After defending BrewDog achievements of making a 32% and a 41% beer, I have to defend the creation of a 55% beer called The End of History, a reference to Democracy as the high human political achievement (the implication that the human political struggle reaches its terminus in democratic ideals). This is another notable achievement and landmark in the making of a massive beer. Imagine, 55% ABV. Wow! Read about it here. But the accomplishment of making a 55% beer is where I have to end my applause for BrewDog. Here’s the deal:
We live in a time where all of us are more and more sensitive, more and more concerned about political correctness, and more and more readily offended at things like, say, a stuffed, dead animal with a beer running through its body. I for one am not actually that discomfited with the idea, especially since these animals were already dead. I’ve hunted for several years and am not at all uncomfortable with an animal hide. Let me say, though, that I can see how someone might be bothered about it.
Sausage jokes don’t bother me either. Rhetoric can be a fun and absolutely funny vehicle for making a point or, in this case, selling a beer. All this to say that it’s not a matter of offending my sensibilities that is the cause of writing this small post against what BrewDog is doing. Those of you who’ve read this site for any amount of time know that I’ve defended BrewDog against the evil Mr. Protz and have even joined in the fun of trying to make my own “world’s strongest beer.” (scroll down to get to the posts) I get it, I really do. Pushing boundaries is fun, making a huge beer is a challenge, and taking such care in making such a huge product can be a truly intense engagement. For all that, I don’t fault James Watt or BrewDog in the least.
What I do find disturbingly problematic is the price. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve spent a pretty penny on a beer here or there. In fact, I purchased Utopias in the past. That beer set me back $160 for a 24-ounce re-sealable bottle. Perhaps this is a self-admission that my own thoughts are contradictory or even self-defeating from the outset…maybe. Honestly, I’ve even argued that a degree of aristocracy is a necessary evil if beer is to gain a reputation that has a chance of being on par with wine. Yet somehow I doubt that drinking from a dead animal is going to accomplish that goal.
While I did acknowledge that a degree of aristocracy is necessary for the beer culture, I took the argument in the direction of rare beers and price appreciation rather than off the line price. A small distinction, I admit. There are 11 available bottles of Brewdog’s beer and one more still being worked on. So, 12 bottles of this beer will exist. The prices for the various bottles are currently $764.15 or $1069.81. My guess is that the one hare bottle will be a hair more expensive than the others, so I’m assuming that beer will be around $1400.00. By the way, your eyes are seeing this correctly. The latter two prices do make this the most expensive modern beer (I’ve seen an 1800s vintage beer sell for $300,000), scraping by the former $1,000.00 mark. This takes beer appreciation and aristocracy to a new level and doesn’t seem very democratic at all. An alternative approach to history would suggest that the victors (write powerful and wealthy) write history. Maybe a name like “spoils to the victor” would be a better name for the brew.
Sure, if the money one pays for the beer covers the cost of a flight to and stay in Scotland, the beer, and maybe a tour of the brewery, then it could be a comfort to buy the beer. Alternatively, wouldn’t it have been cool for BrewDog just to ship the bottles to a few people just to give them the exclusive beer, thus building their reputation? I personally think another approach was needed rather than just selling 12 bottles of beer to the public.
Let’s make clear which public we are speaking about. The public in view is not you and me. Generally, two people are buying this beer. Crazed beer fanatics who must try everything and spend every last dime they have on beer or people who don’t care a bit about spending $1,000 on a bottle of beer. I’ve recovered from being of the former disposition and will likely never be a member of the latter group. So, generally speaking, people with a fair amount of expendable income will be buying the beer. Let me be clear, I’m not a class warrior: but isn’t this the problem?
What I mean is, a beer like this undermines what BrewDog is trying to do. By their own self-admission, they are attempting to undermine the ubiquitously bland lagers and ales from the market, or at least offer an alternative. Great, at least you are doing it 12 bottles at a time, the average price for a bottle being roughly $920. I know that this probably offers the average drinker in the UK a viable alternative. ”We want to introduce as many people to the amazing world of craft beer as we can, to change people perceptions and challenge their understanding of what beer is.” I don’t think you are going to accomplish it this way. Perhaps their other slogan, ”We are selfish: we make the beers we want to drink,” is the more accurate depiction of their attitude. I wish it could be both, but it certainly isn’t in this particular case.
Now, I realize there are some political aspects to the BrewDog reaction as well, so I don’t want to oversimplify the matter. They’ve been fighting with temperance people, beer people, government people and people from other countries. And, let’s not forget, the tax structure for beer in the UK is ABV-based, not flat barrel price like in the U.S., so some of the cost from the tax structure really dictates the cost of the final product. But, let’s be honest, they still decided to make and sell this product. All this to say that I really want to offer BrewDog the benefit of the doubt where I can. But I’ve become weary of defending them on this account.
Those who read this might make the argument that ultimately people don’t have to buy the beer if they don’t want to spend the money. I fully grant this point, but I am thinking in terms of principles. Should this beer cost this much regardless of who buys it? That’s the sort of question I ask. Or is it consistent with the philosophy that BrewDog has set out? I would argue that it’s yes and no. Yes, because they are pushing the limits, and no, because they are not doing what they’ve defined themselves as doing, that is, offering the normal consumer a viable alternative. It sounds democratic and capitalist on the surface (I think capitalist implies democracy, which means “of the people,” so I don’t like separating them so readily). But, in practice, it seems mostly an elitist and aristocratic beer.
As far as taste goes, I doubt that I’d even have a chance to taste it. Who knows exactly what the beer will taste like? Will it be an alcohol bomb like the rest of BrewDog’s stuff or will it be sweeter and more balanced? Will it resemble a triple at all? Who knows. What I can tell you about the beer without tasting it is that it’s a little salty for me.