Arts, Culture & Media

Scotland's "Brew Dogs" Hop Across America


Scotland's "Brew Dogs," Martin Dickie (L) and James Watt get ready to launch their new show on the Esquire Network


Joe Pugliese/Esquire

The barkeep always asks a simple question: "What'll it be?"

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For a long time, the answer here in the US, for beer drinkers anyway, was pretty simple too. It was usually something like, "I'll have any one of a number of generic, fizzy lagers that taste slightly more hoppy than 7-Up."

But the craft beer movement has changed all that in recent years; it's also inspired brewers around the world to also push the envelope.

Nobody's pushed that envelope quite so much, though, as Scotland's "Brew Dogs," aka Martin Dickie and James Watt.

Back in 2007, Watt and Dickie had just about had enough. They'd tired of their day jobs in their native Aberdeen, Scotland. And don't even get them started on the beer.

"We couldn't find any beers that we wanted to drink in Scotland," says Watt. "So we quit our day jobs, got some bank loans, and massively inspired by the American craft beer revolution we started brewing our own beers in the northeast of Scotland."

And thus "Brew Dogs" was born.

From the very beginning, the whole idea was to use American beer ingredients (especially hops) and American techniques to create some seriously edgy stuff.

In 2008, BrewDogs created what was billed as Britain's strongest beer. Ever.

Pubs banned it because the label said, in effect, everyone needs a bit of excess from time to time. And this beer, the label argued, is for those times.

Brew Dog's co-founder Martin Dickie enjoyed every minute of the controversy.

"You know it's a market that had been doing the same thing for tens, for hundreds of years," Dickie says. "So by having the balls to go out and make beers that actually taste of something, I think we've raised a few eyebrows and put a few noses out of joint at well."

In 2009, Brew Dogs went one step further, brewing a beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin that clocked in at a whopping 32% alcohol. A year later, they made one at 55%. Along the way, they even made a beer designed to be poured out of a piece of roadkill that the taxidermist had fixed up.

And while beers like this make headlines, the company keeps growing thanks to a stable of very drinkable beers all inspired by American style tastes and techniques.

The company has also pushed the limits when it comes to finance. Launched at the beginning of the global economic recession, Brew Dogs offers shares online through a program called Equity for Punks. The company now has more than 10,000 shareholders, and has raised more than ten million dollars through the program.

James Watt says the BrewDogs aren't alone in finding inspiration in the United States.

"You get people in Belgium, people in Scandinavia, people in Scotland like ourselves, people in Japan, people in Australia, people in New Zealand, who have looked at the way craft brewers in American have torn up the rule book, have disregarded style guidelines, and come up with completely new techniques to make amazing beers. And that's a revolution that's happening now globally. And it's all because of what's been happening in America."

America has, in fact, been the center of attention for the Brew Dogs this past year. The duo have been touring eight different US cities, brewing with some of their American craft beer idols.

And they've been filming it all. The result is a series, called Brew Dogs, which begins September 24th on the newly launched Esquire channel here in the US.

A sneak peek reveals that James Watt and Martin Dickie will go to great lengths to make beer. For example, in a trailer for the TV show, they float out two miles off the coast of San Diego to harvest kelp. Yes, for the beer.

"We're now completely surrounded by kelp. I'm tired, and I'm pretty sure I saw a shark," intones Martin Dickie aboard a surfboard. "But the kelp's really going to add cool dimension to the beer, a really nice salty note, and a briny character too."

That's just the start.

Here in Boston, they brew aboard a tall ship sailing in Boston Harbor. In Colorado, they brew a beer in the Rockies using only solar power.

And in foggy San Francisco they get inspired by the city's penchant for fog.

"We wanted to make a steam beer, but we wanted to do it in an unusual way," says Watt. "We actually captured fog with fog nets on the Marin headlands, and then used that to mash in with. But then once we'd fermented the beer, we used a technique called hydrodynamic cavitation and we turned back the beer back into steam. So people actually inhaled the beer."

Stunts aside, says Martin Dickie, his goal as a brewer is to get consumers to actively question what it is they're drinking, and why.

"There's never an end point in beer," he says. "It's always an ongoing learning curve and trying to do better than you did the week before."

Never an end point. That's certainly music to this beer drinker's ears.