Friday, November 9, 2018

On The Road Again, Part II -Berlin



Because I grew up in Holland, I had been to Germany many times. I had been in the North, in the West, and in the South, but never in the East. Moreover, I had never been to Berlin.
Everybody who had been there, upon returning, immediately turned to me to tell me how much I would love it there.  I had been meaning to go for years, but every time I was close to making it happen, something came up. This year, I had decided, it was finally going to happen.
I thought this over on the plane. While planning this trip, Berlin had been, by far, the place I had looked forward to most. I had spent countless hours researching places to visit, things to do, bars to drink in and a million other things but there was one thing that stood tall above everything else: The Wall. It may seem like ancient history to younger readers but, growing up in the 80s, Berlin, the Wall and the Cold War were important influences on me in my teenage years. Berlin was one of the defining images of my youth. I couldn’t focus on my book and just stared at the seat in front of me. The Wall, the Berlin TV tower, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburger Tor. All the images I had seen a million times on TV, all those years ago, all appeared before me again. I checked the time on the watch of the girl sitting next to me and silently wished the pilot would fly faster and then tried to focus on my book. I was as excited as a little boy going to a big football game for the first time, or a teenage girl on her way to a concert of her favorite boy band. I had another drink to kill time and then, at long last, we started our descend.

We touched down just after 5PM local time and as I made my way through the terminal, I saw a sign saying “WILKOMMEN IN BERLIN SCHONEFELD”. A big smile formed on my face. I was in Berlin.
Despite my normally impeccable planning, I had not given much thought to the matter of getting to Berlin proper. I just assumed that there would be a bus from the airport to take me to central Berlin, or at the very least a train station. There was a bus outside the terminal with a sign saying “U RUDOW” on the front. I stepped in and said ‘Central Berlin’. The driver looked and me and said “Wohin gehen sie?” and it all of a sudden occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to practice my German again. I speak pretty decent German, and about 25% of my work is in German, but it had been a while since I actually had to speak it out in the wild. I explained to him that I wanted to go to Alexanderplatz, and he explained to me that he would drop us off at the Rudow U-bahn station (the U-Bahn is the Berlin subway) which was fine with me. Berlin has an amazing subway system and as I’m very good with subway maps I’d find my way from there.
During our conversation, a girl walked in to the bus and when I sat down, she sat down across from me. She had immediately deducted that I wasn’t from there. And come to that, neither was she. She was from Scotland.
We got talking in the way that 2 strangers on an airport bus do, in the knowledge that we would never see each other again after about an hour from now. She had moved to Berlin some 3 years earlier, with the intension of staying for 6 months but she had never left. (Sounds familiar?)
We got off at Rudow station and had to take the subway in the same direction. After a dozen stations, I had to change trains at Hermannplatz and she continued on the same train so we said goodbye and she went home and I went in search of the train to Alexanderplatz. 6 stops later, the PA system said “Alexanderplatz” and I left the train. The station was swarming with people hurrying in all directions, buskers making music and other panhandlers doing their thing. I already liked it here.
I exited the station, walked out onto the Alexanderplatz, turned my head, and immediately stood transfixed. There, towering high above me and the city, in all its might, stood the famous Berlin TV Tower. A knot formed in my stomach and I swallowed. I knew it straight away.
I had fallen in love with Berlin after one second.





After staring at the tower for about a minute, I managed to pull myself out of the moment, and walked down the square. I wanted to get the check in formalities at the hostel over and done with so that I could explore Berlin. The hostel was just around the corner, literally a minute walk from the Alexanderplatz and it was huge. I found later that it has 10 floors and every floor had 10 dorms with 10 beds each. That is a big hostel. The part of the ground floor that wasn’t taken up by reception and a storage room for bed linnen was occupied by a large bar. I was helped by a girl called Caroline, who was friendly and efficient. To my dismay, I saw that I had been assigned a top bed. Look, I know that hostels are so cheap because they fit 10 or 12 beds in  the same space that a hotel only puts 2, and that, depending on the occupancy rate, you have a 40-50% chance of ending up with a top bunk, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like climbing things, especially late night when I have been drinking, but I accepted my allocated bed and went upstairs. My bed was on the third floor so I took the elevator. That elevator became a source of frustration during my stay, but I’ll tell you more about that later. I messed up my bed linnen, left a tshirt, a book and a waterbottle on my bed, which is hostel speak for ‘this bed is taken’ and went back downstairs. I asked Caroline about the opening hours of the bar and got the answer that every serious drinker wants to hear: it was open 24 hours a day. Good news. I looked at the bar menu and saw that they only had 1 beer on draft: Carlsberg. I’m not a huge fan of Carlsberg, but fortunately they also had a selection of bottled beers so I opted for a bottle of Astra, a beer from Hamburg, but at least it was German so I could stick to my habit of drinking local beer rather than something from a multinational corporation. Or so I thought. I found out later, while doing some research for this story, that Astra was bought in 2003 by Holsten which, in turn, was sold in 2004.. to Carlsberg. But hey, at least I tried.

I drank my beer while I was charging my phone and got talking to a German guy. He was from some other part of Germany, I can’t remember now where exactly but I think it was Dresden, and was in Berlin because he had an important job interview the next day. He was drinking bottles of cider at an impressive rate, and I wondered why he would drink so much if he had a job interview the next morning but I’ve done that myself too so who am I to judge? After I finished my second beer and had recharged my phone, I decided it was time to see something of Berlin other than the subway or my hostel. But what would I go and see?

As it was getting dark by now, I decided to put off sight seeing until the next morning and just go for a beer. I had made a long list of bars that I wanted to visit but I had 5 days here so I had time enough to do that. I had also noticed that Berlin is much bigger than I thought. I knew ofcourse that Berlin is a big city, but it is also very spread out, as I would find out during the week. I typed in the name of a bar that seemed close by and found that it was nearly 2 miles away. Fortunately, I love walking and it would give me the opportunity to get a bit of a feel for the city. I set off and walked down the streets of Berlin. It immediately stood out to me that there is a lot of graffiti in Berlin. I mean A LOT. The ubiquity of it reminded me of Barcelona. Like there, pretty much every vertical surface was covered in paint, and quite a lot of the horizontal surfaces too. I loved it. I took over 30 photos of the graffiti alone in the first 10 minutes of my walk.

After a while, while I was checking my map for directions, I noticed that I was standing in front of a bar called Kaschk, which was also on my list of interesting places. I wasn’t aware that it was there exactly, but I thought I might as well have a look inside. Kaschk markets itself as “Craft beer and craft coffee house”, which is an odd combination if you ask me, but they seem to be doing well. The good thing about this dual purpose is that they are open from 8AM until 2AM because most of the coffee business takes place in the morning, and most of the beer is sold at night, so you can always go there. I walked in and was greeted by the Australian bar man. I checked the beers on offer and found that they had a beer called Lenny’s Weizen so that decided it. Pete McCarthy always said that you should never pass a bar with your name on it, and I think you should never decline a beer that has your name on it.

I sat down at the bar and when the bar man was done cleaning his fancy coffee machine (coffee time was clearly over by now) he came over to talk to me. Like my friend on the airport bus, he had come to Berlin some years ago with the intention of staying for 6 months or maybe a year but he, too, had ended up staying indefinitely. I guess that when you arrive somewhere you really like, you gradually start feeling, somewhere deep down inside, that this is really the place for you. I had the same thing when I first moved to Dublin. My intention was to stay for 6 months. I then decided to make it a full year and go home for Christmas, but that was 12 years ago and I’m still there. The bar man nodded in acknowledgement as I explained this,  and we had a talk that you can only really have with someone else who found themselves in this situation, discussing the advantages and annoyances of not having your friends and family close by and having to find your way with the rules and customs of your new home country. I finished my second beer and told the bar man that I would come back later as there was another very interesting beer on the board, so we shook hands and I went on my way. I had decided to take in one more beery place and then make my way back to the hostel so I set off for Mikkeller.






Mikkeller is a Danish brewery that is revered by beer enthusiasts the world over. Well, technically it is not exactly a brewery as they don’t have an actual brewery of their own, but they come up with an idea for a beer, rent space at an existing brewery and then make the beer. It is an odd way of working, I think personally, but their beer is really good so I’m not in a place to criticise. While Mikkeller does not have a brewery, they do have some 30 bars around the world. Mikkeller being the hip, think-outside-the-box people that they are (or is, it really is only one guy, assisted by a bunch of people doing the paperwork) these bars are not typically in obvious places like Paris or London or Rome, no, they are in places like Reykjavik, Taipe and Warsaw. A lot of people think that Mikkeller are obnoxious hipsters that do exactly the opposite of what they should do, but it works pretty well for them, so they must be doing something right. The thing about Mikkeller bars is this: they have amazing beers, but you easily miss them because they often don’t look like bars. I’ve been to the one in Barcelona half a dozen times and the first time I went there, I walked past it 3 times before I noticed where it was. Inside, it looks like an IKEA showroom that just happens to have 20 beer pumps stuck in the back wall. The entire place is painted white, the floor is a strange, bright shade of blue, and the place is filled with patio furniture made of unpainted wood. It is an odd place, but the beer is amazing and the staff is very knowledgable, and that is ofcourse the main thing. Like in Barcelona, I walked past the bar several times before I realized I had been standing in front of it while checking my map. From the outside, it looks like a house. The only thing that indicates that it is a bar is a small sign with the signature Mikkeller intentionally wacky looks-like-it-was-drawn-by-a-5-year-old artwork. I went in and found that the place looked pretty much like the one in Barcelona, but I didn’t mind. The beer was amazing. I spent an hour or so there, tried a couple of really nice beers and then went back in the direction of the Alexanderplatz. I stopped by Kaschk for my special beer, a Peated strong ale, aged in single malt whisky barrels. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of Barrel Aging, what you do is you brew a beer, then stick it in a used whisky barrel (or rum, or cognac or whatever spirit you prefer) and leave it there for a couple of months. Your beer will now taste like whisky and is probably slightly stronger than it was before. If done well, it is delicious. So was this one. It was amazing and I was glad I had gone back for it. After this great beer, I walked back to my hostel, found that it was reasonably busy in the bar and decided to have one last beer. I had that, and then another and then another one. I don’t know what it is. When I’m in a hostel, I always have the feeling that the biggest party of the year is about to get going and I don’t want to miss it, so I stay up longer and longer. After my third beer, however, I decided to call it quits. Berlin is a city that parties 24 hours a day and the crowd that was assembled in the hostel bar was probably just getting ready to go out, even though it was well after 2AM. I decided to do the smart thing. I finished my beer and went to bed, full of alcohol and excitement. I wanted to get up early the next day. I was going to dive into the history of Berlin.
                                                     
                                                                       Night cap



I woke up early, at around 9, lay on my bed for a few minutes and then got up. I shuffled downstairs, got a towel and went to the shower room. There, I found the first surprise of the hostel: the showers were not in separate cubicles, but in an open plan, prison style room with 6 showers in 2 opposing rows of 3. This didn’t even bother me that much, but I’m sure there are people who are not happy with taking a shower in front of other people. (When I later checked the reviews of the hostel on the Hostelworld website, I found that about a third of the people remarked on this issue and weren’t happy with it.) No, what annoyed me most is that there were no hooks to hang your clothes and towel on so you were left with the choice of putting them on the floor, which was always wet, or putting them on the ledge above the sinks, some 15 feet away. In the end, I hung my clothes and my towel from the window handle and had my shower, and dry clothes at the end of it. Personal grooming over, I went downstairs again, resisted the temptation of having an early beer, and sat down on a bench in front of the hostel. The weather was amazing, 27 degrees Celsius and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This became my mourning routine in Berlin. I would sit on the bench in front of the hostel, read my book for 20 minutes or so while I was waking up, then have a look at my map and my list of possibly interesting things to do, trying to figure out a plan for the day, while watching Berlin go by. I stared at my map and tried to come up with a place to start. Checkpoint Charlie, The Brandenburger Tor, a brewery? No. There was only one point to start. If I was only going to see one thing in Berlin, it could only be The Wall.
It had to be.

I folded up my map, took my book back to my dorm and went on my way.
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but while most of it was demolished, first by the citizens of East Germany who were sick of oppression, and later by more organized state demolition teams, they had the good sense to preserve certain parts of it for historical purposes and as a reminder that something as ridiculous as building a wall through the middle of a large city should never happen again. (This, fortunately, holds true to this day, except in Nicosia, Cyprus, where the people in the Northern part of the country insist they are Turkish while the people in the South maintain that they are Greek. It is a complicated situation, that involves the island being cut up between Northern Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus, a confusing UN buffer zone and 2 British Navy bases, which gives you the unique opportunity to be in 4 distinct different political regions in the space of an hour without leaving an island about the size of an Irish county.)


The East Side Gallery is the longest continuous part of the Wall that still stands. It stretches for about three quarters of a mile along the river Spree in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg part of town. I walked across Alexanderplatz again, which was busy as always, past the Alexa shopping mall that, I worked out later, wasn’t there at the time of the Wall. I regularly paused to take a photo of an interesting piece of graffiti, a nice looking building, or some oddity in the street, or just to sit down on a bench and look at the city for a minute or so and to realise how much I liked it here. You know what I said earlier about just knowing that a place is right for you? I had that here too. I hadn’t seen anything of Berlin yet, really, but this place felt like home. After walking for some 50 minutes, I started to notice groups of tourists walking in the direction of the Gallery, and others coming back from there. I was really excited now. I was almost there. And then, 5 minutes later, there it was. Across the street stood the remnants of something I had wanted to see since I was 8 or 9 years old.
The Berlin Wall.






I walked across and put my hand on the Wall when I got there. I was touching history. Moreover, I was touching a piece of history that was incredibly important to me personally.
I had  a look at the dimensions of the wall, and was surprised by the flimsiness of it. It was, maybe, 10 feet tall and no more than a foot thick. You could easily have climbed across it with a ladder. Ofcourse, the Wall itself was not the main deterrent. Behind this wall was a no man's land about 300 feet wide, full of barbed wire, guard dogs and, most importantly, watchtowers with armed guards in them that had the instruction to shoot at everything that moved. All this was in the area behind me as, I first really realized now, I had been in what used to be East Berlin since I got here. 

The East Side Gallery consists of 105 murals, created by artists from all over the world. Most of the painting was done in 1990, with regular restorations happening throughout the years. The political border at the time was actually the river Spree, which lays about 50 yards beyond. All the artwork is on the Eastern side of the wall, facing into what used to be the no-man's land between East and West Germany. It was busy at the Wall, as it always must be, given that it attracts 3 million visitors a year, or over 8000 per day on average. Because of this, there were groups of people waiting everywhere for the opportunity to have their picture taken at a certain mural. I walked along the Wall, admiring the diversity of the artwork. There were murals inspired by peace, ones that had musical themes, parts that showed the people of the world living in harmony and, ofcourse a number of political ones. The most famous section, and curiously the one that needs to be restored most often, is the image of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing the head of state of East Germany, Erich Honecker. It is the image that went across the world when the Gallery was first opened and today it was clearly the most popular section too.
I only had 1 photo taken with myself in it, at the section that shows a shackled arm coming out of a barred prison window. The shackles are held up by  a dove in flight, which symbolizes freedom. This dove is also an excellent bridge to another Wall-related story that I want to tell you and we’ll get to that in a minute.






After I had spent an amazing 40 minutes looking at the artwork, I reached the end of the wall. There I found, inevitably, a souvenir store that sold Berlin Wall tshirts, ashtrays and everything else you expect to find in a souvenir store. This held little interest for me, but while I stood in front of the shop, I saw a girl take out her passport and hand it to the lady in the shop. This had my interest straight away. I walked inside and found a sign that informed me that I could have my passport stamped with 4 different stamps. They were a Euro each, or all 4 for 3 Euro.

I opted to get all 4 of them, the complete set. I’m not entirely sure how the goverment thinks about having official state documents defaced in souvenir shops or Disney World, but I didn’t really care and in any case I had done it with my previous passport, when I visited the Uzipis republic, a breakaway state within Lithuania of about 1 square mile, and I never heard any complaints about it from either the Dutch state department or any border agency around the world.
I got stamps for Checkpoint Charlie, the Wall House (the shop I was in) and, the one I wanted most, for the Deutsche Demokratische Republik- East Germany. The bonus stamp showed the text DDR – 9 November, a reference to the date the Berlin Wall came down. I was very happy with my stamps, so  to celebrate this double whammy of having seen the Wall myself and getting a border stamp from a country that ceased to exist when I was in high school, I decided to have a beer. As luck would have it, there was a bar/restaurant right next to the souvenir shop, so I ordered a large beer and sat down, looking out over the river Spree, the border from back in the days.

To get back to my other Wall story I mentioned earlier, let me take you back to 1983.
With the Cold War still very much on everyones mind in Western Europe, peace rallies were organised all around Europe. The one in Holland took place in Den Haag, the political capital of the country. On a large open field in the city centre, just minutes from the Dutch parliament buildings, half a million people gathered to make it clear that they were sick of the Cold War and that they wanted peace, not weapons. To give the rally a theme, a local band called Klein Orkest (The Small Orchestra) were asked to compose a song to provide a rallying cry. Rather than taking sides, the band came up with a song about Berlin, called Over de Muur (Across the Wall) in which they set out the pros and cons of both socialism in East Berlin and capitalism in West Berlin.

I’ll put the video here, so you can hear the song and see the original video. It is in Dutch, but for those of you who don’t speak that, the song basically explains that in East Berlin, under socialism, everyone is guaranteed a job for life and a place to live, but the downside is that there are shortages of basic staples and you constantly live in fear of being ratted out to the totalitarian state and arrested if you speak your mind. In West Berlin, however, you can say what you want, you can protest the government and do how you please, but unemployment is high and a lot of people are homeless, so the question is which of these systems is preferrable. The only beings that freely moved between East and West Berlin were birds, who could fly over the wall without being shot down.
It is a great song that holds huge significance for me. It is essentially the song of my childhood.
When I decided to go to Berlin, I vowed to visit all the locations that feature in the song. I had already been to one, the Alexanderplatz, which was the location I visited first on the account of my hostel being there, and is the location described in the final line of the song.




I put my beer down and took out my phone. I played the song for the millionth time, but listening to it here, literally on the spot where the Wall once stood, sent a chill down my spine. Over my left shoulder I could see West Berlin, where the people were free at the time of the Wall. Over my right shoulder, East Berlin, where everybody was afraid, and constantly monitored by the state.
I sat there, contemplating this, for 10 minutes or so, trying to figure out how this short strip of wasteland before me could have dominated global politics for decades, but came up empty. What a strange situation.
I regularly get asked that, if the hypothetical situation arose that someone built a functioning time machine, and I could pick one place and time in history to go back to, when and where would I go?
I have thought about this long and hard over the years. Where would I go? The Roman Empire? My own birth? The first pilgrims setting foot on an almost empty North American continent? Australia in the 1970s?
I had my answer now. I would give anything, ANYTHING, to have a look around Berlin in the 1980s for a few days.

Ofcourse, time machines do not exist, so it’s not going to happen, but it has always been a great source of inspiration for me to think about this. As someone who has a deep rooted interest in both geography and history, it has provided me with hours of happy evalution of the possibilities, but I guess I can put the question to bed now.
                                                                       






I finished my beer and said goodbye to the barman. What to do next? I had noticed, while walking towards the Wall, that the Berlin Ramones museum had been doing some pretty aggressive marketing around the area. Every second traffic light or lamp post had been covered in posters, flyers and stickers advertising the museum. I checked my phone to see where it was and found that it was only a 5 minute walk away across the Oberbaumbrucke. I walked across the bridge, again having the strange sensation of walking into what used to be West Berlin.

As a close-to-obsessed Ramones fan, I had to see the Ramones Museum in Berlin. I had visited Johnny Ramone’s grave in Los Angeles, and found that DeeDee Ramone is buried on the same cemetary, had been to Rockaway Beach in New York, the inspiration for one of the Ramones’ most famous songs, and a number of other significant Ramones locations around New York. This museum certainly had to be part of my Ramones travelog. The museum is small, only about as big as a mid-sized pub, but they have really used the space to maximum efficiency by setting up an intricate maze of walls to cut off little sections of the building for specific exhibitions. Upon entering, you find yourself in the reception/Bar/shop area. Here you can buy your entry ticket, a Ramones badge that gives you lifetime access to the museum for a one-off payment of 4,50. You can get the ticket+beer package for 6 Euros, but as I had already picked a beer from the fridge, I found that this deal is only valid with one brand of beer. Not a problem, I was more than happy to pay a bit extra to this fine institution and I now had a beer from the local BRLO brewery. Next to the reception is a small lounge area with couches and a few tables, and a wall full of autographs and photos. These, as it turned out, were from bands that had played there. I looked around for a short while, wondering where these bands would play, but could not find a spot that wasn’t taken up by Ramones memorabilia. They probably play in the lounge area after they remove the furniture. I won’t bore you here with detailed descriptions of all the Ramones exhibits, because if you’re interested in the band, you should go and see it for yourself, but I spent a happy 45 minutes looking at old photos, framed guitar picks, set lists and a million other items, all about the greatest band of all times.

One thing that I do want to mention is a news paper article from September 2004. It was a New York Times article about Johnny Ramone, written 2 days after his death on 15 September 2004. On 15 September 2004, I was in Eindhoven, Holland, attending a gig by The Misfits. Just as the gig was about to start, the news started to trickle in that Johnny Ramone had died a few hours earlier. This delayed the gig by some time as the bands needed to get their heads around the loss of a close friend. Marky Ramone was, at the time, filling in on drums for the Misfits and now had a gig to play.


It was the most emotional gig I have ever attended. The whole night, ofcourse, was one big Johnny Ramone tribute show, and all bands played a number of Ramones covers. It was a night I will never forget.




Having finished viewing the exhibitions, and my beer, I decided to have another beer. I got a large bottle of Bayreuther, the beer that was normally included in the ticket+beer deal, and went outside. The museum has tables and benches out front, so I sat down on one of the benches with my legs stretched out along the length of it. The weather was amazing, 28* C, and I looked at Berlin. I just stared at the traffic, the people walking by and the buildings around me. I drank my beer, got another one and sat down again. After 5 minutes or so, I realised that I would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my days sitting here on this bench, drinking cold German beer and watching the world go by. I had just seen one of the most important historical sites of my lifetime, and visited an entire museum dedicated to my favorite band. I can’t think of 10 times in my life that I was this happy.

After my beer, and then another, I decided that there was more to life than sitting in front of the Ramones museum, so I handed my bottle back to the bar man, said my goodbyes and went on my way. I had no real set plan for the rest of the day, so I decided to wander around for a bit. 10 minutes or so into my aimless walk, I started to notice something. Even though it was Tuesday afternoon, only slightly after 2PM, nearly everybody was drinking in the street. Most people I came across were carrying open cans and bottles of beer or small bottles of wine, from which they sipped constantly. Mind you, these weren’t mean street drunks like you would find in Dublin or Glasgow, these were people in suits, girls in summer dresses and normal people from every walk of life. 


This was an interesting development. If drinking in the street was allowed, I could have even more fun in Berlin than I was having already. I walked into the first convenience store I saw, got a large bottle of lager and opened it on the doorstep. I took a big gulp of it and felt refreshed. People took it as normal to be drinking on city streets in mid-afternoon on a weekday. One man even raised his can to me in passing and said ‘Prost’.
 

Excited about my new found hobby of street drinking, I walked to a park across the street and sat down on a low wall. There were a dozen people o
n the 20 yard stretch of wall, all drinking and enjoying the September sun. At the center of the park sat a group of twenty-somethings on a bed sheet, with food spread out between them, and half a dozen beers and 2 bottles of wine. Just beyond them lay a guy who, by the look of it, hadn’t slept indoors since St. Patrick’s Day and was taking a nap with his head on a plastic bag full of beers cans. Every minute or so, he would tilt his head slightly, pour a sip of beer in his mouth and return to his relaxing position. Everybody just existed happily side by side in this park. 
What a wonderful city.






Friday, September 28, 2018

On the road again. Part I - Scotland



Aberdeen may not seem the most obvious of holiday destinations, and it isn’t, but I went there anyway. Aberdeen is a mid-sized city in North Eastern Scotland, on the edge of the highlands. It has a nice enough city centre, filled with granite buildings that have stood for centuries, it has a beach (though not normally beach weather), the Gordon Highlanders museum and a hand full of other diversions that can keep you busy for a day or so but, to be honest, unless you are really into your beer, there isn’t an awful lot to do in Aberdeen. I went there again because, as you know, I really like my craft beer, so I put the city at the start of my holiday. I have a small shareholding in a local brewery, a company called BrewDog, so I wanted to see how my money was being put to use and pay the brewery a visit.

Also of influence on my decision was a new game that the good people at BrewDog HQ had recently come up with. Earlier in the year they had introduced The Intergalactic Beer Visa. When you registered for the Beer Visa, you were sent a small, sky blue, passport-like booklet. Inside the booklet, there is a space for every bar and every brewery that is part of the company. There are currently 58 bars world wide, and 3 breweries, in places as far flung as Tokyo and Sao Paolo, but most of them are still in Great Britain. Every time you visit a bar, you get a stamp in your beer visa, and when you complete certain combinations (all bars in Aberdeen, all bars in Scotland etc.) you receive free beer and a Brewdog merchandise pack. It’s a fun game and good for business.
I decided that I wanted to complete all the bars in Scotland, so that’s where I started. I would make my way to the brewery in Ellon, outside Aberdeen and then travel to Glasgow by way of Dundee and Stirling. From Glasgow I would fly to Berlin, the centre piece of my holiday, for a 5 day stay and dig into the history of the place. Then I would make my way down to Prague, a city I had been to many years earlier, to see how it had changed, and then push on for Wroclaw in Poland for the sole reason that I had not been to Poland before and I wanted to see it.
My initial plan for this trip had been to go back to New York as it was 10 years ago since my first visit to New York and the USA, but I decided to move that to next spring as I had some things I wanted to do in Europe first.
And I really, really wanted to see Berlin.

Because of my New York plan, I had taken holidays from 5 September onwards. My idea was to get back to New York on 5 September, exactly 10 years to the day since my first visit.
Because of the Beer Visa game, I needed to visit both our breweries in Ellon, but the problem was that one of them, our new state of the art sour beer facility, is only open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I decided to fly to Aberdeen on a Thursday instead of Wednesday because, honestly, I really wouldn’t know what to do with myself in Aberdeen for 3 whole days. This left me with an extra free day in Dublin, a rare luxury because I generally only take days off when I have to go somewhere. I spent the day having lunch at my local craft beer bar, made a short tour of all my other regular haunts and went to bed early.



I arrived in Aberdeen on a sunny Thursday afternoon and went about my Aberdeen routine (yes, I have an Aberdeen routine, and am probably one of the few people who don’t live there that do)
I checked into the Sopranos hostel in the city centre, a nice and relatively cheap place that offers dormbeds for about 12 Pounds per night and went to the Brewdog bar on Castlegate. It’s a nice bar. It’s bigger than the other bar, on Gallowgate, and has a more extensive food menu. I walked in and the manager recognized me instantly. This surprised me, because the only times I had been there before were during the annual shareholders meeting weekend in April, which is by far their busiest weekend of the year. The Brewdog shareholders meeting, you see, is not your average shareholders meeting, where men in gray suits drone on over endless Powerpoint presentations with stats and graphs and other boring stuff. No, the Brewdog shareholders meeting takes place in the Aberdeen convention centre and has 150 beer taps, food trucks, live rock bands and a number of other beer-related activities. It is a great party and thousands of Brewdog shareholders from all over the world descend on the city from Thursday night on and go on a drinking binge that stretches into Monday. As the Castlegate bar opens at 11AM, that is where everybody usually starts out, so when I got there at 10.55AM, back in April, there were already about a dozen people at the door and it stayed busy all weekend. The manager climbed on the bar just after opening to welcome everybody to Aberdeen, but I must have stood out from the crowd, because he recognized me anyway, and we had a short chat about beer choices, Brewdog and the craft beer industry at large.

I settled in at a table in front of the bar and thought about the trip ahead. It wouldn’t be a pure overland trip, as I normally would do it. I had thought about going down the length of Britain from Glasgow and maybe stop off in London for a day or two and then make my way to Berlin by train, but it took too much time. And anyway, I had found a flight from Glasgow to Berlin for 31 Euro so this was just easier.
I sipped my beer and looked up photos of Berlin on my phone. I was loaded with anticipation. The wall, the radio tower, and a hundred other places I wanted to see. Rarely had I been so excited about going to a city. I looked up Prague too. I had been to Prague with school, many years ago, and was excited about returning there. I’ll fill you in on that first trip to Prague on the bus from Berlin. There is a lot to tell about that trip. And then there was Wroclaw. I knew next to nothing about the city, but I would read up on it on my way there.




I drowned my pint, got up and walked to our other bar, some 5 minutes up the road. It is much the smaller of the two, but it is always referred to as Flagship, because it was the first bar the company ever opened, back in 2010. I ordered a beer and got talking to the girl behind the bar. We talked about Brewdog, the recently released beers and working for Brewdog. I ordered another beer and told her that the pizza that had been sitting on the bar since I came in was getting cold. She said it was a mis-order and if I wanted, I could eat it. I happily accepted her offer and dug in. It was still warm so I praised myself lucky with a free dinner. It was coming up to dinner time anyway. The pizza was delicious.
After a few more beers - it is always good etiquette to order some more drinks after you receive something for free- I went on my way. I had more things to do. Another local brewer, Fierce Beer, had recently opened their first pub too, so I had to check it out. It was a nice place, around the corner from the Castlegate Brewdog bar. It was light, bright and served some very tasty beers.

After I had a few, I made my way to a bar called Krakatoa.
According to the bar’s promotional material, it was named Krakatoa after the volcano in Indonesia. When it erupted in 1883, the entire mountain collapsed leaving at least 36.000 people dead. It spat out so much dust, rock and ash that it caused an effect similar to a nuclear winter, lowering temperatures worldwide for years afterwards. The final eruption was heard 3000 miles away and it is said that it is the loudest noise in the history of mankind.
This, according to the bar, was their ambition: to be the loudest bar in Scotland.
This sounded like my kind of place so I made my way to the harbour, where the sun was just starting to set. And what a place it is.
It is, hang in there, a pirate themed, tiki cocktail karaoke dive bar and live music venue. I liked it instantly. The music was deafening, the drinkers all looked like characters, and the whole place was packed with neon signs. It was awesome. The only downside to the deafening volume of the jukebox was that it is difficult to strike up a conversation, especially when you travel alone, but I didn’t mind. I spent a happy couple of hours there before returning to the streets. I made a last stop at the Brewdog bar on Castlegate, where I stayed much longer than intended, and went to bed around midnight.

I awoke the next morning, surprisingly chirpy when you consider how much beer I had drank the previous night, but quite hungry. The hostel didn’t have a free breakfast because of the way it was set up. Normally, hostels offer you a simple breakfast in the morning, served in the common room or kitchen, which is included in the rate. Sopranos is not a typical hostel. It is also a hotel, a lunchroom and a bar. Because the hostel is just an add-on to the hotel, it doesn’t have a common room or kitchen where they can serve a breakfast. You can buy breakfast in the bar, but I decided to take up one of my favorite breakfast options: Wetherspoons.

Wetherspoons is the UK’s biggest pub chain and gets a lot of crap from people, who say that it’s a faceless corporate chain with no atmosphere. Most of this is true. It has over 900 pubs across the UK, there is never any music and the sound on the TVs is always off. People rarely spend an entire evening with their friends at a Wetherspoons because there is little or no atmosphere. The only time I ever spend an entire evening in one of their pubs was in 2011, when we were having Christmas at my sister’s place in Edinburgh. We had a number of people coming over, all at different times and from different places, so we needed somewhere central that was easy to find for people so we decided on a big Wetherspoons in the centre of Edinburgh. As soon as everyone got there, we got up and left. So no, they are not places that you would spend much time in, but that is not what they are for. They have many pubs in strategic locations close to, or in, public transport hubs, so if you’re waiting for a train you just pop in, get a pint and then leave again. I always go to Wetherspoons for breakfast when I’m in Scotland. They have cheap meals and a great selection of cask beers. I like cask beers, but they’re not really a thing here in Ireland. I always order a big greasy breakfast and a pint of cask ale with a curious name like Big Humdinger or Marley’s Great Northern Railway Bitter or something like that and for less than 6 Pounds I’m set for the morning. I did this now and forty minutes later I walked out a happy man.



As it was still early, I decided to go on a tour of the city centre. I walked around a couple of sights, had a look at the harbour in daylight and took some photos of the Castlegate monument. I walked into a shopping mall in search for an ATM, succeeded and went back out into the street. I walked past a bar called The Snuggery which appeared to be open for business so I had a look. They were open, but the lady in charge was clearly still getting the place ready for the day. She had the look on her face of someone who has been dealing with Scottish drunks their entire life. She looked weary, tired and old beyond her age. A lone drinker was at the bar drinking cider. The choice of beers was meagre, so I had a pint of Guinness. The other drinker had clearly been looking for someone to talk to because the bar lady was busy ferrying boxes and crates around and he addressed me immediately. After talking to him for 5 minutes about the usual topics as the weather, local politics and sports, he asked me what I did for a living. I explained to him what I do (I work in digital marketing for a large tech company) and gave him a long and detailed explanation of how everything works in that field. He clearly did not understand a single thing I told him, and after that he kept to himself. 


I was going to go to the brewery today, something I looked forward to, but it took some planning. The brewery, you see, is not in Aberdeen itself, but in the town of Ellon, some 15 miles to the North, and even then it is not in Ellon itself, but on an industrial estate outside of the town. Ellon itself has a population of about 9000 and mainly functions as on overflow town for the oil industry in Aberdeen. There are several bus lines that go to Ellon itself, and some of those go near the brewery, but none of them will drop you off right on the doorstep. I worked out all the options while sitting in the sunshine outside the bus station and decided to take bus 67 as that one seemed to be getting closest.
I whiled away a couple of hours by looking in shop windows, having a drink here and a snack there, and then went back to the bus station.

It took about 20 minutes to get to the Park&Ride area that was advised on the Brewdog website so I got off there. I had a look around. I could see the brewery. I could smell the malt that is always in the air around breweries. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get there. I had a look at Google maps, which showed a route, but there were no sidewalks and the road was a highway, so I spent 15 minutes traipsing through the grass on the side of the highway, but ultimately I got there. It really is quite a sizable brewery.



Brewdog has grown explosively over the past decade, from their start up days in a garage box in Fraserburgh to this big brewery in Ellon. Moreover, just a few months earlier, a new brewery was opened across the street which will specialise in sour beers and beers with spontaneous fermentation. Sour beer may not sound appealing to a lot of people, but they really are tasty once you get over the fact that they are not bitter, as beer is supposed to be, and there’s a wild variety in substyles within this section of the beer spectrum. As a shareholder, I am entitled to 2-for-1 tours around the brewery, but as I was on my own on this trip, I had decided not to do the tour and wait until the next time when I could put my perks to use.
With no tour on the agenda, all I had to do was check out the 2 bars. I walked past the famous wooden statue depicting the Brewdog logo and went inside. It really is quite a sizeable bar. Ofcourse, this being HQ, you would expect that. Booths are spread around the place, like in most Brewdog bars and there is a bar with 12 taps. This may not seem like a lot, but the stance is that HQ only serves Brewdog, and no guest beers, so that only our core range beers and whatever has come out of the brewery most recently is served on tap. The cool thing about the bar is that you can peek into the brewery to see how your beer is made. The beer is so fresh, it is unreal. After a few drinks, I walked across the street to the new sour beer brewery, called Overworks, which was now also open. I had a few more drinks there and then realised that I was pretty much done there. I had seen HQ, gotten my stamps, thereby completing the first assignment of the game, and I wasn’t hungry yet, so having dinner there was not necessary. I said goodbye to everyone there and made my way back to the bus stop. The rest of the evening in Aberdeen was largely uneventful, so I went home at a responsible time so that I could get up in the morning. My trip was off to a good start. Now it was time to do some light traveling.




This thing normally stands at HQ.



My next destination was Glasgow, but I would go there by way of Dundee and Stirling, so that I could get my stamps and finish my second assignment in the game. I looked at traintickets to Dundee, but thought they were insanely expensive, so I booked a Flixbus for half the price. With time to kill I had breakfast at Wetherspoons again and, before heading to the bus station, remembered that there was one more place I wanted to visit. 6 Degrees North, is another craft beer bar in Aberdeen city centre. I had been there in April, but that was late at night. The good thing about Scotland is that they have pretty cool licensing laws, especially when it comes to early openings. 6 Degrees North opened at 11AM so that gave me just enough time to have a beer or two before setting off South. When I approached the bar just after 11 and walked through the door, a large white dog started growling and walking towards me. I’m not a fan of dogs at the best of times, but I’m especially not fond of big dogs that growl at me at 11 in the morning. I stopped in my tracks but, fortunately, the girl who worked there emerged a second later and commanded the dog to go out the back which he did. What is it with dogs? Do they sense that you don’t like them and does that offend them? Are they just not nice, the first time they see you? I’ll never be a dog person.
The girl behind the bar was a lot friendlier than the dog and while we talked about her bar, the beer scene in Aberdeen and brewing in general, she let me taste a bunch of beers. I would have liked to have stayed beyond my 2 beers and chat, because she was friendly and liked talking about beer, but I had a bus to catch, she had a bar to run and, frankly, 2 days in Aberdeen is enough, really.
In Dundee, my only choir was visiting the Brewdog bar, which I did. The bar had just had a refurbishment at the start of the week and had only reopened the day before. It looked the part, but as I had never been there before the refurb, I had no idea how much of an improvement it was. After that, I took a train to Stirling and the ticket cost as much as the bus ticket from Aberdeen, which is a trip twice as long.

The British railway system is a bizarre and convoluted network, run by 20 different companies who all have their own rules, timetables and conditions. The ticketing system is so byzantine that even after long hours of research I have no idea how it works. Your ticket price is based on so many different factors that it is impossible to predict. Depending on the time of day, the operator, the stations the train stops, how many train changes you make and the number of operators involved, whether you want to get off between your starting point and final destination and a dozen other factors all chip in to your final ticket price. It is no wonder that everybody these days flies from Edinburgh or Newcastle when they have to go to London or Birmingham. I boarded the train to Stirling, performed my routine of going to the Brewdog bar, having a few beers and getting out of there, and boarded the train to Glasgow without buying a ticket because I was sick of this ticketing bullshit. 


Glasgow is an interesting city. Despite all the bad press it gets, it’s actually quite a nice place. Yes, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a port city and they are always like that. The buildings in the city centre have a nice old feel to them and one of the main selling points, for me at least, is that the streets in the city centre are laid out on a grid system, which makes it much easier to get around. You typically see this in American cities like New York and Philadelphia, and not so much in Europe, but in Glasgow they had the foresight to organize the city centre like this. I like that. You always know where you are. Maybe the city planners were aware that their population is fond of a drink and wanted to make it easier for them to get home.
Well, fond of a drink is a bit of an understatement. There are few places I have been where people throw themselves at intoxication with such vigour. People in Glasgow really love getting wasted. This doesn’t always end well (just Google Glasgow and Buckfast and you’ll get an idea) but I like the city.

I checked into my hostel, which was large and had a noisy bar on the ground floor, and went into the city. It was Saturday night so it was busy everywhere. I first went to the Brewdog bar in Merchant City, a large bar with an extensive food menu. Again, somebody there recognised me, which was odd as this was the first time I was there but, apparently, I had spent some 10 minutes talking to him at the Brewdog shareholders meeting in Aberdeen earlier in the year. I had wanted to go bar hopping in Glasgow that night but, as I got talking to the staff and other beer enthousiasts present, I spent most of the night there. In the end, when I eventually walked out, it was past midnight and I decided to go to bed. In the morning I had something to do: I was going to visit another brewery.




In the morning, I had a hot shower and walked into the Sunday morning streets. Apart from a few early birds and a handfull of people swaying across the sidewalks, clearly still going from the night before, the streets were quite peaceful. One thing I noticed is that E-cigarettes are one of Glasgow’s leading industries these days. I walked 3 blocks and counted a dozen shops that sold nothing but e-liquids, vape pens and other assorted e-smoking parafernalia. I located my favorite breakfast pub, had breakfast and set out for the Drygate Brewery.


Drygate is a small brewery that stands in the shadow of the huge Wellpark brewery where Tennent’s, Scotlands best selling beer, is made. I checked my map and found that it was about a 20 minute walk, that I still had an hour before my tour started, and that the Brewdog bar I had spent most of the previous night in was on the way, so I decided to check in for a beer. As I had completed my first assignment on Friday, I was now also eligible to claim a free pint at any Brewdog bar of my choice so I decided this one was as good as any. I decided to try a new beer first, and while I was drinking this, a guy in surfing shorts and dreadlocks walked in. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t tell why. He was in discussion with the bar man about some free beer he was supposed to pick up there. The bar man couldn’t find it, and the guy with the dreadlocks then said that it might be in his stagename. When he said what that was, I knew it instantly- he was one of the people I know from the Brewdog message board. We had a chat and a beer, I proudly collected my free pint and after that, he had somewhere to be, and I had a brewery tour to do. 

I walked in to the Drygate brewery at 5 minutes to 1, asked about the tour in the shop and was told to go to the bar where we would be picked up for the tour. As I was planning to go to the bar anyway, this was a happy coincidence so I ordered a beer, read the menu and waited for the tour. As it is a small brewery, the tour didn’t involve much walking, there were only 2 or 3 rooms to get through, but it was entertaining nonetheless. The thing is, I have done dozens of brewery tours all over the world, so I know how a brewery works. They always ask more or less the same questions during the tour, and I always know all the answers so I usually let the rest of the group answer and only if no one else knows the answer, I’ll step in. The tour lasted about half an hour, and was quite entertaining, given the small size of the place. Well done. After the tour came, ofcourse, the most interesting part- tasting. We were all given a wooden board with 4 taster glasses of Drygate beer on it- a lager, an IPA, a Mango Pale Ale and a stout. They were all very nice, but I decided that the Mango Pale Ale, a beer called Disco Forklift Truck, was the winner. While the rest of my tour group, a couple of Spanish people, some Germans and a sole American, all dispersed, I stayed a bit longer to try some more beer. I liked this place. The staff were friendly, the beer was nice, the place looked cool. Yeah, this was definitely a place to remember for future visits to Glasgow. Glasgow is just across the sea from Dublin, so flights aren’t expensive and it’s a fun city to go to.

After a while, I decided that it was time to go, because there was one more thing I had to do in Scotland. There was one final Brewdog bar that I had to tick off to complete my second assignment in the game and I went there now. It was quite a hike, close to 3 miles, but I like walking and the weather was nice so I set off. When I was about halfway there, the weather changed like it only can in Scotland. In the space of 3 minutes, the sky changed from bright, sunny and late-summery to dark, menacing and full of black clouds. And then, ofcourse, it started raining. Thick, heavy rain, that soaks you to your skin within minutes. I tried walking close to the buildings, but as the rain came at an angle, they offered little protection. When I finally got there, I felt like a towel that had been thrown in the pool by an angry hotel guest. After 5 minutes under the hand dryer in the toilet, I felt somewhat dried up and presented myself at the bar. I received my beer and presented my stamp book. Proud, I told the barman that I was now a Flying Scotsman, having visited all the bars in Scotland. He high fived me and said that if I wanted my free pint, I should let him know. I would. It was quite busy, and I sat down at a table in the middle of the bar. I looked out the window and noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun came out from behind the clouds again, dropping that beautiful after-rain sunshine on the lawn and buildings in front of me. Only then did I realise what a beautiful view we had from this bar. Right across the street was the Kelvingrove Museum, a large, beautiful red sandstone building. I hadn’t noticed it when I came in because of the foul weather but now, with the sun shining out on the wet grass before it, it looked magnificent. What must it be to work here and have that view all day long? I had dinner there, and a few more beers, including my free pint for completing the second challenge and then decided to start the long trek back. I picked up a beer in a convenience store for the way back, because you haven’t really been to Glasgow unless you’ve been drinking in the street, stopped off for one more drink (okay..) at the Brewdog bar near my hostel and then went to bed with a light head, but full of anticipation. I would see Berlin tomorrow.


The Kelvingrove museum

Monday morning is a part of my week that I normally prefer to forget about. It’s a miserable place to be, normally. This Monday, however, I was up early, showered quickly, packed up my stuff and checked out. I still had 4 hours to go until my flight, but I just couldn’t sleep anymore. I walked around Glasgow for a long while, went for a final drink at the Brewdog bar in Merchant city, and had some macaroni and cheese by way of brunch and then headed to the airport.

Now before we go to Berlin, let me say that this, so far, was not the most exciting part of the story. I know it was mainly just Lennard going into a bar, and then another, and then a brewery, and then another bar. I am fully aware of that. I had a hard time writing something that was interesting to read and I even considered not publishing this at all, but I decided it was part of the trip so it should be part of the story.

To be honest, without the stamp game in place, I probably would not have gone to Scotland at all on this trip. Don’t get me wrong- I love Scotland, I love the people and their accents, I love Scottish beer and Scottish whisky, and I love the scenery.  The only problem is, I have been to Scotland so often, that it doesn’t feel like being on holiday anymore. When I walk down the streets of Edinburgh, I might as well be in Dublin or Rotterdam. It just looks so familiar, I know where everything is, and I can understand everything everybody says.
So once again, my apologies if this wasn’t the most interesting thing I ever wrote, but hang in there, things are about to get much, much more exciting.
I was going to Berlin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

About the Beavertown Situation.




There is one story that has been keeping everybody in the craft beer world occupied over the last 3 weeks or so: Beavertown.
For those of you who are not really that in to craft beer, let me give you a bit of back ground- Beavertown started out in the kitchen of a barbecue restaurant in London called Duke’s in 2011. After first making beer to be served with the barbecue food in the restaurant, they later expanded to a full range of styles. In 2012, the brewery was beginning to sell so much beer that it was no longer practical to make it in the back of the restaurant so they moved production to a new, purpose built brewery in Hackney, East London. As the brewery grew further, it then moved to a bigger brewery in Tottenham, also in London, in 2014, where they would be comfortable for the next few years.
But Logan Plant, the founder and owner of Beavertown, is an ambitious man. He wanted an even bigger brewery, at the centre of a beer theme park that he wants to call Beaverworld. He also wanted to stay in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world for real estate, so he needed money. A LOT of money.

This brings us to the present day, and the story that has been keeping the craft beer world busy for the last few weeks. Rumours about Beavertown’s expansion plans had been doing the rounds on message boards and Facebook groups for a while, but Logan kept schtum. Every time he or Beavertown were asked directly if the rumours were true, he evaded the question with some throwaway remark or by saying he had no idea what everyone was talking about.
Then, on 22 June, the news finally got out: Beavertown had sold 49% of their company to Heineken.
This was bad news.
Heineken, you see, is one of the most hated companies in the craft beer world. The other one is AB-Inbev, the biggest brewery conglomerate in the world, a Brazilian/American/Belgian behemoth that sells beer in every corner of the world, most of it bland, flavorless lager.

Now let me first start by saying, that I repect everyone’s business decisions. Logan Plant built Beavertown from nothing so if he thinks this is best for the expansion of Beavertown, then it is his decision to make.
But the sale to Heineken is bad news in more ways than one. 

One of the first things that brought the rumours into the media, is Beavertown’s own festival. They organize a huge beer festival in London each year, called Beavertown Extravaganza, which is generally regarded as one of the best craft beer festivals in the world, surpassed only, perhaps, by Mikkeller’s Beer Celebration Copenhagen that takes place in May each year. 



One of the breweries who were invited to Beavertown’s festival, the legendary US brewery The Veil, had heard about the Heineken rumours and had asked Beavertown, first privately, then publicly, if the rumours were true. When Beavertown repeatedly refused to deny any deal involving Heineken, The Veil were the first to take action, and publicly proclaimed that they would no longer be attending the Beavertown Extravaganza. This was even before Beavertown officially announced the Heineken deal.
As soon as news of the Heineken deal went public, others started to follow in droves. Cloudwater from England and Scottish craft beer punks BrewDog were first out of the blocks, but many others soon followed. As it stands at the moment of writing, about half of the 90 breweries originally scheduled will no longer be attending as they do not wish to be associated with Heineken. Beavertown Extravaganza is about to collapse. 

There are more things happening though, as a result of the deal. Many craft breweries no longer wish to work with Beavertown. Many craft beer bars have publicly confirmed they will no longer sell Beavertown. My own local craft bar is owned by a brewery and they had recently made a collaboration brew with Beavertown. They will sell that beer as it had already been canned and kegged but once that’s gone.. No more Beavertown in any of their bars. And they are not alone. Again, BrewDog were quick out the blocks by announcing that their bars will no longer sell Beavertown beer. Many others have followed suit, so while Beavertown may now have a global distribution partner in Heineken, the craft beer heartland has excommunicated them.

There are 2 main questions that keep everybody busy:
1. Why sell to Heineken? Were there no other ways to finance this?
2. Why does everyone hate Heineken so much?

Let me explain this to you.

When you need a large amount of money in breweryland, there are typically 3 ways to get your hands on it: You can sell part of your company to another, bigger brewery with lots of money (say, Heineken), you can you can get money from an investment company, who usually want quick and substantial returns, or you can try to reach your target by crowd funding.
Most people immediately pointed at crowd funding. Yes, that was my idea too, but there are some issues with this. I am a shareholder in BrewDog. They have been doing crowdfunding for 9 years now and they have been extremely succesful with this way of financing. This, however, does not mean that this is the Golden Solution for everyone. BrewDog have, from the start, had a loyal following of shareholders, who have been invested in the company for a long time. Because of this, they have raked in large amounts of money without losing a crucial stake in the company. Another point worth noting in this is that BrewDog have their breweries in out-of-the-way places like Ellon in the North-East of Scotland and on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, in the USA. Had BrewDog want to build facilities in, say, London and New York City, they wouldn’t have been able to do this. The way they spend their money makes it go much further than when you insist on building a huge facility in the middle of London. So acquiring 40 Million Pounds (the amount Beavertown needed for their plans) is in no way guaranteed when you do a crowd funding round, especially because you are looking at a relatively small pool of potential investors, a lot of whom have already invested considerable stakes in companies like BrewDog. So crowdfunding probably wouldn’t have generated money to the level that Beavertown needed.

By far the dumbest remark on this subject I’ve heard, and I’ve heard it quite a number of times, is that Logan Plant should have simply asked his father for the money. His father, you see, is Robert Plant, the front man of legendary 70s rock band Led Zeppelin.
Yes, Robert Plant is immensely wealthy. If you do a quick Google search on the subject, you will find that most sources agree that he is worth around 170 million Dollars, which is an insane amount of money and probably more than anybody who reads this will ever have, even remotely. The thing is, even with this vast wealth, that doesn’t mean that he can simply give his son 40 million Pounds. That is about a third of his total net worth, a big chunk, and then, he doesn’t have all that money laying around in a warehouse, like Scrooge McDuck, so that Logan can just pull up in a Securicor truck and load it in.
Most of that money is tied up in assets like real estate and stocks and other investments. So, no, not even Robert Plant could have financed this out of his personal effects.
So now to the next point- why is everybody getting so worked up over this? There are other craft brewers that are part owned by bigger companies, and that doesn’t excite nearly as furious a reaction. Well, there are several points to this. First of all, it reminded everyone of the Lagunitas deal from a few years ago. Lagunitas announced that they had sold 49% of the company to Heineken, but they remained in control of the business, holding on to 51%. Guess what happened? With a year and a half of the original 49% deal, news got out that Heineken had acquired the remaining 51% and that Lagunitas was now a fully owned subsidiary of Heineken. Several leading experts in the craft beer world have already indicated that something similar will happen to Beavertown, because Heineken don’t do minority deals. It’s all or nothing.
Which brings us to the next problem. Heineken is a large multinational corporation whose main interest isn’t expanding the reach of craft beer, or making the best beer- it’s making as much profit as possible. There is one simple way for making more profits: cutting costs. And how do you cut costs? By using cheaper ingredients, or simplifying the production process.
There are numerous examples from the past where we have seen that Heineken bought a brewery and then started fucking around with the ingredients, the recipe and the production process. One that I quite clearly remember is when they bought Wieckse Witte, a small Dutch brewer of, mainly, traditional Belgian style witbier. It was always quite tasty, but when Heineken took over, within a year, they had changed the fermentation process, added artificial ingredients that made the beer cloudy (this was normally established by a natural process) and eventually the beer was a shadow of its former self. I could write a separate story about all the other shady business practices that Heineken has been involved in over the years, like countless huge fines for breaking competition laws, numerous lawsuits over bribery, and many, many other things, but there are 2 things that stand out mostly to craft beer people. First, they try to simply make it impossible for other brewers to exist. In the last few years, Heineken have bought several huge hop producers, and then promptly refused to sell hops to anyone else, even though they did not need all the hops themselves. If you’re a brewer, you must be able to buy hops, otherwise you simply can’t make your product. And then, on a more local scale, Heineken has an army of sales people who constantly pester pubs around the world, trying to convince them to remove other beers and replace them with Heineken product. One bar I drink in quite regularly all of a sudden got rid of their Budweiser and Carlsberg taps, and replaced them with additional Heineken taps. When I investigated this, I found that this happens all the time and pubs get offered discounts or free kegs of Heineken if they remove competing beers. They also constantly try to get craft beer taps removed and have them replaced by either former craft brands that are now owned by Heineken, or fake craft beers that Heineken invented.
See, buying up a brewery is one thing. Trying to make competitors’ lifes miserable is a whole other order of evil.

So what will the future bring for Beavertown? They will get access to a global distribution network through Heineken, but they’re shunned now by most of the craft beer community. Maybe we will soon see Gamma Ray (or what’s left of it) on taps around the world, from Times Square to Johannesburg to Hong Kong. Only the future can tell. The question is though.. What do you want as a craft brewer? Be present in every airport in the world with one or two beers, or make many interesting beers that may not be available everywhere? The overarching feeling in most of the craft beer world was the same: this one hurt.