Wednesday, 4 February 2015

An Abstrakt Concept

"INTRODUCING THE WORLD'S FIRST CONCEPT BEER BRAND" bellowed the press release announcing the launch of Brewdog's Abstrakt range of beers back at the tail-end of 2009. Promising to be 'MORE ART THAN BEER', the 17 releases on the label to date have been beautifully packaged in 375ml champagne bottles with jet-black corks and cages. The styles have varied from quads to imperial stouts to barley wines, but the ABVs have been high and the adjuncts extensive.

When this tweet went out last month, it attracted the response you would expect. A 'Cookies and Cream Imperial Stout' might be in keeping with the syrupy-sweet, adjunct-heavy beers in the range over the past few years, but as every attention-hungry craft brewery starts boosting their gravities and shovelling crazy flavours and Flumps into their conditioning tanks, the Abstrakt range has started to look less like an arty concept and more like... just another set of big beers.

In addition, up to this point almost every Abstrakt beer has encouraged the hoarder. Huge ABV monsters, released Across the UK, thousands of dusty black demi-bouteilles clog up cupboards as beer enthusiasts avoid opening their numbered collectibles. Beer is there to be drunk though, and up to this point, Abstrakt has served to discourage the consumption of the beers. I think it would be fun to flip that on its head and produce an Absrakt that needs to be consumed urgently.

So - here's my idea for a future Abstrakt. For convenience's sake, let's call it Abstrakt 20.

Abstrakt 20 would be Brewdog's first ever DOGO release - an appropriately canine acronynm meaning Draught-Only-Growler-Only. Instead of paying 9.99 for a low-profile corked-and-caged 375ml champagne bottle from their online shop, their Bottledog bottle shop or their bars, Abstrakt 20 would be a numbered 1 litre swing-top. I could imagine it being covered in a unique piece of artwork from one of their regular artists, such as Craig Fisher or Johanna Basford... or being almost entirely empty, save for a small logo and a bottle number. Whatever works for James Watt and company. What is paramount is that it is empty.

A 1 litre flip-top bottle, yesterday.
The beer destined for the Abstrakt 20 bottles should be time-limited, designed to be drunk at its best. In the spirit of Magic Rock's Un-Human Cannonball or - topically - Russian River's Pliny the Younger, it should be as big a double or triple IPA as can be wrung out of the Ellon brewhouse, with a final gravity coaxed as low as possible and dry-hopped to the point that the centrifuge tries to tender its resignation. Brewdog, for all their air-freighted IPA imports and Love Hops... neon signs, have never attempted to brew the ultimate big IPA, so this would be their chance.

On the day that the beer can be released, the Abstrakt 20 bottle can be taken to one of their bars or shops and filled, at no charge, with the beer. If the owner of the bottle wants to take it home, then so be it; if they want to grab four glasses and split it with their table in the bar, no problem. However, no bottle, no beer - without the Abstrakt 20 bottle, one cannot expect a pour of the beer that goes inside.* If you want to drink the beer, you would either need to get hold of your own bottle, or find somebody who has one and is willing to share. Abstrakt 20 would be either the ultimate social beer - destined to be shared - or the ultimate antisocial beer - open it alone, and you would need to finish it alone to enjoy it at its peak. Either way, it would be more art than beer.

On the front of the bottle are three boxes. When the bottle is filled, the server fills one of the boxes in with an indelible paint marker - they can tick it, draw a smiley face, write their initials, whatever they are in the mood for. Once the owner has enjoyed their three fills, and all boxes have been completed, it cannot be refilled again - and thus their Abstrakt 20 is complete. A unique piece of art, comprising the bottle artwork (or lack thereof) and the three contributions from the people who filled it.

Abstrakt 20. More art than beer. Coming soon?

(* - In reality, I think if a keg had been on for a week, I think it could be opened up to be poured like any other beer rather than simply ditched in the name of 'art'... Brewdog are a business, after all.)

Friday, 2 January 2015

Golden Pints 2014

Here are my Golden Pints for the year. I've dispensed with a couple of categories along the way... for example, I've barely bought a beer in a supermarket, so I'm not best placed to pick a winner.

Best UK Cask Beer - Weird Beard Dark Hopfler. Disclosure out of the way, I spent a few weeks working full time at WB in September. This particular beer dates back to the spring, when Daniel Vane ruled the brewhouse roost and turned a leftover imperial stout mash into a masterclass in marrying the extreme with the sessionable. Just 2.5% but with masses of body, lots of body and huge aroma from a big dry hop, I can't think of a more memorable pint I've had this year.
Honourable mentions: Siren Broken Dream was excellent whenever I had it, and Brew By Numbers, despite being new to cask conditioning their beers, were serving a stellar cask of Coffee Porter at the brewery just before Christmas.

Best UK Keg Beer - I've drunken proportionately more keg this year than any other year, so this is much harder than it has been in the past. Reliable old favourites like Magic Rock Cannonball and Thornbridge Tzara are still fantastic, but the one beer that sticks in my mind is Wild Beer Bibble. A draught-only pale ale, it was memorable for being so reserved. Soft in texture, not overly bitter, but with a clarity and freshness of flavour that so many brewers tend to overlook in favour of the extremes. The most drinkable beer I had this year, and perhaps the only keg beer that I drank pint after pint of in a single night. Honourable mention to the crazy Siren/Evil Twin Even More Jesus BA beers that were put on for the Evil Twin Meet the Brewer in London in January. The coffee version was ridiculously over the top but all the better for it.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer - It's Wild Beer again, with their Beyond Modus. Ostensibly a deluxe version of their flagship Modus Operandi, the extra barreling and blending has turned it into a woody, complex beast that nods to the best of the Flemish classics. The sort of beer that just wasn't being made in the UK just a couple of years ago.
Honourable mention to Burning Sky's Monolith, a dark funky beer which, like Beyond Modus, was novel, complex and very tasty, and the Brewdog's Black Eyed King Imp, which was the first time in years that one of their beers surpassed their rhetoric. Their best brew since AB:04.

Best Overseas Draught Beer - It would be easy to go for one of the crazy limited beers from Copenhagen Beer Celebration here, or for a classic like unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from the wood or Cantillon Fou Foune, which was as great as ever at Borefts and on Zwanze Day. But I'm going for Dieu Du Ciel!'s Moralité, a collaboration with The Alchemist that was probably the juiciest IPA to cross the Atlantic this year. When it was served at their Meet the Brewer event at Brewdog's Clapham bar, it was a rare occasion when a big group of beer geeks were unanimous in agreement on the beer of the night.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer - Hill Farmstead Vera Mae, which came all the way from Vermont via a beer trade. A beer of incredible subtlety and reserve, but bursting with flavour and zip. Massively drinkable, which is a shame as I'll likely have to travel all the way to Vermont - and get very lucky with my timing - to drink it again. Honourable mention to Blaugies' Saison d'Epautre, which I drank a lot of once I found it for sale in Luxembourg, and to Stone's Enjoy By, which Brewdog air-dropped in to hopheads across the UK in the summer.

Best Collaboration Brew - I guess it has to be DDC Moralit√©, although Green Flash's collab with Cigar City, their cedar-aged rye wine Candela that was served at CBC, was similarly stellar. I also enjoyed Weird Beard/Elusive's Lord Nelson, as did a lot of people, and the aforementioned Siren/Evil Twin Jesus beers. Beavertown/Naparbier Bone King was quite good too, the Finger series from Siren/To Ol was great, and Shnoodlepip remains undefinably brilliant.

Best Overall Beer - By the tiniest margin, and because I'd love to have a keg or a cask of it at home at all times, it's Wild Beer Bibble.

Best Branding, Pump Clip or Label - Magic Rock is still the most coherent and eye-catching around. I think Josh Smith's work for Weird Beard is great, and I really like the Brewdog rebrand too - at first glance it looks like shit, but on bottles and cans it's a mile better than their tired old wacky branding of the past few years.

Best UK Brewery - Incredibly hard to choose this year, but for their consistently high quality across a range of styles and in every method of dispense, Magic Rock stand out. It could easily have been a number of others: although not mentioned above, I think Buxton have had a stellar year. Thornbridge's relentless consistency is incredible, Siren are knocking out some fantastic beers at the moment, while Wild Beer's dizzy highs make their occasional bum notes entirely forgivable.

Best Overseas Brewery - Brasserie Cantillon are the best overseas brewery.

Bar\Pub of the YearClick for full details

Best Beer Festival - On paper, it should be Copenhagen Beer Celebration, but this year it came very close to disappearing up it's own arse, with too much focus on 'out-there' beers and morning sessions starting at 10am. No-one wants to have to fight through a scrum to drink 15% imperial stout for breakfast. So instead it was a toss up between Borefts, which was typically brilliant this year, and Independent Manchester Beer Convention, which just shades it. Excellent venue, perfectly curated beer list, insightful seminars, pop-up tastings... A few tweaks away from being the definitive British beer festival.

Independent Retailer of the Year - My ideal beer store would be a neighbourhood corner store with good prices, a comprehensive stock of local beers (especially if you have the likes of Arbor and Wild Beer in the region) and bottles of Bracia and Halcyon from Thornbridge. Its shelves would be dotted with limited edition barrel-aged runs from Siren in amongst imports like Stone Ruination and Augustiner Hell. It would have bottles of Cantillon Lou Pepe sitting on the shelf. And, best of all, it would have a golden retriever to greet you on entry and follow you around as you make your selection. It would be Favourite Beers of Cheltenham.

Best Beer Book or Magazine - Boak and Bailey's Beer Britannia. Just a brilliant piece of work from start to finish. With so much going on at the moment, there will probably be scope for a follow-up soon, focusing just on the last decade.

Best Beer Blog - Matt Curtis at Total Ales, whose passion for writing interesting and challenging pieces is only matched by his love for Camden Town Brewery and Chris Hall. Quick mentions for The Evening Brews, the fantastic Good Beer Hunting, the BeerCast for their work in dismantling Brewmeister, and for Boak and Bailey, who enhanced their already strong claim to be the most influential beer bloggers around.

Best Beer App - Fiz. Hahehaheha!

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beery Twitter - Chris Hall, although he almost lost it by selling his old cshallwriter Twitter handle to Russian separatists.

Best Brewery Website - The Wild Beer website is beautiful, and a good match for what they produce.