Can the Scottish brewpub bring about a punk beer revolution? Maybe not, but it does serve up a very fine barbecue.
BrewDog doesn’t just want to serve you a beer or a meal. It has a message it wants you to understand. The Scottish craft brewery and brewpub wants this so badly that it has seen fit to produce a printed manifesto, full of eyebrow-raising propaganda about malt, hops, their “beer for punks” attitude and how, despite all the brewdogging, taxidermy and tank-driving publicity stunts, they are just regular guys (“We are not cool. We are not pretentious. We just care. And we are your friends.”) It seems unsporting to point out that any self-respecting punk manifesto is photocopied and hand-stapled, while these sleek booklets are the product of a rather un-punk branding apparatus. Corporate appropriation of the trappings of revolution is, like, so 2013. Still, actual punks probably wouldn’t have gotten it together to launch an ambitious national brewing power determined to change British beer forever. BrewDog have chutzpah, and I can’t help but like them and what they’re trying to do. Branding only takes you so far; this beer is good.
If you don’t look too hard, their Manchester outpost, which opened last year, resembles a New York dive à la the late lamented CBGBs – dark and moody, with battered pinball machines and sticker-encrusted white brick tiles behind the bar, blasting Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. But up close, everything is too shiny and the place doesn’t smell bad enough. Neither do the people, an odd mix of tourists and suburban folk straying daringly far from their Deansgate comfort zone, stood awkwardly around the big empty space at the front of the bar. As the evening goes on, more craft beer guys turn up (jeans and t-shirts, facial hair, well curated trainers) but the counter-intuitive Peter Street location may be why it’s taking a while to catch on with its natural demographic. Another reason might be the opening food offering, which I’d heard wasn’t great. But during Grillstock, a man by the name of Dr. Sweetsmoke told me to go try BrewDog Manchester’s new menu, which he’d had a hand in developing. I did and I am not sorry, for there I had some very fine barbecue.
BrewDog resembles a New York dive with battered pinball machines and sticker-encrusted tiles
The menu is short and sings a simple song: barbecued meat, with a lonely halloumi sandwich for everyone else. My friend and I both went for ribs: mine the toothsome, long cooked pork ribs. Hers the special beer-smoked beef ribs they serve only on weekends: charred outside, meltingly tender inside. Both are served dry, but if you like ribs slathered in BBQ sauce, there’s plenty on hand and it’s the real deal. Alongside were good pickles and two kinds of slaw. Optional sides are served in mason jars. Their Boston-style baked beans may be too sweet for some, but I loved them, especially when I unearthed some burnt ends, those delectable crusty bits of brisket. The mac ‘n’ cheese had an unusual smoky flavour that worked well, but it could have been a little sharper and less floury. Overall, though, pretty fricking good. I’d come again just for the food. Good thing they’re adding more tables.
How much you love BrewDog’s beer will depend on how excited you are about hops. I’m not generally although I liked my pint of 5 A.M. Saint, their typically hoptastic take on an Amber. But their own beers are supplemented by an eye-popping selection of international craft ales available by the glass, bottle, can and growler. We had a flight of guest draft beers, and especially liked Smack My Brewed Up!, a pale ale brewed exclusively for BrewDog by cult Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeller. Unless you have the constitution of a 300-pound teamster, you’ll want to keep a sharp eye on the numbers here: many of these beers are very strong indeed. One of BrewDog’s beers, the legendary Sink the Bismarck, is a rip-roaring 41 per cent ABV. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with that, but I wouldn’t suggest drinking it.
This is an independent review, but our writer didn’t pay for her meal. For more info on our editorial policy, read our About page.