BrewDogging #1: Bristol
"I've got a projick." It's a line that I remember fondly from the film adaptation of Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, although I couldn't have told you until today exactly how Hardy spelt it. It comes at the point where Mrs Durbeyfield announces her grand plan, which is to send her daughter Tess out to visit their newly-discovered posh relations. Unfortunately, it's a project that will ultimately result in destitution, heartbreak and a number of untimely deaths, but you can't have everything.
The Belated Birthday Girl announced a projick of her own at the end of last year: she wanted us to visit every bar owned by the Scottish brewery BrewDog during 2013. How many untimely deaths will this one result in? It depends on how many Tactical Nuclear Penguins we drink over the next year, I guess.
Through all this, the company's continued to grow. As of the end of 2012, BrewDog had ten of their craft beer bars open, with two more in the pipeline. Twelve bars in total. Twelve months in the year. And The BBG had some space in the diary she'd just created. Hence the project: in 2013, we would visit every BrewDog bar, logging them as we went. For a project that requires us to visit an average of one bar a month in a calendar year, it may appear that early February is a bit late for the first one, but at least we're started now.
Why start in Bristol? A series of coincidences, basically, which ended up in a weekend trip that was largely confined to a small waterside strip of the city known as Welsh Back. At one end of it, BrewDog Bristol, which only opened a few months ago. At the other, the Thekla, the city's legendary floating venue, where BBG favourites Everything Everything were playing a rather fine live show. In the middle, you've got our favourite Bristol hotel and our favourite Bristol restaurant, and we were happy to return to both. That was our Saturday, basically. (Moving away from Welsh Back, Sunday was movies, breakfast, museum and tea, in that order.)
I've worked in Bristol occasionally over the last decade or so, and stayed at the aforementioned Brigstow Hotel while I was there: which is why the initial announcement of BrewDog Bristol's location amused me, because I can remember when it used to be an O'Briens sandwich shop. A few months after its opening, it seems to be doing just fine: it was pretty busy during a Saturday afternoon visit, and gratifyingly rammed when we returned after the gig on Saturday night.
The Saturday afternoon session was effectively just us checking the place out in preparation for later. Within seconds of standing at the bar and looking at the board, a member of the bar staff was asking us about the sort of beers we liked, so she could help us choose. Which is nice: it probably makes sense to assume that people they've never seen in the bar before aren't familiar with the range, and to be as proactively helpful as possible. But if we're going to be doing this regularly during 2013, we need to find a way of politely telling BrewDog bar staff that we don't need their assistance with that. (As shareholders, we briefly considered - then rejected - the response "it's okay, we're fine, we own you.") I ended up with my usual opening gambit of a pint of 5am Saint, while The BBG branched out with Catherine's Pony, a newish collaboration between BrewDog and Beavertown Brewery.
It was on our second visit that things got interesting. Unlike other BrewDog bars we've visited before, there's at least one fridge visible at eye level from the bar, and inside it we saw a bottle of AB:08. The Abstrakt Series beers are limited edition experiments that BrewDog produce on a roughly quarterly basis, throwing together all sorts of mad shit to see what happens. The BBG is on a subscription scheme where she's received bottles of AB:09 to AB:12 in the post since becoming a shareholder: but AB:08 was before our time. We bought a bottle, carefully split it between two glasses, started drinking it, and freaked out. At which point, the guy who'd served us came over and started chatting about the beer, even looking up its vital statistics on his phone. (Broadly speaking, AB:08 is an attempt to put all the flavours you'd associate with a stout into a blonde beer. That's why we were freaking.)
After that excitement - by which time a few people had left, so we could grab a booth to ourselves - we wound down with a couple of less extravagant options. The BBG went for a 2/3 of Libertine Black Ale, an old favourite from their core range: whereas I went for Cocoa Psycho, recent winner of the BrewDog Prototype Challenge, in which three prototype beers were served to bar customers over December and a vote taken as to which one deserved to go into full production. It's a fine stout, but BrewDog have loads of fine stouts already, and we both think the hoppy mentalism of Jack Hammer deserved the win more. (Still, they've announced that Jack Hammer should be making guest appearances in the bars over the next 12 months, which seems like a decent compromise.)
The only quibble I'd have with the Bristol bar is the lack of food options: just cheese and meat platters, and a once-a-week hot dog club, rather than the burgers and pizzas available in other branches. But apart from that, it's a lovely bar, and the staff are terrific: obviously huge fans of the beer, and keen to share their knowledge with anyone who passes through their doors. The standard that the other bars need to reach has been set pretty damn high - let's see how they match up.