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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Brewdog Bar (Glasgow)

Brewdog, 1397 Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AN

The self-styled Brewdog craft beer revolution continues with their latest pub opening, this time in Glasgow. Aberdeen and Edinburgh were first – Newcastle, Camden and Manchester in the pipeline - and the word is they are pretty successful. But on this occasion a coup may be harder to come by, the location, opposite the Kelvingrove Art Galleries, being a troublesome one.

Different ventures have come and gone, many in double-quick time, over the last few years. I’ve even mentioned the phenomenon of under-performing venues in this area, which logically should attract punters by the thousand, in a previous blog. But, for whatever reason, at number 1319 Argyle Street, bars as diverse as The Calypso, Blas, Museo and The Lock Inn (among others) have all nose-dived.

After intense (oh yes) speculation amongst Glasgow’s devoted pub scene followers as to where Brewdog would site their first foray as publicans into Scotland’s biggest city, I, for one was surprised by this choice. But Brewdog know better, either that or their location scout has let them down.

A few months on from the July opening and business seems to be okay in craftbeerland, judging by the word on the street and my two visits – daytime and evening. Like the other two Scottish premises the look of the place is post-industrial, bare brick, girders, pipes, wipe- down tiled walls, reclaimed furniture and vast expanses of glass.

But for all the supposed practicality of the interior there is an impractical looking high storage area from which stock would be hard to retrieve. Large windows are all the rage, but this amount of glass with two single doors will probably mean a draughty, cold winter. Either that or massive amounts of the dreaded condensation. This kind of warehouse interior was cutting edge five years ago, now it is merely generic.

School-lab science stools add to the spartan feel. ‘Utilitarian’ the management call it. Now, I like a bit of utilitarianism in political theory - I’m more a John Stuart Mill man than for the zealot Jeremy Bentham - but the utilitarian goal applied to interior design is fine for offices, factories and other work spaces but not for places of leisure. In a bar you need comfort. From the furnishings as well as from the alcohol itself.

Talking about the alcohol, pride of range is of course Brewdog’s own home brew, so to speak. On draught they have Trashy Blonde, Zeitgeist, 5am Saint, Punk and Hardcore Ipas, Alice Porter Stout, and Imperial Wheat. Also they feature beers from affiliate or collaborative brewers who supposedly share BD’s tastes and ethos.

The Meantime Brewery, London, features with its London Stout. The innovative and prolific Danish brewers Mikkeller contribute their Texas Ranger, a Big Worse edition, and the confusingly named Black Hole White Wine. The San Diego-based Stone Brewing Co. are also included with their Arrogant Bastard Ale and the amusingly titled Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. Every one with a high ABV.

During my first visit the barman was very helpful, with background on each beer and his own recommendations. And there’s plenty of literature on the brewing process, BD’s expansion plans, opportunities to buy BD equity and, more interestingly, tips on what food to pair with what beer. Good to see beer being elevated in the epicurean league to alongside wine.

There’s a very limited selection of wine and spirits which is unsurprising, but heed needs to be paid to the Glasgow practise of pairing a spirit with a beer, the traditional hauf and a hauf updated. The ultra strong beers have taken the place of malt whisky in the small treat, small measure department and for a beer showcase like this that’s fine, but perhaps more notable whisky should be on offer other than just a Auchentoshan single malt.

And food offerings should be broader than the presently offered burgers, mixed platters and pizzas. It kind of negates the afore-mentioned guide to beer and food. And they only seem able at the moment to serve two food orders at a time for whatever kitchen reasons. Not good for medium or large parties.

Is this Brewdog a place where groups would go for a whole riotous night, or for a couple blokes obsessed with real ale, sorry, craft beer, out for quiet drink comparing tasting notes? On the occasions I’ve been in, and looking at the promo photos, it seems the clientele is at least 70-30 male.

Yes, almost all pubs are mostly male, but for a joint with marketing and promotion aimed at the under 35 age group, this lack of women will eventually put off customers. Pub-goers like the flirting frisson. Without it the atmosphere lacks. And leaving aside gender, will students make up the pub’s customer base or the local professionals who frequent places like Firebird? If it is the student crowd they may eventually baulk at the premium prices and go to cheaper options west in Partick or east towards the city centre.

While some slivers of summer remaining the fixed bench outside is useful but apparently no drink is allowed outside. But at least you can admire – if you happen to be a marketing professional - the blue-gray livery of the exterior, the colour matching that used in other Brewdog promotional material, menus, magazines etc

“Beer for Punks” is the predominant Brewdog slogan in their alternative manifesto behind the craft beer revolution. But maybe that’s all it is, just an empty slogan. The BD boys, co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie, constantly proclaim their difference from conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch Inbev and SABMiller but if you consider the aggressive marketing, rapid expansion, universal branding, and interiors more uniform even than Wetherspoons their baby is just a corporate embryo, differing from its bigger rivals only in size.

So not really a revolution at all. As someone once sang: ‘Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.’

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