Learn to be a bit more (Brew)dog

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

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Pete Brown: "It seems everyone could learn something from BrewDog"
Pete Brown: "It seems everyone could learn something from BrewDog"
BrewDog is streets ahead of other bars with its edgy but welcoming style, Pete Brown pops in.

The big bouncer behind the crash barriers regards me sternly as I walk past. I have to laugh, because I’m the only person on the street. The venue is as tightly guarded as a Hollywood movie premiere, with music so loud it floods the street, crunching your bones. Inside, three office girls enjoy a glass of wine in what would be an otherwise empty space.

This is a familiar sight on the city centre circuit — the bar that has a hugely inflated sense of its own importance. And I walk past several on a quiet Sunday night on my way to find the new BrewDog bar in Sheffield’s student quarter.


Seven years on from its launch, the BrewDog bar is on its way to becoming as much a fixture of the city centre high street as WHSmith. The brand has divided the industry, with some proclaiming the two punky Scots as messiahs while others insist they’re just very naughty boys.

But BrewDog bars give the brand a physical presence in a way PR stunts and Portman Group spats never can. So after all the hype and controversy, what’s BrewDog actually like on a quiet, sunny evening?

The stripped-back, minimalist industrial space is decorated with murals of cartoon psychotic dogs taking chunks out of each other. The feel of the place suggests that middle-aged bearded men of portly stature may not be welcome here, but the youthful staff greet me pleasantly, as they do everyone else.


The draft beers are advertised not on chalkboards, but on a backlit 1960s cinema-style hoarding. On this occasion, I know what I want — Dead Pony Club, the 3.8% session beer that belies both BrewDog’s reputation for only making stupidly strong beers, and the notion that only cask ale can offer depth of flavour at low ABV.

Dead Pony lacks the subtlety and complexity of cask, being fairly one-dimensionally hoppy, but its simplicity and thinness of body make it a wonderfully refreshing and satisfying pint.

If I had hesitated at the bar, the staff would have asked about my preferences before offering me samples to find what I like. I watch them do that now with customers young and old, immediately making them feel welcome and relaxed in what is, for most, an unfamiliar concept.

I take my beer to an American-style diner booth. It feels nothing like a traditional pub — it’s definitely a bar. In front of me is a mural covering one wall. Under the heading: “What beer should I drink?”, a flow chart asks questions such as “Who are you drinking with?” “What’s your favourite band?” and “Do you have work tomorrow?”, to help guide you semi-seriously to the differences between Dead Pony Club, the more muscular Punk IPA (5.6% ABV) and the daunting delights of Tokyo* (18.2% ABV).

Literature on the tables gives you tasting notes for the full range of products on offer. There is a small wine list, although several come with a suggestion of which BrewDog beer might make a suitable alternative.


BrewDog famously announced that it was ceasing production of cask ale in 2011. But the way it presents its beers utilises all the best practice principles we recommend in the Cask Report​. Its bars are effectively tied houses, but it has a liberal guest policy, choosing like-minded brewers from around the world.

BrewDog is selling something out of the ordinary, something unfamiliar, so it takes great pains to explain what it is.

Its staff are young and transitory, often students or other part-time workers, but it only employs people with a genuine interest in beer, and it has a training programme that’s second-to-none — any member of staff has the opportunity to undergo the rigorous US Cicerone qualification on beer knowledge.

And in a bar that seems to be run entirely by people under 25, where the most popular beer is 5.6% ABV and the strongest is a whopping 35% ABV, there are no bouncers on the door. They’re not needed, and they wouldn’t feel appropriate. They’re certainly not part of this young, edgy brand.

Behind the controversy, whether you’re a traditional real ale pub or a high-energy, city centre circuit venue, it seems everyone could learn something from BrewDog.

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