What is it about craft beer branding and canines? We have those well known American breeds Flying Dog and Dogfish Head, and now there's the Scots terror: Brew Dog. The Aberdeenshire microbrewery opened just last year and is already producing an impressive range of beers, bottled and on cask (my notes on cask Hype are in this post). Reviews have been generally positive, so I requested a mixed case as a Christmas present from a UK-based family member (cheers, sis).
Because the brewery is new, I'm not terribly upset about what happened next. In small business terms it's probably classified as an oversight or teething troubles: the dozen 33cl bottles were shipped without any protective wrapping on them. As a result, one of my Rip Tides arrived in several pieces, with the cardboard box receiving the full benefit of the imperial stout within. I trust the brewery will be rectifying this dispatch issue soon, if they haven't already.
I started with the "laid back amber beer" The Physics, immediately struck by the cuteness of a best before date written in biro. It's a dark amber colour, reminding me of American lagers like Old Scratch and Boston Lager. Not much aroma, just tiny sugary sweetness and even tinier hops if you inhale deeply enough. The first sip delivers a big, and quite unexpected, hoppy punch: brimming with a very heavy vegetal bitterness of the sort found in the more full-on English bitters. Think Landlord. The bitterness lingers and is joined by a rich caramel sweetness and the overall sensation is like sucking on a candy-coated hop cone. Er, probably. The Physics is tasty, complex, and not at all laid back. With all those hops in this one I moved on to the IPA with trepidation.
The first shock of Punk IPA was from the colour: a very bright, pale yellow and suspiciously clear for a handcrafted beer. Yes, I know that my suspicions are unfounded and that craft brewers can make clear beers too, but I like a bit of cloud in my ales. There's probably a chemical additive you can get... Anyway, second shock was that Punk isn't an aggressive hop monster. The aroma, again, is slight and has a citrus quality which is carried through in a big way in the flavour. It's very zesty, with lemony overtones, and also quite smooth and more-ish. Punk isn't about being smooth, but it is about being shocking, I guess, so the name can stay.
Rip Tide was a bit more normal, in a special sort of way. It pours a very opaque black with just about no head. There's a bit of a prickle in the mouthfeel, but mostly it's rich and thick. The taste is quite subtle, and nothing leaps out immediately. Rolling it around the palate it's quite dry, but there's just a hint of chocolatey sweetness in the mix there too. It leaves a bitter taste at the end as a prelude to the next sip. I think my preferences lean towards the caramel-and-coffee school of imperial stouts, which left me intrigued as to what happens when you send Rip Tide off to live in a whisky cask for a while.
It gains two ABV percentage points and turns into Paradox, is the short answer. The one I have here is from an Islay cask: batch 8 -- Bowmore. The smoky peat is apparent even from the narrow neck of a slightly cold bottle, and even more so when poured into a wide-bottomed glass, where a tawny head makes a brief appearance but is gone in an instant. The fullness of the Rip Tide mouthfeel is there, as is the lasting bitter aftertaste, but before that there's the earthy scotch buzz dominating everything. The 10% ABV is well hidden among the smooth and balanced whisky flavours. Its Laphroaigishness reminds me a lot of Messrs Maguire's fantastic, but now heart-breakingly gone, Imperial which I raved over back in the autumn. Paradox is a superb beer: uncompromising, innovative and chock full of the Brew Dog spirit. Well done, lads.
I look forward to trying some of the other beers Brew Dog have out. And I look forward even more to being able to buy them in Ireland where I can be fairly sure I'll get them home in one piece.