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BrewDogging #15: Dog Tap, Ellon

At least you don't have to wait 45 bleedin' minutes to get served here. (Yet.)[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield]

You could argue that Dog Tap doesn't really belong in this list. After all, if we take this web page as the official statement of BrewDog's bar locations, there's (currently) no sign of Ellon on there at all. To which I would argue a) BottleDog shouldn't be on there because it's a shop, and b) Dog Tap is a BrewDog bar, but it's a special case - it's located inside the brewery building itself, just outside Aberdeen.

I've hedged my bets with that '(currently)' above because that may change, since strictly speaking the bar isn't open yet. But last weekend, a sneak preview was offered to anyone who was in town for the 2014 BrewDog AGM. And as I've previously covered the meetings that took place in 2012 and 2013, we may as well say a few words about this year's while we're here.

For the third year in a row, the BrewDog AGM took place at Aberdeen's very own EnormoDome, the AECC. The format of the day hasn't changed: it starts off with a presentation from brewery supremos James Watt and Martin Dickie, and gradually descends into a chaotic blend of loud bands and serious drinking. Last year's was a definite improvement on 2012 in terms of seating and catering, but there were still a few problems that were widely noted - an overlong presentation that lost the attention of most of the audience, and a badly-administered system of beer tokens that suddenly became worthless when the bars closed half an hour earlier than advertised. This year, those two problems have been resolved: everyone is told upfront that the bars will close at 10.30pm, and the presentation is compressed from 150 minutes to about an hour. Unfortunately, once again new problems have been brought in to take their place.

The presentation itself isn't a problem: it's the usual mix of rah-rah boosterism from James and laconic brewing information from Martin. We're told about new bars, new beers, and a TV show they made last year for the US, which is apparently so ropey that it still hasn't been picked up by a UK network (though James insists this situation will change soon). After a quick cameo appearance from Simcoe the brewery dog, James wraps up the talk and sends 4,000 punters off to the two bars in the arena. Which brings us to the main problem of the day.

To be fair, it's a problem that's accepted with grace by the punters who have to spend an average of 45 minutes standing in line for a bar. Mind you, that observation has a fair amount of confirmation bias built into it: a quick glance at the #PunkAGM2014 Twitter hashtag reveals that a lot of people simply walked out at this point, fed up at not being able to get their hands on a beer. But for those of us who stayed, there was another problem: the overworked staff were so busy trying to serve drinkers, they simply didn't have the time to change barrels as they ran out, meaning that the beer you were hoping to buy when you were at the back of the queue wasn't available any more by the time you were at the front. There were huge barrels full of interesting stuff, sitting in plain sight by the side of the bar, and many of them didn't go on sale until near the end of the day. (It's also a bastard's trick to have everything priced at two tokens for most of the day, and then in the final two hours introduce a couple of new exclusive beers at three tokens to muck up everyone's careful budgeting. But that's a separate complaint.)

Meanwhile, one of the perks of the AGM - free tastings of new beers - has now become a casualty of the massively increased attendance, and has had to be formalised more than in the past. So this time, five breakout sessions were announced involving the products of five different craft brewers, and you had to apply for free tickets to the sessions in advance. Initially, it wasn't made at all clear that you had to pick just one session from the five, so BrewDog's admin staff had to spend a lot of time writing back to all the people (like us) who'd booked for all of them. There was a further complication on the day when it was suddenly revealed that the five sessions would be in different one-hour slots, leading to disappointment for punters who hadn't planned to be there the whole day. Having said all that, the tasting we attended - BrewDog's own - was actually rather fun, part of that fun coming from it being the last one of the day, with all that entails. We got free samples of Hello My Name Is Päivi (a fruity Finnish double IPA that's been out in the wild for a few weeks now) and Everyday Anarchy (a preview of an astonishing imperial saison that, for my money, is up there with AB14 for flavour-crazed mentalism).

#PunkAGM2014 had its problems, but they're not insurmountable. The obvious thing BrewDog have learned from this year's experience (according to the final paragraph of the official blog post) is that 4000 punters won't fit into 2 bars. There was an emergency solution brought in halfway through the day - cans of Punk IPA rapidly shipped in and sold at the merch stand - that helped ease the congestion quite a bit. But there are other things they should be doing alongside that: laying on more bars generally, having additional lines available for the core range beers many people want, and being prepared for the massive spike in sales that will come immediately after the corporate presentation. Get those things fixed, give people more information about the tastings before they book, keep everything else pretty much as is, and they'll have a perfect day out on their hands. (Unless I end up writing about a whole new series of problems next year...)

The rest of our weekend in Aberdeen was equally beer-heavy, I'm afraid. Friday night dinner at Musa, whose ice cream & Cocoa Psycho float is one of the finest desserts known to man. Friday nightcap at 6 Degrees North, widely regarded throughout town as the craft beer bar to visit (see also CASC, apparently, though we didn't have time for that one). Post-AGM comedown at BrewDog Aberdeen itself, where The BBG got over the AECC's poor selection of veggie food with a meatless Scotch egg washed down with a Nanny State. And on Sunday lunchtime we took the bus up to the BrewDog brewery itself, which is where we came in.

When it officially opens, the idea is that the Dog Tap will act as a visitor's centre for the brewery. It's a smaller scale version of a modern BrewDog bar, with comparatively restrained decor - the standout centrepiece is a chandelier made up entirely of used BrewDog bottles. (Given that one of the big announcements at the AGM was an imminent restyling of the corporate packaging, doesn't that mean that someone's going to have to relabel all those bottles soon?) There's a small selection of beers, just the core favourites, which you can drink in the knowledge that you won't get them fresher anywhere else...

...although technically, there's one place where you can get it even fresher. I'm not sure if this will be a feature when the bar opens to the public, but at this shareholder preview we got a quick tour round the brewery behind it. The same thing happened the day after last year's AGM, and it's interesting to note the change in focus: while the 2013 tour was centred around the artistic side of the brewing process, this year it was more about the sheer feat of logistics it takes to co-ordinate multiple brews across all their various vessels. And it was during a trip round those vessels that we got to try a new brew literally straight from the tank - a hibiscus wit beer that's pink, light and insanely gluggable. At the time of the tour, they were being a little vague about what the plans were for this beer. Today, it was announced that it's going to be called Vote Sepp, launched with one of those hamfisted bits of 'satire' they're a little too fond of, including a tacky reference to Susan Boyle that's been quietly dropped from the website since this morning (but embarrassingly left lying around on Twitter).

But that's BrewDog for you: great at making beer, sometimes a little cack-handed at the other stuff. If they keep the focus on the beer and try not to embarrass themselves too much with everything else, I'll be happy.


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