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BrewDogging #83: Wandsworth

In and out of Wandsworth with the numbers on their names, it's funny how their missus always looks the bleedin' sameLast time on BrewDogging, I called into the Upminster bar just before Christmas, and wrote about it a month later. Not too long after the post went online, I realised that there was something important that I forgot to mention. The BrewDogging post before that one was written in August 2022, the climax of a berserk week which took in visits to bars that had recently opened in Inverurie, Ellon, Waterloo and Edinburgh. Waterloo was the most attention-grabbing of the four, being the biggest bar that BrewDog – or, depending on your criteria, anyone else – had opened in the UK.

Which made it all the more awkward when a couple of weeks later, they closed down half a dozen or so of their older bars. Three of them were former Draft Houses that they’d rebranded as BrewDog pubs, which we don’t cover here. But regular readers will recognise the other three. Peterhead, one of the smaller locations on the outskirts of Aberdeen: Old Street, the alcohol-free experiment which first dropped the ‘free’ bit of the concept, and then the ‘alcohol’: and Dalston, whose terrific vegan menu – a rare deviation from the standard BrewDog nosh – will make it the most sadly missed in this household.

It’s not just happening to BrewDog, of course, and it's not just limited to the UK. It's come to light that we lost Florence some time in the last twelve months: it's possible we might have lost Itaewon as well, but nobody at BrewDog seems to want to give a straight answer as to why it’s been closed for "refurbishment" for so long. Times are tough, we get it. And yet BrewDog are still bullishly opening new bars, and making them bigger and bigger, with Waterloo and Las Vegas being the most visible examples.

There aren’t many situations where you can mention Wandsworth in the same breath as Las Vegas, but I guess this is one of them.

I remember the first time BrewDog opened a bar in South London, an event so unusual it dragged fan favourite Old Lag out of semi-retirement to visit it with us. BrewDog Wandsworth is even closer to his home turf – the clue’s in the name – so he suggested we could meet up there. We managed to take it one stage further: we got tickets to the pre-opening shareholders’ preview night in late January, and brought him along as our plus one. After the enormous hype and large queues for our last preview at Waterloo, Wandsworth turns out to be a bit more restrained, with only a couple of dozen people waiting outside for the 6pm opening. Nevertheless, we still get a guard of honour from the bar staff when the doors open and we're allowed in.

BrewDog Wandsworth is the latest in their series of bars installed in shopping centres - in this case, the Southside. We came here once several years ago to grab a GBK burger and watch SPL 2 at the Cineworld, but haven't been back since, which is why I can remember that level of detail. The unit BrewDog have taken over has a decent ground floor location, and room for another one of their massive signs on the front, so nobody's going to miss it. Once you're inside, it's much the same design strategy as usual: a reasonably large joint, with an upper balcony level to give it even more of a sense of space. Not Waterloo or Vegas, but still an impressive size.

Old Lag picks up an actual Diet Coke (a recent addition to the drinks menu, because their regular supplier Fritz Cola can't cope with the demand), while The BBG and I make our way through a few of the newer beers in the range - Freeze Frame, Vermont Vampire and Black Heart (the latter being BrewDog's latest attempt at cornering the Guinness market). Which makes for an interesting comparison with Waterloo, which from day one has tended to shy away from the more experimental brews - the theory being that if they're trying to lure in normal people passing through the station, they don't want to scare them off with some of the weirder shit they come up with. Here, there doesn't seem to be a problem with that, which is good. And the beers are accompanied by some decent burgers served quickly and well made, which is always a good sign on the first night of a bar, when they're sneakily taking advantage of a shareholder-heavy crowd being more forgiving of potential teething troubles in the kitchen.

Old Lag is not, of course, a shareholder, which may explain why he makes a fascinating observation which we've completely missed - "everyone's much older than I was expecting." He's right, too: this isn't the bunch of hipster lads that we stereotypically associate with BrewDog bars nowadays, it's an almost entirely middle aged group, where the youngest people in the room are the ones working behind the bar. Is this because only older people can afford to be shareholders now? Or is it not just a first night thing, and this is how the punters are going to skew in Wandsworth from now on? It'll be interesting to come back once the bar's bedded in and find out.

There's one exception to the idea of the BrewDog staff being the youngest ones here, and that's CEO James Watt, a 40-year-old man who's still standing on bars wearing a backwards baseball cap like a 30 Rock cosplayer to give his opening speech (including a toast with some more Black Heart). Saying he's fed up with the usual platitudes he wheels out on these occasions, he decides to hold an impromptu audience Q&A instead. As is usually the case, it quickly degenerates into people from [insert name of town here] asking when he plans to open a bar in [insert name of town here]. Though there's a very interesting response when he's asked what the plans are for this year's AGM, and whether it'll be held outdoors like last year or indoors like previous years. The solution he hints at finally went public this week (yeah, it's taken me a month again to put the post up, sorry). It could be a stroke of genius or utterly terrible: time will tell.

The Wandsworth preview is an enjoyable night all round: we catch up with the Lagster, we get our visas stamped, we meet up with people we generally only tend to see at occasions like this, and finish off with a couple of dangerous beers for a Thursday night (Railroad Toast and Friction's Fuerst Wiacek). The location of the bar should mean it keeps nice and busy: we'll find out over time what demographic it's busy with.

[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, Inverurie, DogTap 2.0, Waterloo, DogHouse Edinburgh, Upminster]


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