This part of the story will be familiar to American craft beer lovers. Two young guys get together and decide to open a brewery. They are young (24) and find the beer available in their local market to be overly commercial and bland. The beer they seek to make highlights aggressive, hop-focused ales--particularly ales fizzing with the wilder, citrusy hops of the NW. They inject a sense of insouciance into their approach to brewing, their image, and their marketing. Their flagship is an IPA. They work the word "dog" into the title.
This part of the story is less routine: the brewery in question, BrewDog, was founded two years ago in Fraserburgh, Scotland.
BrewDog is actually the project of an entrepreneurial wunderkind named James Watt. It is clearly very well-funded and in this way deviates from the story of many American start-ups. Actually, the more you delve into the story of the brewery, the less it looks like a typical craft start-up. Neither Watt nor Martin Dickie, his partner, had any background in brewing. Watt has a background in law and shipping (the family business), not beer. I can find no information about how the founders learned to brew (though apparently Dickie's the brewer). And, whether due to the quality of the beer or the impressive brand identity and marketing, in less than three years, BrewDog has managed to become the largest independent Scottish brewery and also to penetrate the beer geek market in the US.
It is difficult to look at the list of BrewDog beers and not feel like they aren't some kind of wayward cousins. There's the Hardcore IPA--an imperial made with Chinook, Simcoe, Warrior, and Amarillo hops. ("Hopped to hell, then dry-hopped, too.") All of those, incidentally are locals, and three were developed in Yakima. The flagship, Punk IPA, is also made with Yakima-bred Ahtanum as well as NW Chinook and Nelson Sauvin, the sole non-NW hop. (It's non-English, too.) Trashy Blond is made exclusively with Amarillos.
Allow me to hypothesize. Couple of young guys want to start a new brewery, and they look around the world to see who's making the most interesting beers. Do they look South to London? Or further South to Brussels or Munich? No. They looked to the US West Coast. There's no other way to read their inspiration than but to look around. Everything about his brewery--except its location--looks like a typical Portland brewery. We may have it in our head that the US is the ingenue in the brewing world, but that's really no longer the case. Our beers are now inspiring brewers around the world.
BrewDog produces a series of specialty beers, including barrel-aged beers. (Sounds familiar, yes?) Their most promising endeavor is Paradox, an imperial stout they age in different malt whisky barrels. Use what's locally available, right?--especially if it's barrels from producers of the world's finest whiskies. Early reviews have been positive if slightly mixed, but this seems like a match made in heaven--and an experiment that could evolve into a venerated style in the years ahead.
But their highest-profile exeriment is Atlantic IPA, "made from a 150-year-old recipe" and "the first commercially available, genuine sea-aged IPA in over two centuries." It was aged on the deck of Watt's father's own Mackerel trawler in the North Atlantic for two months. (Again, use what's available....) The journey is well-documented on the BrewDog blog--including some very charming video--and while the idea may have been a high-concept way to get some press (check), it was also clearly a labor of love, and a project that has now captivated the brewery. I will confess, having seen the video, to also being captivated.
Just 960 bottles are making it to the US, and the brewery sent me one. They'll be retailing for $26 a bottle (an 11 ounce, 330 ml bottle at that), and so everyone is wondering: is it worth $2.33 an ounce? I will post my review tomorrow.
Update: Here's the review.