I’ve noticed, of late that there’s an awful lot of collaboration going on out there, breweries pooling experience, knowledge and sometimes ingredients to create collaborative brews.
Well, back in 2012, two different ‘dog’ breweries, Scotland’s Brewdog and Maryland’s Flying Dog went head to head in a ‘combative collaboration’ to create an IPA without hops.
“Collaboration was never an option,” Matt Brophy (BrewMaster & COO of Flying Dog) said. “It’s a long word that takes entirely too long to type. So, we challenged BrewDog to a battle of the brewing arts and they accepted.”
That is a challenge, any craft beer drinker will tell you that IPAs were traditionally brewed with a higher hop content to better preserve them, originally to survive the journey to supply British troops in India.
Having said that, a Victorian soldier would struggle to recognise, as IPA, many modern brews created under that moniker.
So, an IPA without hops? Clearly the brewers would have to fall back on different bittering and preserving agents; a return to a style of beer – ‘gruit’ – that pre-dates the introduction of hops into Europe in the Middle Ages.
The two breweries agreed that the permitted herbs would be spearmint, bay leaves, rosemary, juniper berries, and elderflower.
The beers brewed, the ‘arms race’ concluded by blind tastings at Brewdog’s bars in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, and Camden (London). While the Brewdog brew was the more popular in the two Scottish bars, Flying Dog was more popular in the three English bars, and thus Flying Dog were declared the winners. Brophy accepted the victory standing on the bar in Camden, draped in an American flag, with typical modesty “I believe it was actually King George III who said ‘truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to life.” [dramatic pause.] “Wait, no it wasn’t. Silly me. It was George Washington that said that.”
Okay, so that was the dogfight, what are the beers like?
Brewdog International Arms Race – 7.5% ABV
Pours a dark amber colour, that’s real amber, think preserved Mosquitos in ‘Jurassic Park’, with an effusive head that fades quickly.
The nose has hints of pine and heather, and a distinct threat of alcohol. Like most Brewdog brews this doesn’t offer any compromise.
The flavour is mostly caramel, with the alcohol lurking in the background. There are no discernible herbs or spices, frankly, for all its bluster, contrary to what the label claims, this doesn’t rock, or roll, or do anything much.
An interesting experiment, but frankly, I can’t see that it was worth the effort.
Flying Dog International Arms Race 7.5% ABV
It must be said that the Flying Dog label is more pugnacious than Brewdog’s featuring a Ralph Steadman illustration. If you’re not familiar with Steadman, he did the illustrations and animations for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. Brewdog’s label, by Johanna Basford is almost tame, classy though.
The brew pours the same colours as the Brewdog brew, but the head is fleeting, gone before I could get the camera lined up.
The nose is more interesting, with hints of barley sugar and coriander, verging on the medicinal.
The flavour is even more medicinal, definite hints of pine, rosemary and bay leaves.
The nose and flavours are, to be honest, so complex and subtle that I passed it to my wife, for a second opinion. She agreed with the barley sugar, with the added herbs taking the flavour close to cough candy. She declared the brew to be ‘quite refreshing’ – and from my missus that’s praise indeed.
(My apologies to any readers in ‘the colonies’, both barley sugar and cough candy are traditional British confections, often served from large glass jars in old fashioned sweet shops.)
All in all, while neither Brew impressed, I have to agree with the Brewdog customer jury, I’ll vote Flying Dog the victor and rate their brew slightly higher than Brewdog’s.
Incidentally, in this, the anniversary of the start of the first World War, the term ‘dogfight’ was coined for the barking sounds that early aircraft made when restarting, after their engines had stalled due to fuel starvation caused by tight manoeuvring in aerial combat. I thought you might be interested.
Anyway, have you tried any ‘gruit’ beers? What were your thoughts?