If all I remembered from Saturdays launch of Brewdog Camden was an entire bar full of drinkers shouting ‘to evil!’ in unison, it would have been worth going. But there was more, so much more, that permeated through my spectacular hangover on Sunday morning, and that will make me return time and time again. It was nothing really tangible that made me like this place so much, but a feeling, a buzz, an energy that was ever present on a launch night that genuinely felt like an event, something to be excited about, like something special was happening. The blokes on the door saying we’d just missed the tank, the barman confirming some rumours about upcoming events, the audible disbelief when James Watt announced ‘a blonde stout’ was now being poured. For some, like myself, it was a familiar product and brand, just bigger more concentrated, like moving from cigarettes to cigars. For others it was new and different, and the young, fashionable crowd were loving the over confident, propaganda style feel to proceedings, new phrases entering the lexicon as they drank wasabi stouts and black lagers.
One good thing about having your own place is that you can do everything your way, and be as rude as you like to the competition. The Brewdog gang have run with this idea, and the place screams of post-modern ambition and self-satisfaction. They openly lambast macro lager brands, while the deliberate lack of cask beer is a not-so-subtle middle finger at the CAMRA traditionalists. How much longer they can continue fighting wars on both fronts is debateable, but you have to admire the conviction.
Camden is a perfect location, it has been crying out for craft beer for many years now, and together with the Black Heart just down the road, now has the beginnings of a decent beer scene. Inside is all bare brick and exposed steel, it feels ideal for swift pints and busy nights out with friends, perhaps not for lazy Sunday afternoons or relaxed evening meals. On my visit it was not worth the trouble of ordering food, but substantial snacks are available as well as pizza and burgers. The staff are excellent - friendly, cheeky, knowledgeable and generous, with tasters being offered before you have asked, regardless of the price of the beer.
As I have mentioned, the beer is keg and bottles only, with essentially the whole Brewdog range available on draught (except 77 on my visit, which is a shame as this was going to be my first order), in addition to some rare and exotic things which will be ever changing. Twenty-something lines adorn the bar, and on Saturday Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Stone, Lagunitas and Port Brewing all had guest spots, so they are clearly going for the superstars of US and continental brewing. After waiting all night for the Lagunitas pale ale I wasn’t actually bowled over, but the Port Brewing Wipeout IPA was light, elegant and perfectly bitter. This was supplemented by the AB:08, which was interesting without being delicious, and Lost Dog, a collaboration beer with Lost Abbey which was rich and warming. Best of the home team was 5am, which seemed very popular, and Hardcore - juicy, bitter and alcoholic, as good as I have ever had it.
|Punk, Zeitgeist, Wipeout IPA - I think|
As much as I loved it, I can appreciate that not everyone else will, and there are some areas where they could improve. It isn’t cheap - £3.50 - £4 is not unusual for circa 5% beers in London, and you could do a lot worse than Punk and 5am, but if you want to take advantage of the full range it will cost you. As you get towards the higher end, Hardcore is £2.95 a half, AB:08 was £4.50 for a third, and it is £6 a shot for Tactical Nuclear Penguin. This is special occasion stuff, and I don’t mind one bit paying a premium for high quality beers when this much effort is being put in, but your money will disappear fast if you are here for any length of time. I would have liked a bit more life in some of my beers – everything was in good form but I have had the Punk better in recent weeks and others were not jumping out of the glass. The lack of cask (in the bar, if they stop doing it altogether that is a different story) may annoy some, but for no good reason given that you can find a heap of other good pubs serving excellent cask beer within a short walk.
|The smaller, downstairs beer list|
This place is not going to convince any Brewdog doubters – it is everything they encapsulate within a small square footage, amped up to 11, and a smug look on their face while they do it. But for everyone else this is a revelation – there is nowhere quite like it in London. I want craft beer in more places – theme parks, hotels, strip clubs, airports, train stations, cinemas and preferably my lounge. This is how we will get there; with organisations trying different tactics, tapping into existing culture and demand while asserting their own convictions and beliefs. London needed a bar like this; in fact it needs more than one, and I am sure there will be a few copycats out next year. Forgetting all of the hype and implications, this is a brilliant, cool place to drink amazing beer, and that is more than enough to ensure it is one of London’s must-visit beer pubs.