Not now, Spectacularly Pissed And Shouty Man On The Last Bus Out Of Aberdeen Airport Who’s Apparently Never Heard Recorded Stop Announcements Before, we’re not in the mood. Mainly because we never intended to be on the last bus out of Aberdeen Airport in the first place.
We had a plan, and it was a good one. BrewDog were holding their first Annual General Meeting in three years in Aberdeen, and we were going to use our weekend up there to add a couple more of their bars to our tally (see also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019). Flying up on the Friday evening, flying back on the Sunday evening, using the credit we'd got from British Airways when they cancelled our flights to the 2020 AGM (which never happened because of Covid) - there's a good day and a half there to fit in all our activities. And then BA took both of our flights off the schedule, meaning we now had to fly up later on Friday night and fly back earlier on Sunday afternoon. And then we had more delays on the Friday night when they gave our plane away to some tax-dodging bastards so that their flight to Jersey wouldn't be held up too long. We eventually got a replacement, which got us into Aberdeen Airport shortly before midnight and therefore onto this bus, sat behind a guy who smells like he would literally burst into flames if you lit a match within ten feet of him.
Still, as we calm down with an incredibly late Northern Monk nightcap at BrewDog Aberdeen, we reflect on how we now have a revised plan to crush that one and a half days worth of activity into a single Saturday. As long as nothing else goes wrong, we should be fine.
Cut to 08:57 on Saturday morning, when we're on a platform at Aberdeen station waiting to get onto the 08:58 to Inverurie, and have just been told that the train we want has now been moved to a platform separated from us by two sets of ticket gates and an overhead walkway. Luckily, the station staff realise this isn't ideal, and open a couple of secret barriers to get a dozen or so of us onto the train before it leaves. Twenty minutes or so later, we're in Inverurie, wondering what to do next.
Back in 2019, a pair of BrewDog bars opened in remote bits of Aberdeenshire - Peterhead and Inverurie - basically because both towns had enough people who'd asked for a bar to be opened there. When the time came to attend the 2019 AGM, we realised that both were within commuting distance of Aberdeen city, but we could only get to one of them in the free time we had that weekend, and we chose Peterhead. Three years later, we're finally getting around to mopping up Inverurie. As ever, we don't want to just go into a town, spend an hour or two in a bar and then bugger off again - we want to know what else you can do in Inverurie. Our initial research doesn't come up with very much: there's a nature reserve, and there's a museum. As we're there early and the weather's nice, we give our apologies to Garioch Heritage Centre and head off to Ury Riverside Park instead. For Londoners, think of it as a better manicured Wormwood Scrubs, a well-maintained open space where the wild flowers are spaced out with occasional signs warning you about birds that might be nesting at ground level. As it stands, we get an added bonus in that we turn up just in time to catch a 5k parkrun taking place along the path.
Thoroughly exhausted by the exertion of watching other people running a 5k before breakfast, we stroll back into the town centre, which is nicely bustling thanks to a farmer's market in the square and a Comic-Con market in the town hall (made all the more surreal by a couple of guys in full Ghostbusters rig standing outside). Just at the end of the market we spot BrewDog Inverurie itself, open an hour earlier than usual to cater for the AGM attendees like us, and therefore also nicely bustling. It looks fairly unassuming from the outside, just a standard shopfront with a BrewDog sign on the top. Appearances can be deceptive, though, as once you get though the door you realise just how far back it goes - and when you get to the back of the room, there's a passageway full of Fisher artwork that goes even further back to the toilets and out to a beer garden.
As I've been saying, BrewDog bars these days tend to be either intimate or bloody enormous, and despite the depth of this building Inverurie still feels like one of the intimate ones: because it's relatively narrow, you don't feel that it's unnecessarily stretched. It also helps that the staff are so ridiculously friendly, including the guy who sweet talks us in Italian as he serves us our breakfast. There's a nice mix of people here generally, with a fair few families and dogs as well as the usual quota of bearded hipsters. It feels wrong not to be having a beer, so we jump the gun a little before noon and get a 5am Saint (back on tap after far too long away) and a Wizard Of Aus (sent over from the Australian brewery) to officially start us off for the day.
Loaded up with black pudding and avocado toast, we're ready for the journey to the AGM itself. This is the biggest change since the last AGM in 2019 - the traditional venue of the AECC is no longer available as it's closed down. (Astonishingly, we will find out later today that it's now a church.) Big gigs in Aberdeen now take place at the PJ & Duncan Arena, and the 2020 AGM was scheduled to happen there until you-know-what, so it was generally assumed that's where this year's would be. Which made it a surprise to discover that instead, they were going for an open-air affair in Hazlehead Park. To be honest, alarm bells started going off for The BBG and myself as soon as they made that announcement, and we began planning our weekend around the assumption that we wouldn't be spending all day at an outdoor beer festival, organised by the people who took four years to make an indoor one work properly. Hence the side trips to Inverurie and, well, we'll get to that.
Was our caution justified? It seems so more or less from the word go. Because Hazlehead Park isn't near to anything very much, BrewDog have laid on special buses from the various Aberdeenshire bars to the AGM, and are letting Stagecoach charge £8.50 for advance tickets to board them. You'd hope for that money that the buses would run on time: but as we get into the queue for the 12:30 bus from Inverurie, rumours start going around that the scheduled 11:30 service never showed, and that Peterhead hasn't had any buses turn up for an hour either. As 12:30 comes and goes, we start to suspect the worst, but at 12:40 it finally arrives. By 13:15 we're at the park and have been dropped off at the end of a queue of several hundred people all getting their bags searched before they can get into the AGM. This bit, to be fair, is pretty much what I'd been expecting.
And the same goes for the scenes when we've actually got past the gate and been given our souvenir plastic beer glasses: there are twelve bars in total, serving beer to around 10,000 people, and they simply can't cope. Our first crack at the bar, we get lucky and get served within 15 minutes: the second time, we're less lucky and it takes over half an hour. That second one only really comes off through intense military planning, as The BBG picks the bar whose queue is shortest because it backs onto the shuffleboard tables, while I simultaneously get into another half-hour queue to pick up a couple of sausage rolls. There is no third beer - we've basically given ourselves a maximum of three hours at the AGM today (because of all our other plans getting compressed), and literally half of that is spent waiting in lines to get in or buy stuff, while the other half is taken up with James and Martin's financial presentation and the half-hour delay at the start of it. This is particularly irritating, as everyone here has paid £20 to get in, and has been given £20 of beer tokens in exchange that can only be used at the AGM. I suspect that with these queues, lots of people failed to buy £20 worth of beer at today's event: we certainly did.
There are definite positives to report on here. I mean, it doesn't rain (hilariously, one of the conditions of entry on the ticket is that you're not allowed to bring umbrellas to what is, let's not forget, an outdoor event in Scotland). There are warm and fuzzy feelings generated by James and Martin talking about their plans for the future, although once again we seem to be missing out on the usual 'things that sucked' section of the summary of the year, which is a bit much given the year James has just gone through. When we actually got to drink some beers, the four we had - BrewDog's own Born To Die and Cold Beer, Funky Fluid's Splash: Red, and Nerd's Implements: Salted Almonds Edition - were all terrific. And there's a bit of silliness with the climax of the BrewDog Millionaire draw that The BBG was so suspicious about three years ago, in which one shareholder gets to win a million pounds' worth of shares, and is chosen by James firing a t-shirt cannon into the crowd and asking each person catching a t-shirt to randomly pick one digit of the winning shareholder's number. (It isn't either of us, in case you were wondering.)
Go back through the reports on here for the AGMs since 2012, and you'll see that there've been several occasions when the organisation of the event hasn't been up to scratch - and by the following year, those issues have generally been resolved. The problem here is that moving to a whole new venue has resulted in a complete reset, and a whole new series of logistical issues to be sorted. Being outside is the biggest source of them: not just being at the mercy of the weather, but also having no existing infrastructure to work with, particularly when it comes to data (which is a big problem when you've made all payments cashless, as people regularly discover throughout the day). Also, there aren't enough bars, and not enough food outlets, though surprisingly a decent number of toilets (including an unsignposted collection of urinals that I only discover because one of the security guards is talking about them as we leave). It makes it all the more frustrating that at the end of his talk, James asks the audience if they'd like next year's AGM to be in the same place, and there's a loud cheer of approval. The BBG points out that there's probably a sizeable majority who'd disagree, but they either never came to the event in the first place, or were stuck in one of the beer queues and couldn't hear the question. If the 2023 AGM is held in Hazlehead next year, it may well be that some of these problems get fixed, but we probably won't be there to find out.
[UPDATE 17/08/2022: the day after this post went up - and I'm saying that as a time stamp, I'm not claiming responsibility for this - BrewDog announced that any unused credit from the AGM beer tokens can be spent in their bars up to the end of this month. Like I said, they do try to fix problems when they happen.]
Leaving the AGM at 16:15, we're about to ask the most obvious question possible given the previous three hours: are BrewDog still capable of organising a piss-up in a brewery? We have an appointment at their brewery at 18:00 to find out, or more specifically to go on a brewery tour. But to quote Borat, in my country there is problem, and that problem is transport. (Not my country.) The bus from the park to town works perfectly, and we're in the city centre just before 17:00, just a half hour away from the brewery in Ellon. We get straight onto our second bus, and immediately hit a traffic jam full of disappointed Aberdeen fans leaving the match. It's made all the more alarming as we slowly make our way closer to Ellon, and the blistering sun of central Aberdeen is literally replaced by pea-souper fog. As it gets closer and closer to 18:00, it looks like we can say goodbye to the money we paid for the tour: but The BBG, in a rare burst of optimism, suggests we should phone ahead to let them know we'll be late. It turns out the brewery contains the second set of utterly lovely BrewDog staff that we encounter today: they actually delay the start of the tour by ten minutes so we can still go on it. (It probably helps that there are only two other punters on the tour with us, but still.)
How many times have we been around the BrewDog brewery now? Hard to say: perhaps four or five. Do you count the coach trip that was part of the 2012 AGM, where we were shown a large patch of ground and told that they were about to build a brewery on it? Maybe, maybe not, but it's an indicator of why we do the tour every few years - every time we come back, the place looks totally different, as they've expanded the site more and more. And it's interesting that the tours have changed too: in the early days, one of the brewers would take time out of their job to show you where they worked, but nowadays there are dedicated tour guides on the payroll. Euan is our guide for today, and he's terrifically enthusiastic: he knows he's playing to a split crowd of two people who've been here several times and two who are complete newcomers, and he balances his descriptions of the history and processes so that none of us feel left out. The late start isn't a problem, in fact the tour even overruns the 60 minutes it's meant to take, and we get a few beers thrown in along the way, including tokens for use in the DogTap bar after the tour. So yes, they can organise a piss-up in a brewery.
You're attentive people - you've noticed that we've already covered DogTap as bar number 15, which we first visited during the weekend of the 2014 AGM. But that whole business about the site changing dramatically from year to year? Well, there are two major changes requiring me to bring out the Bar Death† symbol. The Overworks bar is no more: BrewDog are giving up on the fermented beer experiments, and the building has now been converted to a distillery. Meanwhile, the space that used to be DogTap is now the reception area for the brewery offices, and a whole new wing has been opened up for the replacement brewery bar, which they've chosen to call DogTap 2.0, so we'll do that too.
DogTap 2.0 is not one of BrewDog's intimate bars: it's one of the other ones. There's a huge, two-storey space with loads of seating and booths, 60 taps of beer in total, and a wide range of food on offer. Like some of the megabars in London, they offer both burgers and pizza, but throw in some oak-fired chicken options as a bonus. We decide to try out two burgers we've never had before - I go for the monthly special called the Mark Truffalo (breaded chicken and truffles), while The BBG goes for the Carolina Chicken (one of their newish experiments with Tindle fake chicken). They're both pretty splendid. Throw in some beers on tap that we're unlikely to see anywhere else (including the unlikely return of #Mashtag2015), and it all makes for a lovely way to wrap up the day. Apart from the alarming walk in the fog back to the bus stop, of course. And the nightcap beers that we have in CASC and Six Degrees North when we're back in Aberdeen.
If you're hoping for more horror stories of bungled transport to finish off this piece, you're out of luck, because our Sunday passes off without a hitch. Breakfast in Cup as is our usual tradition, a fun hour or so in the Maritime Museum, bus to the airport, grab a bucket of Mini Tunnock's Caramel Wafers once we're safely airside, plane back to London and journey home completely uneventful. I consider roaring with laughter at the recorded stop announcements on the airport bus, but I'm too pleased that we've managed to wrap up bars 78 and 79 to consider it seriously. And the next stop is...
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds†, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap†, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome†, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki†, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks†, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, Old Street, Cambridge, Ealing, St Andrews, Chancery Lane, DogHouse Manchester, Bath, Reykjavik]