You can be forgiven for suspecting that there might not be a lot going on in the wee corner of Scotland that is Fraserburgh. But you would be wrong. Fraserburgh is the hometown of Brew Dog--a brewery not-so-quietly becoming a force in global beer culture. Here (via the magic of Facebook) is my interview with Brett Taylor a Canadian doing his Co-Op in Fraserbergh, at Brew Dog brewery.
Brew Dog barks loudly at its critics and back up its bite with delicious drinks, defiantly quirky marketing, and a willingness to push things to world-breaking limits. I mean it: they broke multiple world records for the world's strongest beer. The strongest they served it in a stuffed animal. A real stuffed animal. (And it cost £5-700). There's a lot to talk about here.
I recently was at a beer dinner hosted by co-founder James Watt at Chancey Smith’s (now the Gambrinus Bistro). I will tell you all about the lovely evening and delicious beers on offer there, drilling down into what the fuss is all about…but not just now. Before getting into the beers, lets get into the story of the brewery itself. First, an inside scoop into what is going on at Brew Dog from someone who woke up this morning and was there all day.
I corresponded with Brett to get a more timely peek at what the Brew Dog punks are up to on their home turf. Brett is also writing his own blog about his time in Scotland.
- First off -- what are you doing at Brew Dog and how did you get here?
How did i get here? An email. BrewDog loves having interns apparently and when I contacted them said yes. James and I exchanged a few emails and I explained what I was looking for. We set up everything and here I am. Nothing glamourous or crazy. I've been very luck with all my experience in the brewing industry so far and the guys here are great. I am officially an intern but I'm working as an assistant brewer. Here that can mean just about anything. I am learning to brew on a commercial scale in a very retro way. I work bottling and packaging and just about everything in between. Thanks for the opportunity!
- What are some of the problems you are trying to solve, things you are trying to change in your position.
Since I’ve just started there isn’t much I can do to change my position since I’m still learning it. I’m doing a bit of everything right now until things get more sorted out. I would obviously prefer to work on the brewing side more but some days there isn’t much to do so packaging is where the focus shifts. I’m talking to and working with the head brewer Stewart Bowman to set up some more structured quality control measures which is also something I am very interested in.
- Brew dog conveys a sort of high energy enthusiasm for brewing and an experimental/radical vibe to their products. Is there a kind of crazed energy in the brewhouse like one is tempted to imagine?
There is always energy at the brewery. Lots of energy. I don’t think I’ve worked a day where anyone working did not want to be there, except maybe if they had a big night out the night before. There is always music playing and I frequently find myself playing air guitar or mouthing the words. We listen to everything: heavy metal, punk, rock, punk rock and a bit of mellower stuff. It all depends what is happening the brewing process and who is brewing. The way I’ve described it to many people is that it is a very rock star life. We rock out to music and make beer. Is there any better job?
- Are there experiments and test brews that you have seen going on? Anything you can talk about?
Since I’ve been here they have received a new mini brew system for the R & D side of things. I believe that an IPA of sorts was brewed on it and we are just waiting for it to ferment out. We have also brewed 2 of the IPA is Dead beers. IPA is dead is a brew with 4 beers, all the same malt base and IBU’s but each one has a single hop added to it. Each one has a hop from a different continent: Bramling X from England, Sorachi Ace from Japan, Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand and Citra from the US. It will be cool to put them against each other and see what characteristics come out when they go solo.
- Quick thoughts on living in Fraserbergh, Scotland (pop.~15,000)?
It is isolated, cold and there isn’t much to do. That being said I’m really enjoying it. It has been a nice change of pace from the city life I’m used to. No partying every weekend, no constant work to do and I can walk everywhere with ease. Living by the sea is also really nice and for some reason makes me feel at home. Essentially, there is a church, a lighthouse the beach and BrewDog.
- Name some things that have surprised you recently.
I was surprised at the brew house. This is the most hands-on brew house I’ve ever seen, and for a brewery this big I’m shocked it is this way. Most breweries have a silo for the pale malt but we do it all by hand. It is really like home brewing in 50 HL batches. I think the size of the brewery also shocked me and we are still expanding. The biggest thing is the multi cultural aspect here. There is me, a Canadian, as well as 2 Australians, a German, a safety manager from India, an intern from Denmark, an American and a lot of Scotsmen. We have also had people come as interns for a week from Israel and Sweden. Its great how something like beer can bring people together from almost everywhere to up here in the middle of nowhere.
- How did you get hooked and start to learn more about brewing?
My love of beer started with the Beer Store being out of the beer I was after with my friends. I looked up at the board and picked up a Steam Whistle. After a sip or 2 I just turned to everyone and said “This is by far the best beer I’ve ever had.” Being the type of person to look up things I like I hopped on the web right away and started to read. Once I learned there was a whole “craft brewing” industry in Ontario I instantly started to look for more. After about 9 months I learned that my mom taught a guy who worked at Brick Brewing in Waterloo and she connected us (parents as teachers are great once you are out of high school). He gave me some malt and hops and a recipe. After that I was hooked. I kept brewing and we have become really good friends since.
I also got a few brewing books for Christmas that year (2009). The Practical Brewer is a great textbook on all things beers and is put together by MBAA. It truly has everything you could want to know about beer from ingredients to tasting notes. I also got a few books on Canadian brewing history and the beer industry in general. I’m a hands on learner so as great as the books are they have nothing on learning the process hands on from the punks here at BrewDog.
- Please say something about the story behind meeting the prominent British beer writers Zak Avery Mark Dredge and Pete Brown---and the beer that was made!
This was a very cool experience. I sadly missed the MUSA (a local pub) dinner with the guys but got to spend a day with them the next day. I don’t think they were at their best. They showed up to brew an Imperial Pilsner which was continually hopped for the full 75 minute boil.
While mashing in I got to talk with Zak Avery about the beer industry over here, some of the great beers he has tried and we exchanged the differences between the UK and Canadian beer markets. I also had to relieve him from shoveling out the mash tun later that day.
I chatted with Mark Dredge while shoveling out the mash tun about his career, what he thinks of Twitter and other social media and his favourite styles of beer.
Pete Brown was also fun to chat with while mashing in and we talked about beer in general and the inspiration for the imperial pilsner. They did have a hard time coming up with words for the label for when we finally bottle the beer and I’m pretty sure it was due to the hangover.
We also had a great fish and chips lunch home made by [Brew Dog co-founder] Martin Dickie with a 77 Lager beer batter and Mackerel. Its funny that I spent a few hours with 3 great beer writers and we didn’t talk about beer as much as I thought yet I still learned quite a lot and I plan on seeing Zak’s beer shop in Leeds during my visit.
- Do you have a favourite Brew Dog Beer?
So far my favourite beer is probably Hardcore IPA or Chaos Theory. I’ve only had Chaos Theory once so I can’t be 100% sure but we will be brewing it again soon. If you can’t tell I’m an IPA fan. I also really like RipTide which is a great imperial stout. I also can’t wait to try the high ABV ones or the Abstrakt series, which I hear are fantastic.
- Thoughts on the high ABV beers? [Brew Dog has brewed beers at 32%, 41% and 55%! More on these in my future post about the Beer Dinner!]
Brilliant. Just brilliant. I know that lots of people have a problem with them and that BrewDog is “irresponsible” for making them. At £35 or £40 per bottle nobody is going to buy a 12 pack and get hammered off of them. Each bottle comes with a stopper and in a paper bag, which I think makes it seem classy and cheap at the same time, because they know it won’t be put down in one sitting. You don’t buy a nice bottle of Lagavulin 16 year old whisky to drink in one night, and you don’t buy a bottle Penguin to funnel at a party. They are true to what BrewDog has become and I think they help define BrewDog. The Penguin Video (see below) on the website is the reason I became interested in BrewDog and look where it got me.
Thanks Brett! What a lucky guy, to be at a place like Brew Dog and for school no less!