Bad Sheep, Good People, Better Beer.
February 28, 2009

BrewDog has done it again, producing a lovely, drinkable beer that still challenges the modern, mass market idea of a lager.  Their black lager, Zeitgeist, was launched on Thursday night to a packed crowd at the Austin Gallery in Bethnal Green.  Congratulations to the staff who were welcoming and well organized, as well as the entire BrewDog posse who were just good people.

Zeitgeist label art by Heather Brennan

Zeitgeist label art by Heather Brennan

The gallery itself is an intimate space with a spirited mix of DIY and polish.  Downstairs Heather Brennan’s silkscreens for the labels were hung with clips, as if the beer and the spooky sheep-masked people had swooped into London, giving the evening the feeling of a Temporary Autonomous Zone. The masked everywomen/men in artwork were a little bit Wickerman, a little bit baphomet.  It’s sly nod to the wolf in sheep’s clothing, an apt metaphor for a reinvented lager, which is a style made yellow and insipid by herd-market brands.  But Zeitgeist is pitch black and full of flavor.  The masks are off!

Drinking this dark-as-night lager throughout the night contributed to this feeling that we were getting away with something.  The beer was one of the prototype brews where James and Martin asked drinkers to vote for the beer they would like to see added to their range. (I was most interested in Bad Pixie, a 4.7% wheat beer brewed with juniper berries and lemon peel).  I’ve been following their video blog with glee– the brewers put forth arguments for different styles and ingredients and let the readers decide.  BrewDog has plans to continue this drinker-participation with their website for the Zeitgeist, where drinkers will be able to upload missives and visual subversions inspired by the beer, thus making even the marketing of the beer a collaboration between the drinkers and brewers.   Portman group, I’d like to see you try to stop this!

What interested me most about the beer is that it seemed to combine my own beery dilemma with elegant balance.  What should I brew next? I love chocolate malt, but then I also love American-style hoppage, so as I was musing on the possibility of brewing another chocolaty mild or a daring American Pale Ale.  Then BrewDog comes along and makes a lager that combines these two beloved notes– chocolate and estery Chinook hops.

The highlight of the evening though was meeting James Watt, the brewer.  Brewers in general are generous people who have a love of life, and James is no exception.  What most impressed me about him was his passion for brewing and his sincerity.  These characteristics carry through in the BrewDog beers which push boundaries while remaining trad.  They’re daring while never underestimating the drinker.   This is what I love about the brave guys at BrewDog: they embrace paradoxes with veracity– no surprise my favourite of their beers goes by the same name.

Limited Edition Paradox
August 1, 2008

I worried about when to open it. It was so pretty, so perfectly black. What occasion could match it?

I wondered– could my bottle of LE Paradox 004, 10%, aged in 1968 Ex Duncan Taylor Bowmore casks, the most expensive beer I have ever imbibed, this bottle numbered 141 of 200 made, be its own occasion?

And then all at once things conspired against my niggard’s caution. Today is Lughnasadh, the Celtic festival that marks the beginning of the harvest– really the wrong time to count beans. And it’s beer blogging friday, hosted by The Barley Blog, who’s asked us to make tasting notes on a an anniversary beer.

(Plus, this week I got a job in the City, and that’s something to celebrate.)

I was reading the wonderful Boak and Bailey who participated in the session by cracking open a Fuller’s Vintage Ale, “You need an occasion to justify it, and what better occasion than raising a glass to fellow beer-bloggers across the globe.”

Genius! Of course. I have met so many wonderful beer people since starting this blog; it’s truly remarkable to be in such good company. At first I worried about opening a special beer all by myself and then I realized, hey, once you’re in the beer-blog-o-sphere you never truly drink alone.

So cheers, all you warm, funny, brilliant beer-folk– here’s what I’m drinking– Limited Edition Paradox, released for BrewDog’s first birthday:

Limited Edition BrewDog Paradox, bottle 141 of 200

Limited Edition BrewDog Paradox, bottle 141 of 200

The label is gorgeously florid– screen printed in gold laquer on matte black paper by Johanna Basford Designs. Out of the bottle it’s a perfect inky colour. The head is flocked, tea-stained and lovely. (There’s a beer p0rn moment where the black stream nests in the head perfectly, but of course I didn’t capture this on camera. I’m not that kind of girl.) The notes that predominate are a mysterious woody note, kindling in the nose and carpentry on the palate. There’s chocolate, too– but it’s only a shadow. The first taste is sweet but brief, prunes steeped in black tea. This glows to bitter smoke, tarnished metal and a bit of blood, and ghost-flashes of the whisky whose cask it’s shared. Five sips and it’s already warming.

Aztec Skull depicting Tezcatlipoca, from the British Museum.

Aztec Skull depicting Tezcatlipoca, from the British Museum.

It reminds me of a concoction made by the Los Angeles perfumer, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, who make a scent named after the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, or “Smoking Mirror”– it shares the same notes of chocolate, armour, blood and fire.

Drinking Paradox has made me contemplative. There’s an autumnal memory surfacing– late summer watching fireflies with my cousins who would break out their Barbies when I would visit (the older, creepy Barbies from the 50s–) while the adults cooked things with fire. My uncle had built a new deck and it’s the wood smell that’s bringing it all back. My hands smell like that now, in a truly Proustian fancy: the Paradox reflects this Indian Summer night from my childhood in its smoking mirror.

Paradox Grain
May 28, 2008

Who knew my perfectly dashing imperial stout would show up in a whisky-soaked kilt.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I once dated a guy who played bagpipes at funerals. He had a rather morbid print of Vlad the Impaler on his bedroom wall. I’d like to think this is the kind dark-as-night beer that would have made sense to us, but that was a long time ago.

I’ve been wanting to try a Brew Dog beer for some time– the brewers are young and bold, and the ransom-note style branding appealed to me as well. Maybe I’m cruising for an ASBO, at least if the Portman Group has anything to say about it.

This was a whisky cask aged imperial stout. This particular bottle was the 007 batch, aged in Carsebridge 1963 barrels. Upcoming Paradox stouts will be aged in other barrels. Despite Virgil’s warnings, I would like to try batch 9, aged in Ardbeg barrels. Ardbeg…like drinking the smoke of your vanquished enemy’s pyre. I wonder if I can find it, especially considering the ridiculous Portman group action against the Brew Dog labeling. (Read BrewDog’s fightin’ words here.)

I love whisky. I love imperial stout. So I had high hopes for this beer when I spotted it at Utobeer in Borough Market, even before finding it in Stonch’s archives.

There’s a full-on whisky nose with a bit of coffee. As it warms in my hand a buttery-toffee comfort surfaces. A bit savory, with the whisky/coffee continuing to the middle. Very warming, with a creamy mouthfeel, just a bit tickly with effervescence, gorgeous vanilla finish.

The Islay ’68 Paradox, brewed for the brewery’s one year anniversary, will cost £40 a bottle, of which only 200 will be made. It’s a testament to this beer that I’m actually considering advanced ordering one of these.

Eats: I’d like to be alone with the stout, please.

While listening to: Rose McDowall singing Devil’s Plaything.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers