I have now purchased and drank a BrewDog newly weakened Middle Aged rocker IPA, a beer now competing in an uninspiring market of mass produced regionals and conglomerates such as Marston's Ringwood, Polish Tyskie, Theakstons Old Peculier and slightly better ales from smaller concerns such as Bath Wild Hare and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Thing is, there is nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe, nor, as demonstrated by the last two beers above, along with the fantastic Worthington White Shield, is there anything wrong with a 5.6% IPA. However, with a brewery that grew its reputation on unflinching defiance of conformity, the lessening of the alcoholic potency of this beer suggests its brewers aren't confident enough of its staying power. What could this mean ?
Well, firstly, this change of market position, for that is what the reduction is and what it spells, is especially prescient in the face of an almost never ending list of 5.0% "premium" ales, as marketed and produced to a non-negotiable cost savings and market share recipe for success by every medium to large sized brewer in the UK.
Secondly, and quite frustratingly, the fact that 5.6% is an untrendy strength in terms of shelf coverage means it could be the forerunner of great beers in its style, but, its not - this is punk IPA light. And yet still, it has the same blurb - come on BrewDog! We know you bolted in the face of savings - why pretend your beer is the same ? What less maverick an action could there be than to effectively neuter the dog for the sake of a potential alcohol duty saving ?
Taste and appearance wise - and this could be the third strand of the sea change - the bottle still pours cloudy; seemingly the lessened alcohol content has done nothing to help the beer fall crystal clear. Mercifully it still has that ostensibly brutal fizz of hops in the initial flavour, but the problem is that the reluctance of BrewDog to maintain Punk IPA's gravity suddenly gives me doubts about the overall and ongoing evolution of the beer.
Had it always kept that harsh astounding zingy bite up until the strength was reduced, or had the beer's inherent and unhindered hop blast been steadily on the decline since its inception ?
The point is, the 5.6 % beer is not radically different to the 6. That's my opinion.
And moreover, I admit, the potential impact of the post reduction cost is muddied by Asda reducing the price, meaning that no-one can be sure what, if anything, the duty saving is about.
I would however be interested to know why BrewDog swapped the impressive venom of Brutal Truth for the asinine strains of Good Charlotte, something we might only know in a few months time, when market pressures have been allowed to affect the costs and a true and reflective new price is proffered by the brewery.
In the meantime, to paraphrase the young bucks themselves " its quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate the affect of the sudden decrease in alcohol, you probably don't even care that because Asda constantly fanny about with the price its almost impossible to notice an impact on your wallet. So just go back to drinking your almost mass produced watered down in strength cloudy BrewDog and assume everything is OK, closing the door behind you.....
On Wednesday, having survived yellow fever or similar, it was time to meet Dave for a wander to Greystones and a catch up with what Ecclesall Road had to offer the discerning drinker.
Owing to having left work early I had 20 minutes to kill so went for a half of Kelham Island Riders on the Storm at the Bessemer on Pinstone street. Davefromtshop thought this was a Wetherspoons, and I don't want to fall foul of my own ignorance here, but I reckon its not.
Mind you, there are similarities in the high ceilings and vast open plan drinking areas, but the beer is more averagely priced ( £1.30 for my half) and there does not seem to be the ubiquitous food options available.
Onto the bus and we were drawing up outside the Greystones in little time at all, noting a spare table in the warm sunshine, and marvelling at the views over the city. Inside is a long bar with 8 handpumps and various continental and lager fonts, with distinct drinking areas on each side, notably a raised area to the left. We went outside having purchased, after having tried, a pint each of the fantastic Marble Ginger.
" Everybody's talking about it" Dave informed me, before inserting a numerical caveat which indicated that only 3 customers had taken up the mantle of the subject of this ale. Either way, notoriety is only right for this beer - I had reservations about ruining my palate with a strong ginger episode, but needn't have worried.
Although the inclusion of ginger lends a refreshing edge, there is sufficient bitterness and overall beery notes to make the ginger a complimentary bonus rather than an intrusive interloper on the palate. We supped our pints outside, trying hard not to earwig in a conversation between a man in Thornbridge staff attire and someone who was likely sales profligate Sheffield wine shifter John Mitchell.
Clearly my modest journalistic decorum forbids me from writing the salient points of said talk here, but it was interesting enough a chinwag that we had to go inside for our next pint so as we could actually hold a conversation. Inside we had pints of Bracia - all but the Marble on the guest handpump are Thornbridge beers - which was probably very nice, but despite my earlier praise, I have to concede that the astringent flavours of the ginger do impinge on the taste of your next drink.
Both pints were £3.00 each, leading us to speculate that all beer was that price regardless of strength- alas, our timetable and some confusion meant we were unable to be certain of the veracity of such a claim.
Afterwards we headed downhill to Sharrowvale and went first to the Porter Cottage. Inside the interior is slightly dark, and there are two large bay window seating areas on either side, and noticeably, more bar like features meaning that the further you get from the front door the less traditional and more unpub-like the outlook becomes. The bar was a depressing modern design (except for the diamond patterns ) with bright lighting and a bar rather than pub feel. That said, our window seat was a nice alcove, and an excellent vantage point to see what the legendary - and for once deservedly so - jukebox had to offer.
Tellingly, given my previou concerns over costs in Sharrowvale, our choices from the range of three Bradfield beers - Dave had Brown Cow and I the blonde, were £2.85 a pint, making it marginally cheaper for the area.
Our next stop was the Lescar. The same range of beers was on as Thursday last week, and I had primed Dave on my concerns over the cost issues. He asked what the prices of the real ales were and the barman stated that Sharps Doom bar was £2.80 (reflecting its role as the most disappointing beer of the range perhaps?), the moonshine and Ashford £3.00 and the Atlantic IPA£3.05. I queried why I had paid £3.10 for moonshine last time and the prices were reiterated, so it must have been a mistake....
Information now stored, we ordered 1 pint of Atlantic IPA (£3.05) and 1 Ashford (£3.00) and it was somehow £6.10 !?! As a result (and I know we should have pointed this out but we didn't) I therefore don't know the true extent of how expensive the Lescar is because the staff seem unsure themselves - either way its at least and likely more expensive than the Greystones, more so than the Sheaf Island ( see later in post ) and more than the Porter Cottage. So hey, why not digest these facts and reach your own conclusion ?
So, having grabbed fuel from the greedy Greek we headed down Sharrowvale road, and down a jennel to Ecclesall Road, and finally onto the Wetherspoons adventure in irony that is the Sheaf Island.
Housed as it is in the former Wards brewery, it serves Samson brewery (or similar ) Wards bitter which tastes unlike the original, and of course is the first proper bar to appear on the site dispensing real ale since the Wards tasting room was mothballed with the brewery in 1999. But, on the plus side does at least bring the building agreeably towards its original use of providing beer. It was bit difficult to figure out what parts, if any, of the original buildings the pub occupied, and even more difficult to solve the riddle of how to get in through one of the four double doors, only one of which was unlocked.
Inside is a long bar and a high ceiling lounge area at the left side and along open plan seating area with separate seating to the right. There were a number of real ales on tap, a combination of regionals and unusual guests. Alas our order of choice meant we missed out on the intriguing plum beer but sate ourselves instead with pints of Titanic light Fog Mild and Lymestone Gold, which, even with Dave's discount cards, were £3.90 for 2 pints.
Now, that's not expensive at all, especially if you have just invested in a drink at the Lescar, but its a little bit steep for Wetherspoons. Usually you can get two pints for a little over £3.00 ( real ale at least) - so perhaps this is a deliberate attempt by the chain to define the direction and target clientele of the venue ?
Its perhaps contentious, but there was a noticeable surfeit of refreshed characters propping up tables and the bar and deafeningly holding court across the venue with friends imaginary or otherwise.
At this stage its unclear whether we had halves first and halves again - in fact i think we did, but its not unfair to mention that the lengthy escapades of our sojourn had left us a trifle tipsy. Despite that, I was able to procure Dave's camera to take couple of photo' which I hope to upload in the near future.
We were soon off into town trying to guesstimate which 80 service stop we disembarked at to be nearest the Rutland. We got it half right, of course the answer is, neither potential escape points are really any good.
Once in the pub we had halves of Blue Bee Lustin for stout and their red white and blue bitter. I have tried the stout before and was a big fan, but only had a half on both occasions - Dave and I agreed that despite its admirable qualities it might in fact be a half rather than pint option in future, owing to its mass of flavours and vinous qualities. Soz Rich...
So, our final resting place was the Tap, which had their usual Gamut of splendid Thornbridge offerings, as well as 3 from Buxton Brewery in gosh, no idea where. We both, perhaps unwisely, opted for their 6.2% Axe Edge dark ale. In the end, this formidable mighty beast was our match, and we quickly abandoned plans to sample the rest of the Buxton portfolio, and instead wend our way home - a suggestion I took perhaps a little too literally since I had to walk home from Woodhouse terminus for somnambulistic reasons....
A fantastic night all the same, and a nice change from the usual Handsworth run and booze at Chez Nut....