I like beer.
I don’t drink very often or very much, not because of any particular health or sobriety reasons, but because when I go out I’m usually driving and when I’m at home I’m more likely to feel like a cup of tea.
This wasn’t an issue when I was younger and drank mostly lager, but over the last few years my tastes have changed and I’ve developed a liking for real ales. As there are so many different ones and new micro-breweries are popping up all the time, it’s quite frustrating when I go out and can’t try all these wonderful offerings.
So when I got a voucher for Beer School as a Christmas present I was excited to have the chance to try several different beers, learn about them AND best of all, it was in the city centre meaning I could get the tram and so be able to drink the beers rather than just have a taste of them. Yay!
Also, although I’ve done plenty of brewery tours in the past (including touring my absolute favourite, the Valhalla brewery in Shetland), the Brewdog Beer School sounded like it was going to be something quite different.
It’s run by the Brewdog brewery. I’d never heard of them, which surprises me now as their beers are available in supermarkets and they have their own pubs – called Brewdog – in quite a few cities around the UK.
Our ‘teacher’ for the night told us how the brewery had started in Aberdeen in 2007. I love a good entrepreneurial story and this is a great one. It all started when a couple of 24 year old guys (and one dog whose age wasn’t given) got fed up with the beer they could buy and decided they could make better themselves. They put together a business plan and took it along to a local bank.
The bank said no.
Not to be put off by this they took it to the next bank and told them how the other bank had offered them a great deal and they just wondered if this bank would like the opportunity to better it.
The bank said yes.
Over the years the brewery has gone from strength to strength getting larger premises, opening bars all over the place and going international.
They’ve achieved this success by breaking all the rules of conventionality and putting into practice the sorts of ideas they must surely only get after a major taste-testing session. The sorts of ideas most people would immediately dismiss once they were sober.
I can imagine their planning meetings going something like this:
Martin: We need a plan to get publicity for our new bar in Camden, hic.
James: We could hire one of those minivans with big signs on the side and drive it down Camden High Street, slurp.
Martin: Yeah, or we could make it a tank. Yeah, let’s get a tank, glug.
Dog: *rolls eyes*
James: And while we’re on the subject of tanks, what are we going to do about our shortage of tanks to brew our beer in? Ah, that hits the spot.
Martin: I noticed some roadkill on the next way in; we could put it in that. Burrrrrp.
Dog: *covers eyes with paws*
James: Where are those notes we made at our planning meeting yesterday? And what’s that roadkill doing there?
Martin: I’ve got them. What? Apparently we’re going to brew our beer in the roadkill and drive a tank down Camden High Street. My head is hurting.
James: Great, let’s get on with it. Pass those paracetamols over will you?
Dog: *hangs head as realises he got distracted by the aroma of roadkill and forgot to eat the planning notes*
Don’t you wish you could be a fly on the wall at their meetings? It’s almost worth getting shares in the company just to be able to attend their AGMs.
And yes, it is possible to be a shareholder because they’ve raised money this way on several occasions including through crowdfunding (who needs the City?) and got the record for the biggest crowdfunding amounts ever. (£4.25 million from 10,000 investors in 22 countries.)
Other gimmicks, I mean great marketing ideas, have included brewing the world’s strongest beer which at 55% and dispensed from a deer’s head was also the world’s most expensive, but was apparently too strong to taste very good. I’m sure the deer’s head had nothing to do with it.
But, all of this is a digression and I’m supposed to be talking about Beer School.
Let me backtrack to the beginning.
The vouchers I got were through one of those discount online companies. This meant Beer School cost us £10 each rather than the advertised £20 each. As it was a voucher system, I had to go online, find a suitable date and then exchange the voucher for ‘tickets’.
Yeah, when is anything online ever that easy?
First, there were hardly any dates in Manchester. Plenty around the rest of the country, but for some reason not so many in Manchester. Because there weren’t many dates they seemed to get booked up pretty quickly. We struggled to find a date when we were both available that wasn’t already sold out. We ended up booking several months ahead and just before our vouchers expired. I’m not sure what would have happened had we not been able to get this date. Would we have lost the money? Moral of the story at this point: check dates and availability in your area before buying these vouchers.
Second, many dates were listed as only having one place left and the way the system was set up it was very unclear whether this meant one person or one voucher (which was for two people). I emailed the voucher site to check and copy and pasted the code it said to include if I had any queries.
The email I got in return said the code was for wicker furniture. What?
By the time I’d got it sorted out there were even fewer dates available. Just so you know in case you ever try to do this – ‘one’ means one voucher so two people.
Brewdog Beer School is held in the Bewdog pub in a room upstairs. The pub was buzzing and busy even though it was a week night. The room the Beer School was held in was also full of customers and the ‘school’ was just a reserved table in the corner.
The space wasn’t very big and about a dozen people had booked. Even though a couple of them didn’t show up we were still rather crushed. The table was also a high table with high chairs which I hate sitting at. They’re fine if you don’t have a bag, but if you do (which I do) then it’s really awkward because you have to keep hold of it and this is a pain at the best of times; more so when space is limited.
Our teacher for the night introduced himself and began by telling us about the company. This is when I realised there was another problem.
Our table was right below a speaker. I have difficulty understanding what people are saying in noisy environments at the best of times and the room was already noisy with all the other customers chatting and enjoying their night out. The music blaring from the speaker right above us made it almost impossible.
I told him I couldn’t hear and to give the guy his due, he did try to re-position himself and raise his voice, but without a megaphone there wasn’t really a lot he could do.
Fortunately the friend I was with has better hearing than me and she was able to tell me what he was saying. Not ideal, but better than missing out completely.
And I realised the high tables and crowding together were probably for a reason – it would have been even harder to hear had we been spread out and sat at a lower level than our ‘teacher’ who was standing. A better solution of course would have been a private room or at least turning the speaker off for the duration of the course.
Over a couple of hours we got to try several beers, each one quite different. They were introduced to us with information about how each one is made and how it got its name. I would have taken notes, but there really was no room. It was all very interesting though.
We were given some time to finish each beer before being presented with the next one and this gave us chance to chat with the other ‘students’. It turned out we all seemed to be here because someone had bought us vouchers as a present. And we weren’t the only ones to have trouble finding a suitable date and booking. It’s probably much simpler to book direct with Brewdog, but then it would cost twice as much.
Part way through the session the nibbles arrived. The school had been advertised as a beer, cheese and meats tasting session. Beer and cheese, two of my favourite things. I was expecting the cheese to be quite a big part of it too and to have the opportunity to try a range a craft cheeses and learn about them as much as the beer. Maybe even matching the cheeses to the beers.
Instead, it was just a bit of a cheese board plonked down one between two and wasn’t anything special. I hadn’t been able to specify vegetarian, but fortunately I was with a meat-eater and so she had the meat and I had the cheese.
As the school finished we were left to finish our beers and slowly the group drifted away.
So, did I enjoy it and would I recommend it?
Yes, I had a nice evening and learnt quite a lot (thanks Helen for repeating everything!)
Yes, I got to try some really nice beers and became a bit of a fan of the company. How had I never heard of them before??
Yes, possibly if you get a voucher. It’s a faff to book, but you do save quite a bit.
No, if you had to pay full price. It’s too expensive for the amount of beer and the little bit of cheese. I know you get the ‘school’ as well, but a lot of the information is on the website anyway and surely the point of the school is that it’s yet another good marketing ploy to convert people to the brand and so cheaper would make more sense (get more people taking part and leaving happy rather than fewer people taking part and possibly leaving feeling slightly ripped off).
I’m glad I did it, but I’m unlikely to do it again. I say this mainly because it’s one of those one-time experiences that there’s little reason to repeat even if it had been the best night ever.
Oh, and Brewdog Beer School, this note’s for you:
Find a quieter room and puhleeeeze turn off that damn speaker!
Have you ever been to beer school? Do you have a favourite beer? Share in the comments below.