Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Day 69, Beer 69 - Brew Dog's "5 A.M. Saint"

Today's Beer

Name – 5 A.M. Saint

Brewer – Brew Dog

Classification – Amber Ale (I steadfastly refuse to write 'Iconoclastic Amber Ale' as the label would have me do. But then, there's a lot about this label that I choose to disregard. I have to, otherwise I'd never be able to drink it. Read on...)

Strength – 5 % ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Brooding, deepest walnut. Very handsome.

On the nose – Monumentally zingy hops. This is Citrus-Kong! Bonus wafts of pepper and spices. Utterly unique.

On the tongue – Complexity and nuance are both off the grid. Top end heavy, but deliciously so. Very special.

On the subject - As Scotland's largest independent brewery, Brew Dog have scampered along very impressively since their arrival on the market in 2007. Loved, loathed, but seldom ignored. But then, it's hard to ignore a dog that never stops barking.

On the market – The cult of Brew Dog has yet to reach it's goal of global domination. Will it ever? Well, maintaining such a diligently manipulated public image could become tedious to them, but failing that - global domination looks pretty likely. This bottle came from The Real Ale Store.

On the whole - 9/10

Full Review

I don't like Brew Dog.

The list of reasons is too lengthy for a single posting, but let me give you an example.

On the label of this beer bottle, Brew Dog have written "The UK beer scene is sick. We are the cure."

An earlier version - as displayed on their own promotional website - was phrased "The UK beer scene is sick. We are the fucking doctor."

Setting aside the earlier version (with it's revolutionary use of naughty language) - what you have here is the distilled essence of what this brewery's marketing strategy is all about.

Brash, boastful, brattish, and supposedly cool.

They're like that kid back in school who thought he was popular just because he was louder and ruder than everyone else. The kid who grew up to run his own car clamping firm, or sell expensive industrial vacuum cleaners to elderly widows.

Oh, how we all look back and regret not punching that kid square in the jaw! Why did we all smile along with this idiot for so long?

That's the Brew Dog public relations ethos. They've applied time, money and effort into making themselves 'be' the most irritating child in your class, the one who nobody ever dared to tell to 'shut up.'

Quite honestly, my eight year old son has a far greater flair for PR.

But then, eight year old kids are precisely who this beer is aimed at, as is made clear by the child-sized bottles it's sold in. (This is not a problem unique to this brewery, because like always, those who are scared tend to follow the bully...)

The chief reason why this particular label-quotation makes me resent the brewery with such unbridled enthusiasm, is because (aside from being massively cheesy) it is just plain old incorrect.

Having spent the last three months sampling bottle after bottle of beers from all across this country, I can say with absolute certainty that the 'UK beer scene' (the reductive phrase these guys use to describe the 'UK beer industry') is not nearly 'sick' as they claim, but is actually in the most excellent health - possibly better than ever before in it's long and illustrious history.

The only 'sickness' at work here is in the shape of a relatively new business deciding to drop it's trousers, crouch down and empty it's bowels upon every other firm in the sector - purely in order to make a splash, if you'll excuse the phrase.

Snore, snore, snore.

Good luck with that car clamping business.

The reality is that my eight year old son would instinctively know that taking the 'screw you - but love me' approach to marketing only works on the gullible, the timid, or those who actively enjoy being treated with disrespect.

This leaves every other drinker in the marketplace without a Brew Dog beer in his hand, because he will never buy products which tell him what a clown he is for doing so. (The rest of the label essentially tells the drinker what an ignoramus he probably is.)

Anyway, when it comes to the corporate image of this brewery, I think you get the idea.

But what of the important bit?

What about the beer they produce?

Incidentally, that really is the important bit - though it's not at all clear whether Brew Dog actually realise this, such is the emphasis on the aforementioned public image.

The other question, of course, was how the hell I would react if it transpired that their beer was actually pretty decent? I'd potentially be forced into a very tricky corner.

Imagine then, how unequivocally mortified I was rendered when - mere moments into the taste test of 5 A.M Saint - I became horribly and acutely aware that I was in the presence of one of the most sublime fluids I've ever encountered.

Actually, I think my very first though was - "The bastards!"

This beer is astonishingly delicious, and - in complete contrast to all the swagger and posturing of the branding - it is also exquisitely delicate, elegant and refined. It actually tastes 'friendly'. I could almost feel the beer apologising for the unruly behaviour of it's own label.

But, my goodness, how many ways did I enjoy this ale. And for how many varied reasons.

Newly-ripened grapefruit, spiced apple, fresh ginger, black pepper - all wonderfully distinct and vital, having been blended and crafted with the most distinguished skill and precision.

The supremely gifted craftspeople who work this palpable magic in the brewhouse are surely not the very same individuals who toss around lunatic marketing concepts like paper planes over in the office.

If they are the same - it would lend serious weight to the notion that even a genius is never good at everything.

The harsh reality is that Brew Dog's ultra-rubbish PR approach needs to be set aside - because this beer needs everyone, and I do mean everyone, to look beyond the branding and discover a brew of rarefied excellence. It is truly gorgeous, and it really has no business being sent-up and compromised by the irritating comedy exploits of an amoral vacuum cleaner salesman.

Like I said, I don't like Brew Dog.

Until their playground media mentality evolves, I'll always have trouble buying their products.

But there's very little point in pretending otherwise - I absolutely love their beer.


Velky Al said...

Precisely. They are annoying bastards at times, but they have a habit of making decent beer (I can get away with saying decent because I can think of several far better breweries over here in the States).

Sometimes I get the feeling that BrewDog is really like Wimpy, a not quite as good as the Americans clone.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Velky -

In my mind - even if I base any opinion purely on these Beer Year reviews - the US has clearly marched ahead of the field - and firms like Brew Dog cannot disguise the inspiration they have drawn from the American craft 'scene'.

The junior-sized "six pack friendly" bottle sizes being just one aspect of this.

Flagon of Ale said...

Great review. I am surprised at how wholeheartedly they have ripped off the most annoying parts of American craft beer, and the fact that none of their drinkers seem bothered by that. Mark of a good reviewer that you can praise the beer in spite of it, though.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Flagon -

It's also a mark of a good ale that it can stand so tall astride such ludicrous kindergarten mind games.

One wonders how much greater the Brew Dog legacy might have been if they'd allowed their extremely eloquent ales to speak for themselves....

Ketsbaia said...

I not a fan of their marketing nor their beer. While 5am Saint isn't the worst, I still believe it's like most of their other output, i.e. not quite hitting the mark.

What disappointed me was that it could have tasted much better. You really get the feeling if they concentrated on the beer rather than the chutzpah, they might be on to something.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Ketsbaia -

There will always be the suspicion that this company has it's heart and soul on the wrong floor of the building.

It's such a pity. As you say, they are so close to greatness, that wasted energy might have made the crucial difference - and got them there.

Ketsbaia said...

Agreed. And good to know I'm not the only one to think that way. Most people I meet think their beer is amazing. I just can't see it myself.