In the Doghouse. Again.

Well, I guess that’s what happens when the mixer for your whisky is a pint of beer. So kids, please don’t try this at home.

Now, beer may not be my usual mixer of choice, but Brewdog’s new Boilermaker Series of Whiskies certainly warrants my attention.
Now Tuesday has often been my downfall in the past. There have been some wild ones, but hey, I’m still standing, so if this Tuesday’s wild ride takes place in an Aladdin’s cave of craft beer, so be it. Hell, if it doesn’t kill you, it probably makes you stronger. Nietsche would have appreciated this afternoon.
I feel the wind blow outside my door, throw on a smile and head out for a roadtest.

As BrewDog have felt the need to release a range of three colour coded no-age-statement Boilermaker Whiskies designed to complement their ales, I feel the need to roadtest them in their own habitat as nature intended, so I head into the wilds of Glasgow, to the Doghouse in the Merchant City.

The Doghouse is Brewdog’s central servery in Glasgow, a custom bar with grill,and much more impressive than their more traditional pub across from Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The Merchant city area of the town has undergone a huge amount of gentrification in recent years, restoring it to the glories of its tobacco-baron heyday and it is a fine location to spend a lazy afternoon. 
Where better to meet the re-imagined love-child of craft brewer and distiller than among the rebirth of Glasgow’s architectural past. 

Mapping the terrain

The hauf ‘n’ hauf was a staple of the Glasgow pubs of my youth, a dram with a half pint of heavy (bitter to the English among you) to wash it down, an end of the night, one for the road, swallay. Funnily enough, I served it to many a drouthy boilermaker out the old John Brown’s shipyard back in the 80s, when I worked the early morning shift at a never-a-dull-moment dive in Clydebank.

I saw many a boilermaker sunk in anger in my Chicago days. Guys haunched at the bar in dusty dives and biker joints across the Midwest spicing up their frosty beers. On the road, once I’d stabled the Harley for the night, I’d sometimes kickstart the evening with a boilermaker or two. Never too many though, as I’d often have a few hundred more miles to ride the following day.
(I really would ride hundreds of miles for a beer in those days)

The Doghouse sits neatly on Hutcheson street, in a traffic-calmed zone with civilised outside tables beckoning the sun. It features post-industrial chic, glass and distressed wood, grill dining and beer. It’s a quality re-purposing of imposing Victorian stone architecture for the 21st century plate-glass hipster crew.

On my last visit to a Brewdog hostelry I ordered two pints of Fisherman’s Jaggy Jaw, and a Brian Blessed’s Reflection, Burnistoun’s finest imaginary craft ales. The hipsterista behind the bar was on to me and not amused, so I keep my poor jokes to myself this time. 

Brewdog Boilermaker series in the wild

It may not be the standard modus operandi of the whisky connoisseur, but at Liquid Sunshine we favour road-tests. I wouldn’t buy a bike without taking it for a blast down some winding highway in the wild. So we like to do the same for whisky.
In this case tasting the entire Boilermaker Series in one sitting, in the order suggested by the brewmeisters. The planned method in my madness is that I will sip the shot and ‘swallay’ some beer half and half style, then follow by adding the whisky to the remaining half pint of beer (without the theatrics of chugging a depth charge) for a standard boilermaker.

This means jump-starting the session on Torpedoed Tulip with a Dead Pony Club Pale Ale, doing a lap on Transistor with Punk IPA then crossing the finishing line on Skeleton Key with Jet Black Heart stout. The barista mentions the Skeleton Key also works well with the Zombie Cake porter so I decide to fire it up for the lap of honour.
Weirdly enough for such a trendy joint, this will all be accompanied by the piped soundtrack of my schooldays, a bit of Nick Drake, some Bob Dylan, the Stones, and, was that really Neil Young?
(Maybe I’m fashionable again.)

Torpedoed Tulip and Dead Pony Club Pale Ale

Torpedoed Tulip is a 100% rye whisky from Millstone, made at the Netherlands’ Zuidam distillery, matured exclusively in ex-oloroso Sherry casks and bottled at 46% ABV.
It is a delicate amber, deliciously tasty promise of things to come.
The Nose: Sweet, light, tender with brown sugar.
The Palate: Treacle, verging on bitter, pulled back at the last moment by the citrus.
The Finish: Fire in the hole, slight bitterness, lingering sharpness. 

Dead Pony Club is a great summer pint and a session ale that holds its own all year round. Hoppy, fragrant with a slight citrus froth, it’s a light ‘Darling Buds of May’ pint as good as you’d expect from the punkmeisters  of craft beer.

As a half and half, the whisky sinks the ale with each sip, until the next draught of beer cleanses the palate and starts the dance again. This is a well-matched couple. The citrus notes tango cheek to cheek while the bitter-sweet sugar whispers sweet nothings to the fragrant hops.

As a boilermaker, this is a deceptive devil. One to watch out for. The aroma is of the ale, as the scent of the whisky rolls into the hoppy hipster happiness. It’s light and exceptionally quaffable, as the measures blend for a full flavour pint of pleasure.
My favourite boilermaker of the roadtest.

Transistor and Punk IPA

Transistor is a blended Scotch by Compass Box marrying malt and grain, bottled at 43% ABV. Light amber with sweet creamy notes giving way to tropical fruits.
The Nose: Very light, traces of coconut and pineapple, a hint of citrus.
The Palate: Sweet and creamy, notes of tropical and citrus fruits, smooth with an undercurrent of clove and cinnamon, the mid-palate meandering towards bitter street but never quite getting there through the layers of figs and toasted oak.
The Finish: A warming heat, lingering slightly longer than you might expect, with hints of grapefruit and hops. 

Punk IPA can lay claim to being Brewdog’s flagship brew.
The implausible rebadging of a quintessential British Empire classic ale, reimagning it with the ironic twist of new world hops, that set the new standard, kickstarted Brewdog and fuelled the global craft beer revolution. Punk IPA may not be your favourite craft beer, but it will never let you down.
The guys pitched it just right for an old ale drinker like me, and more importantly, captured the imagination of the hipsteristas.

It’s a smooth classic with a modern twist. the light floral and hoppy flavour explodes, bursts of caramel vie with tropical fruit, before making way for a spiky, bitter finish.
A marketeers dream – a rebellious IPA . Grandfathers around Britain will be smirking in their graves as hipsteristas discover the joys of the IPA.

As a half’n’half it’s neatly balanced, the individual flavours dance around each other and build on each other’s strengths. Trading sips reminds me of Thin Lizzy’s trademark twin guitar lick-trading riffs. The drinks are intertwined, the hoppy bitter notes of the ale cutting through the fruity sweetness of the whisky.
My favourite hauf’n’hauf of the roadtest.

As a boilermaker this is even more deceptive than the Torpedo Tulip and Dead Pony Club. The smooth, bitter, hoppy ale takes control, the whisky adds a tasty undernote, and the drinks pull flavours from each other, One and one definitely makes more than two here as they blend to develop a complex hinterland.

Skeleton Key, Jet Black Heart stout and Zombie Cake porter

Skeleton Key is a blended Scotch whisky created in collaboration with Duncan Taylor, containing peated Bunnahabhain with a high ration of single malt, bottled at 46% ABV.
The Nose: Bold maritime, peat smoke aroma.
The Palate: Smooth, complex and peaty, almost sweet.
The Finish: Long, lingering peat, evanescing sweetness.
As soon as I sampled the Skeleton Key, it reminded me of a bottle of Bunnahabhain I gave my mate Ranjit many years ago in Brussels.
(Whisky at its most personal. Ranjit has likely long forgotten it, but sipping this reminded me instantly of that bottle we drank 30 years ago, before I even know what went into making Skeleton Key such a tasty dram.)
The peated Bunnahabhain steers the flavour but doesn’t dominate or mask the complexity.
My favourite of the whiskies to drink on its own.

Jet Black Heart is a pitch-black milk stout, full-bodied and offering the promise of dark delights. Smooth, lovely and mild with cacao, roasted coffee and berry fruits, you’d take it home with you any night of the week.

Zombie Cake is a dark-as-night praline porter. Bitter nutty chocolate, layers of smooth roasty character with notes of vanilla and coffee, closing in a quick finish with little aftertaste.
Although I’m not generally a big fan of porter this is a delicious ale.

So these are both great beers, and Skeleton Key is a great whisky. But for the roadtest they posed me a serious challenge.
Zombie Cake and Jet Black heart are simply loaded with dark delights. Skeleton Key is bold and complex
How do I get the best out them all? What did Brewdog and Duncan Taylor have in mind?

These two ales are so full-bodied, tasty and deeply delicious in their own right, that these combinations work best for me downing the Skeleton Key as a shot before drinking the beer. (Not my normal custom. However, although I’m an old dog, I can still learn new tricks.)
Adding it to the stout or porter you risk missing out on the whisky’s delicious complexities and drinking in tandem as a half’n’half, for me, the beers both dominated. 

And now, the end is near …

As a cask-matured Glaswegian of a certain vintage, I would not recommend rolling through the entire Boilermaker series in an afternoon, and I’m fairly sure it’s not what the brewers and distillers would recommend either.
But at Liquid Sunshine we road-test whisky in the wild. And this was a great way to spend an afternoon.
I could happily accommodate any of these supercharged beverages in my diet.

What can I say?
I have enormous respect for what the guys at Brewdog have done.
They and their partners have done a fantastic job in matching beer and whisky, and I could drink any of these if I were in the mood for a Boilermaker or half’n’half. 
It’s another great scene-setting move by Brewdog, and their innovation roots are still showing.
As for their wider distilling aspirations, I wait with bated breath to see where they go next, following their ditching of the Lone Wolf name to consolidate their whisky into Brewdog. 

So that was Tuesday, gone with the wind.
Such a brief relationship, but oh, what a night.

And if you’re not familiar with the comedy of BBC Scotland’s Burnistoun, check this out.