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BrewDog: One beer too many?

It may have started as something of a novelty, but BrewDog’s seemingly relentless quest to simultaneously break records and cause controversy is starting to verge on irresponsibility.

brewdog--sinkthebismarck.jpgThe Scottish brewer this week announced the launch of a 41% abv beer, snatching the record for the world’s strongest beer back from German rivals Schorschbräu, which held the title for just two weeks with its 40% abv Schorschbock.

At £40 for a 330ml a bottle, only available via the BrewDog website, www.brewdog.com , Sink the Bismarck is a quadruple IPA that is stronger than whisky and vodka.

BrewDog says it developed the new beer, with the typically controversial name Sink the Bismarck, in order to “reclaim the world record – and national pride”, but the question of whether Britain really should be proud of such a record has to be asked.

The brewer is no stranger to controversy, having faced something of a backlash from alcohol awareness groups last November when it released the 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which at the time also took the record away from Schorschbräu’s 31% abv effort.

Innovation and ambition are two characteristics well worthy of praise, but one has to wonder where this back-and-forth could lead.

BrewDog is renowned as an irreverent company which keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek. Indeed, when speaking of the running battle with Schorschbräu to produce the world’s strongest beer, BrewDog managing director James Watt said: “We will fight them in the mash tuns, we will fight them in the fermentation tanks, by golly we’ll physically get into the freezers and fight them there if we have to.”

Yet despite the quirky nature of the business, this latest development seems to fly in the face of the efforts made by the rest of the drinks industry to promote a responsible attitude to drinking in the UK.

Brewdog’s announcement gave the health lobby another excuse to lay in to the drinks industry and seems to suggest the company paid little notice to criticisms it received from The Portman Group following the release of Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

Watt, however, claims the brewer is actually promoting a more responsible approach to drinking through releasing the beer.

“This is the beginning of the craft beer revolution in the UK, he said. “We are doing all we can to promote a new and responsible approach to beers in this country.

“We want the public to learn to understand, appreciate and respect beer. At BrewDog we want to highlight a different approach to beer, one which focuses on quality ingredients and craftsmanship and not marketing budgets, volume sales or binge consumption.

“Many fall down the monolithic corporate brewers rabbit hole, we are on a mission to open as many people’s eyes as we can. As a company responsible consumption and better education about beer is ingrained in all we do.

“Beer has a terrible reputation in Britain, it’s ignorant to assume that a beer can’t be enjoyed responsibly like a nice dram or a glass of fine wine.”

It’s a sound philosophy and the company has won praise for its innovative approach to marketing and indeed for its beers.

Yet with this latest move BrewDog is in danger of undoing any good work done before and placing itself firmly in the glare of the popular media, which appears to relish any opportunity it gets to criticise the alcohol industry.

Maybe BrewDog should say that the final shot has been fired in its battle with the Germans.

Alan Lodge, 17.02.2010

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