Graham Alexander said...

I find it utterly incredible that you neglected to look at the BrewDog website before writing the original piece. Seriously, you didn't even take a quick look before posting?

As a writer, is it not your duty to get the facts straight before wading in and making sweeping statements?

A school boy error sir, which now casts suspicion over the factual basis of all your writing.

1 December 2009 at 14:19  
Blogger Richard said...

I also think Brewdog are a bunch of naughty mavericks who contribute nothing to brewing today.
May I now also have a trip to the brewery? :-)

Roger - I'm sure you'll enjoy this. They might not always do cask (although their cask Dogma was divine); however their enthusiasm and willingness to try new things should leave you feeling excited and a little bit tipsy. Enjoy it.

1 December 2009 at 14:46  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I think one of Roger's points, though, was correct. This is not technically beer. Not because of the yeast issue, but because it is a freeze-distilled product. I would speculate that HMRC would term this a spirit, and probably in fact require a licence to do this. I don't know where BD stand with regard to HMRC on this issue.

I think the cheap trick of claiming an ice beer to be the world's strongest beer ignores the efforts of micros like Samuel Adams and Dogfish Head, who work very hard to make fermented products at very high gravity.

1 December 2009 at 15:16  
Blogger Spencer said...

Disclaimer: I'm an American. I really don't see what the "yeast type" has to do with whether it's beer or not. So what if it's "wine yeast" or "champagne yeast" or even "distiller's yeast". It's made from malted barley (and adjuncts, presumably), mashed and fermented. That, in my book, makes it beer. Is spontaneously fermented lambic "not beer" because no "beer yeast" was pitched? The yeast argument is a red herring.

Apparently this beer was concentrated by freezing. So is Eisbock. Does that make Eisbock "not beer"? Where is the line between a traditional Eisbock and Brewdog?

1 December 2009 at 15:18  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

What is "it", Eddie? Please explain.

Graham, I devote my life to writing about beer and thereby promoting brewers. As a journalsit I also have the right to be critical. I take it you won't expect a Christmas card from me.

1 December 2009 at 15:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Glad that you have been gracious enough to make that statement after your previous comments.

I'm sure that when you make it up to Fraserbourgh to visit Brewdog, you'll see that although they may display a great amount of ego in their publicity, they do in fact back it up with great beers, and a love for what they do.

Incidentally travel north to Fraserburgh is real easy, as the bus station is next to the train station and there are regular buses.

I'm sure that I saw them mention in one of their video blogs that they have used a champagne yeast before. Could be wrong about that though.

1 December 2009 at 15:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe this is a changing of the guard, as it were.
The stereotypical 'Best Bitter' brigade must accept change and stop trying to block, by verbal assualt, the change afoot.
Brew-dog have the right to a big ego. They have an exceptional brand, derived by two very clever young guys who know how to encapulate the market.
The launch of this world record beer made national and international press. In other words 'Real Ale' made headline news; people were talking about it. This should be applauded as most non ale drinkers assume all real-ale heads are big bellied, middle aged men that form the sandle and sock troop.
Two young guys are at the helm here and demonstrate the way young people think and aspire. Never settle for the status quo. Push the boundaries and try something new. What is the harm in that?
Market forces always demand change.
A constant gets stagnant!

1 December 2009 at 15:59  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

Times change. I like traditional beer, but I understand that all many want to drink is very ordinary keg type beer and others want to go down the Brew Dog path, and all points in between. Roger is more than entitled to have his point of view, and if he wants to condem Brew Dog he is entitled to do that as well as others are entitled to disagree with him.

Roger has accepted some crititisam and othesr should accept that and move on to a more constructive debate. Why is brew dog beer so good ? what is the difference. Please explain.
I have visited their web site once some months ago. The whole thing to me is for a much younger generation and had no appeal to me whatsoever. I prefere local beer to my area withy one or two exceptions from Belgium.

If you vist Norwich I would recomend the Belgium Monk for its Belgium beer.

See just how worldly i am.

1 December 2009 at 16:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Graham, I devote my life to writing about beer and thereby promoting brewers. As a journalsit [sic] I also have the right to be critical. I take it you won't expect a Christmas card from me."

You have every right to be critical - it comes with the weighty obligation to do some actual research.

1 December 2009 at 16:48  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

Very sensible points. And thanks for the train/bus tips, Anonymous.

1 December 2009 at 16:49  
Blogger Laurent Mousson said...

It's not a spirit, because freeze distillation is NOT distillation. The proper term, as far as I've been able to find it, is freeze fractioning.

The principle is that the first bits to freeze in a beer are mostly water (with a bit of alcohol and malt/hops solids too), so if you remove them, although removing some alcohol, you'll remove a lot more water in proportion.
If you grossly simplify it, the result is concentrating the beer, yet most of the malt and hop solids are still in it, along with the yeast character.

When you distillate something, you remove the alcohol and some aromatic compounds to keep just these and dump the remains.
The principle and the result are therefore quite different from freeze fractioning.

To me, that's still beer, tweaked indeed, but beer.

As to the commotion and speculation about this 32% thing, well...

Provocation's very much the way BrewDog have communicated from the word go, and I think the role of beer journos and other beer-literate commenters is more to help the average drinker separate the hype from the product, and judge *the beer* for what it is.
To that respect, it may be a premium big-brand lager or an ultra-strong beer from a micro, hype is hype and must be quietly exposed as such to promote the use of a thing called brains, since he who thinks before he drinks tends to drink less.

1 December 2009 at 19:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a pity the views of the others have forced you into a lame and grovelling response.
Odd too that your 'let's just be friends' comment sharply contradicts your previous vindictive abuse of BrewDog.

1 December 2009 at 20:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you didn't look at their site first? you're not a brewer? when you boil it down you are simply someone who drinks and reads allot. When you start handling yeast and wort then you have the right to critique technique. you're written response simply sounds like you trying to justify your credentials. guess what? it doesn't matter how many awards for writing you have gotten or books you've written! you don't even homebrew and therefore cannot be considered an authority when it comes to brewing. I suggest you do some research in the future before posting. Then maybe the venom will stay away.

1 December 2009 at 21:32  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

Dear Brewdude,
But at least I can write literate English.
This is not a website for home brewers only, welcome though they are.
I know the brewing process inside out. And all my work is based on thorough research.
As I said earlier, I don't spend my life browsing the web -- I have a living to earn.
I can only repeat that I should have checked this out more thoroughly. I have apologised. I will visit BrewDog. What more do you want -- blood?

1 December 2009 at 22:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roger, You are surely well enough educated and politically experienced enough through your lifelong Socialist Workers Party activism to realise that argument from authority is the last refuge of one who knows he's wrong but doesn't want to lose the argument merely because of the facts. The fact that you recognise and hide behind the kudos of your name makes what you are doing to brewdog even worse.

Do you wonder why so many anonymous posts? Your reputation gives you enormous power and there are many people who fear your influence. Especially in the light of how you've been abusing it of late.

1 December 2009 at 22:38  
Anonymous Stephen said...

@Laurent Mousson - I beg to differ re distillation. Fractional freezing is just another word for freeze distillation. The same phase separation is affected, it is just done by lowering, rather than raising, the temperatures.

And you miss my broader point- this is a spirit because HMRC defines it as such, and you need a licence to do it:

Other processes used to produce spirits include:

freezing a fermented alcohol solution to obtain a rough, comparatively weak spirit from the frozen residue;

See also HMRC Note 39, Para 1.1 et seq.

1 December 2009 at 23:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your reply to brewdude you fall back on that old favourite tactic of the beaten man by attacking your critic's literacy and thereby implying a question as to their entitlement to challenge a great man such as yourself, the self styled World's Leading Authority On Beer.

I would have expected that you might have proof read your own copy before going down this route (Which is widely frowned upon in online debate) or perhaps you thought this was "mroe" (sic) trouble than it was worth. Much the same as you thought researching the brewdog article was something you didn't have time for.

If you're too busy to research something you are too busy to write about it.

What is it you're meant to stop doing when in a hole? Are you an expert on that too?

1 December 2009 at 23:47  
Blogger Jeff Alworth said...

Roger, I do appreciate where you're coming from: I live and write about beer in Portland, Oregon, and even in this tiny, constrained precinct of beer geography, I find it impossible to try all the beer available. And I've developed a heart suspicion of extreme beers made for no obvious point.

Where I would talk issue with you on this beer is that it seems very much indeed to have a point. BrewDog went through a very elaborate, involved process to produce the beer. There's no evidence that the goal was different than for their other beers: to conduct interesting experiments and make unusual beer. That this particular experiment was motivated by external forces seems only beside the point--not the point itself.

A second quibble is with your complaints about he lack of civility. To excoriate brewers as "ego-maniacs" and then call for calm is tough. The horse had already left the barn.

Finally, isn't the point to sell beer? We would like each beer to be considered like we would a museum or art piece--a product purely of craft and skill. But breweries have to sell beer, and they do that by promoting themselves. That they're good at it doesn't seem reason enough to dismiss them.

2 December 2009 at 00:08  
Anonymous Matt P said...

People are judged on what they do, not their opinion of themselves. Your constant reiteration of your credentials is increasingly cringe-worthy. So what? Your recent childish out-bursts have completely tarnished any reputation you may claim to have. Your mindless and pathetic attacks on BrewDog show just how out of touch you are. BrewDog are not perfect, but do a great job of getting people excited about beer.

2 December 2009 at 02:25  
Blogger Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

What in the hell is all this beer authoritarian crap anyway?? What I'd really like to know is how anyone could make a living being a beer journalist?? How exactly does that work?? Oh, and Protzy, we on the West Coast know all about your commie agenda and your plan to continue the warm vinegar theme throughout Britain. Ever heard of modern technology called "Proper Real Keg?" Probably not, but if you come to the West Coast I can give you a full demonstration.

Being that you're supposedly beer literate, why not do a service and explain the true origins of California Ale Yeast. I have reason to believe it wasn't created in a lab on the West Coast. Care to elaborate??

Oh, and another thing, you're getting a track. It's in the pipeline for a mid December release.


2 December 2009 at 03:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rog,

You seem to be prematurely jumping to the conclusion that you'd be welcome in Fraserborough.

2 December 2009 at 08:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strangely and ironically I am reminded of the last days of Thatcher.

2 December 2009 at 08:14  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

I do think it is a pity that the tone of some of the postings is 100% rude,negative and in some cases nasty.
If these are the supporters of Brew Dog perhaps Roger is right about them, if all it does is attract unpleasant people. The company of the drinker is as important as the beer. I would prefere to drink poor beer in good company, rather than good beer with some of this lot.

2 December 2009 at 08:33  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh come on, the abuse is rather childish.

Roger Protz has written an awful lot of (very good) books and does know a lot about beer.

Perhaps his view on Brewdog arise from the thought of a threat to good cask ale? Perhaps it's because he personally doesn't rate their beers (I don't know) but just sees what could be viewed on occasions as particularly mischievous behaviour?

I'm looking forward to his write-up. It would be great to see Protz writing about the exciting new extreme beers that are getting a new generation of drinkers interested in the stuff. We can't drink extreme beer all the time, so this will have a beneficial effect on good cask in pubs (not all cask is good...) and hopefully create a more discerning nation of drinkers who aren't content with yellow lager.

And so what if it isn't traditional beer? Nor was Helles in Munich...

2 December 2009 at 08:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has Mr Protz lost his 'self-proclaimed' crown to the understated Mr Pete Brown.
Pete has a much more moderate stance and is in no way vindictive.
He embraces ALL styles of beer and ALL brewers.
Is the problem with Brewdog the simple fact that you nor the likes of SIBA, have any governance or authority over them. And this pains you.
Pete Brown' coronation takes place today.

2 December 2009 at 08:55  
Anonymous Iain Robertson said...

Mr Protz, I feel you only have yourself to blame. Please, take a moment to reread your recent posts on BrewDog. Examine the language and tone you use to describe James, Martin and BrewDog (ironically, there seems to be very little written about the actual beers?). Now look at the type of comments raised here. It would seem you set the tone. Perhaps a more educated, less prejudiced attitude from the offset may have preserved your ‘journalistic’ reputation.

How many of their beers have you actually tried?

2 December 2009 at 09:21  
Blogger Laurent Mousson said...

@ Stephen : I wasn't replying specifically to you.

I'm perfectly aware HMRC would class it as a spirit in England.
But that's about as relevant as to the actual nature of the product as some US state laws stating that anything over 6% or whatever must be called ale.

Besides, it appears that particular bit of legislation does not necessarily apply to Scotland.

And it certainly wouldn't in continental countries such as Germany, where the 31% ABV Schorschbock is legally considered as beer.
We're talking on different levels here, and mine tends to be cross-borders as a matter of principle.

As to the more general argument, indeed it's also a phase separation using freezing rather than elaboration, but I still consider calling it a distillation is a misnomer likely to cause confusion among those not
The question is which part you keep and which one you throw away. IMHO, the part that contains the malt and hop solids is beer.
To give you a very concrete example, when you industrially distillate alcohol out of beer in a vacuum, what you you call the remaining liquid when it reaches the market in neat shiny bottles ?

That's right : alcohol free beer.

Therefore if beer with the alcohol distilled out is still beer, beer with - mostly - water removed, but still containing most of its hop and malt solids is beer as well. QED.

2 December 2009 at 10:09  
Blogger Laurent Mousson said...

@ thebrewdude : the 'you don't brew therefore you're not entitled to come' arguent is utter and complete b*ll*cks, and you know it.

I for one - and Roger and many members of the BGBW could certainyl say the same - have met enough professional brewers in various countries to know that there's always a proportion of them who don't have a clue at all (French micros being especially awful to that regard) or have an incredibly narrow-minded approach that prevents them to even understand and appreciate beers brewed outside of their walled garden (German-speaking brewers being often pretty scary to that respect).

And I'm not even talking of homebrewers, a good proportion of which are quite competent indeed, but my oh my... the misguided, incompetent rubbish being parroted by some on homebrewing forums is just appalling.

2 December 2009 at 10:18  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

I think it's time to move on, especially when Americans start talking about "commies" -- I thought Senator Joe McCarthy was long in his grave.
I'm grateful to Laurent for his sensible contributions.
To those willing to listen, I don't only write about real ale -- it rarely features on the website. It's a minority style in my 300 Beers book.
To those championing Pete Brown, you will be disappointed to learn that he has sent me a long message of solidarity this morning. We are friends and colleagues in the British Guild of Beer Writers. Beer writers get on well together and avoid the venom.

I don't like the term "extreme beers" but I don't ignore strong beers. Last night I enjoyed Weyerbacher's Merry Monks Golden Ale from the US at 9.3%.

2 December 2009 at 10:47  
Blogger Roger Protz said...

Could I point out to Anonymous that I am not and have never been a member of the Socialist Workers Party. I'm not a member of any political party. Anonymous's claim is prejudicial and he should tread carefully.

2 December 2009 at 13:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying this is the last i will post on this matter. The reason everyone got so up in arms including myself was your lack of research before posting. No i'm not out for blood Protz i like information but the blood of an englishmen would taste good with breakfast i think- j/k...hell maybe i can even make a beer out of it. Is all you can attack me or do make yourself feel better about my statements is attack my grammar? HA! fastest way to lose a genuine beer geek reader. BTW I don't call myself a journalist as you do. I call myself a blogger therefore I will write in whatever F*ked up english manner i choose. Learn to take a little criticism gracefully man after all this is the internet and if you "browsed the internet" a little you would realize opinions simply run high on most blog as do emotions. At least i can see innovation and experimentation for what it is. try to stop taking comments on your little blog so personally and just keep writing with proper research and those of us who want the info will keep reading.

2 December 2009 at 14:52  
Anonymous Chap said...

Protz today: Anonymous's claim is prejudicial and he should tread carefully.

Protz on 30 November: what were you smoking last night, chaps?

Pot, kettle, black? Seriously, it all gets a bit pathetic after a time.

2 December 2009 at 15:02  
Anonymous Chap said...

Protz today: Anonymous's claim is prejudicial and he should tread carefully.

Protz on 30 November: what were you smoking last night, chaps?

Pot, kettle, black? Seriously, it all gets a bit pathetic after a time.

2 December 2009 at 15:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Dear Brewdude,
But at least I can write literate English."

Clever Ad hominem. But truly - are you blind to the number of spelling and grammar mistakes that you have made in this thread?

2 December 2009 at 15:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried Punk IPA and didn't like it at all; I also found the hype on the bottles very annoying. I have looked at the Brewdog website and didn't like the arrogance and over infalted egos either. But that is just my humble opinion and it should not deter anyone else from trying and buying Brewdog products.

I find in amazing that Mr. P. would feel the need to be so unprofessional in the way that he has attacked this brewer; particlraly without even bothering to find out the facts first! I also cannot get my head round the claims that TNP is not beer! How hypocritical when other brews that divert from the norm in the way they are brewed are applauded by the same man.

I think you must need new shoe after shooting yourself in the foot this badly Mr. P.

Maybe it's time camra ditched the beards and cable knit jumpers and got with the times!

Despite my opening comments I think Brewdog are to be applauded for trying something deifferent and be creative and inventive. It may not be to everyones tastes but lets be thankful that it isn't. What a boring world it would be if we all agreed with each other and all liked the same things.

5 December 2009 at 17:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, that is the beauty of seeking out beer with flavor, some nights I want beer A and others beer B. If we all had the same tastes then the giant conglomerates have us beat.

It is sad that more notice comes about for backlashing an opinion than to those who fight battles to keep the identity of beer whole. A prime example of this is the fight a small brewer took against a billion dollar energy drink for keeping a brand name.

We won, Small Guys won!!!!!

Although this thread was entertaining to read this is a bit more so and in video format so even if you are illiterate you can still enjoy, cheers!!!!


8 December 2009 at 18:30  
Blogger Melissa Cole said...

Woh! I've finally caught up with this having had several people mention it to me and I'm really disappointed with the behaviour of a lot of people on here.

Fine, Roger should have looked more carefully at the BrewDog website and yes, it was an ill-conceived piece but the personal attacks are just so unpleasant!

The fact that he also had the balls to stand up and say that he made a mistake takes a lot - it's not easy to admit publicly that you're wrong and especially when you've got the standing that Roger has.

But perhaps that's the whole raison d'etre for the attacks, the bigger they are the harder they fall is it lads?

As for the claim by the Anonymous poster that Roger wields so much power in the industry they don't want to be named is just pathetic - man (or woman!) up mate, you're simply an unpleasant coward.

9 December 2009 at 15:45  
Anonymous Nightmair said...

bit late riding in on this...

I think that beer writer or beer drinker, you should start to consider how boring you potentially when you feel the need to technically describe whether a beer is indeed a beer or not.

Mr Protz clearly made a significant error, and one that he has apologised for. Any self righteousness in subsequent responses is more than childish. Everyone cocks up on occasion. To be fair however, a knee jerk response to yet another Brewdog marketing ploy is to be expected. I know a few brewery guys in Scotland and the reputation Brewdog has with them seems to be that of arrogant cocky trouble makers (from the conversations Ive had). However, it is no coincidence that many of these breweries are now releasing craft beers, in 330ml bottles. It is easy to be critical of a couple of mid twenties flash boys who plow right in upsetting the UK beer cart, but the numbers of breweries who they have paved the way for seems to indicate that they are doing something right. In fact were they in the USA they'd get knacker all coverage for what they do, because over there it wouldn't be seen as so radical.

I happen to love their beers, and their ethos. Why should things always have to be the same, why can't we have something new, and a new way of looking at things. Brewdog, for all the bluster and the hype, do produce bloody good beer too.

Happy New Year boys and girls

1 January 2010 at 15:55  

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