Right – my last post about Tokyo*. But it’s a post I have to write because I’ve done something none of the people claiming this beer will bring about the downfall of civilisation have done – I’ve tried a bottle.
There’s a familiar pattern now with any moral panic in society: you can usually depend on the fact that those linking, say, a film with violent behaviour have never seen the movie they’re condemning. People who think a record is disgusting and depraved can be relied upon to give their view without having listened to it. And clearly, those who regard Tokyo as ‘irresponsible’ haven’t had so much as a sip of it. This is obvious simply from the timing of the comments – they wouldn’t have had chance to do so before they opened their mouths to the press on the day of the beer’s launch. But it becomes more obvious once you taste the beer.
The thing to remember about Brew Dog at all times is that while they’re serious about making their beer, they regard the promotion of it as a big joke. They deliberately court controversy, and when they’re not doing that they just like to have a laugh.
Exhibit A: Tokyo*’s label copy. This is a beer that was apparently “inspired by a 1980s space invaders arcade game played in Japan’s capital. The irony of existentialism, the parody of being and the inherent contradictions of post-modernism, all so delicately conveyed by the blocky, pixelated arcade action have all been painstakingly recreated in this bottle’s contents.” So they’re taking the piss, OK?
So, to the beer.
As I took off the cap, the aroma of American hops wafted out. It poured dark ruby rather than completely black, with a tan had that disappeared instantly. Fine; you’d neither expect nor welcome too much carbonation in a beer like this. Sniffing from the glass, I was struck first by a whisky alcohol whiff. Then there was treacle and molasses, then those hops – the dry hopping has definitely added something. Then finally there’s oak – not the vanilla you’d expect, but a fresh, woody scent.
The vanilla appeared on the palate – straight away, barging to the front. This was followed by a profound alcohol burn that stripped everything else away and left my mouth buzzing. It was a shocking experience.
After this initial punch in the mouth, a second sip felt a little smoother. Cherries and chocolate joined the vanilla to give me a nostalgic mouthful of black forest gateau, with a satisfying, drying earthiness towards the end and, challenging the retro dessert theme, an aftertaste of creme brulee. Somewhere in there, the marriage of the fresh hops and the dark, treacly stout was continuously creating new flavours and associations.
I’d expected to recommend this beer as a substitute for port or sherry. But as a big fan of Islay malts, if I ever have another one this young (I’m definitely looking forward to aging this beer – it will be stunning when it mellows) I’ll drink it instead of whisky. I’d imagined sharing a bottle between two – I’d actually recommend one bottle between four.
The idea of anyone binge drinking a bottle of this beer, of knocking it back quickly, is utterly absurd. I defy anyone to drink a bottle in under an hour. You actually don’t want a full bottle of it. The argument about it containing more units than your recommended daily guideline is no more valid than it would be with a bottle of spirits. In fact a resealable bottle would be brilliant. I had no idea there would be so much coverage of this beer – the Daily Mash pisstake whose copyright I illegally infringed the other day shows they are a national news story. Well, it is silly season. But anyone linking this beer to binge drinking is quite clearly drinking, smoking or sniffing something far more potent.
Brew Dog were probably a little taken aback themselves by the reaction – they’ve responded with some excellent and thought-provoking points here. But I have one final grumble with them: to claim that this beer will actually help cure binge drinking is possibly as stupid as the reaction to it. Some of the arguments deployed to say it won’t encourage binge drinking – limited run, lack of availability etc – equally mean most people won’t get a chance to try the beer and have their expectations challenged. They’ll only see the headlines and draw their conclusions from that. And I have to admit, going back to the label copy, I definitely felt a little pixelated by the time when – against my better judgement – I sneakily finished off the bottle.
All publicity is NOT good publicity because, after Tokyo* sells out, there’s a bunch of blinkered, bigoted neo-prohibitionists who have a bit more ammo in their attack on the industry as irresponsible. This beer is not irresponsible. And the case for brewing beers like this would be much more effectively made if you simply got some of the idiots mouthing off about it to try it, and record their reactions on camera.
The world would be a much better place if there were more beers like this in it.