We left home around midday on Friday for the long drive up to Aberdeen, arriving at the hotel at about 4pm which gave us plenty of time to sort the bags and stuff out before heading to union street. We started with a rather excellent curry at Cinnamon then made our way to the Lemon Tree which Brewdog were due to take over for the night and put some local bands on. We got to the venue at about 9pm to a sparse crowd, about 100 people in a 550 capacity hall, there were two Brewdog taps on the bar dispensing Dead pony Club and Punk IPA but they looked distinctly forlorn among the forest of Carling Black Label and Guinness pumps that dominated the serving area. The fridges were well stocked with Brewdog bottles though, especially with the excellent Jack Hammer. The first band were getting ready to go on stage and started their set after about 10 minutes, can’t remember their name and their music was decidedly unremarkable so was hoping for better things from The Hazy Janes later on. The crowd never got significantly bigger with just the occasional punters arriving, not everyone drinking Brewdog either as there were a few pints of lager and Guinness being drunk. The Hazy Janes were a huge anti-climax, their music was bland, boring and insipid and I still can’t figure out how a brewery such as Brewdog who reject mainstream beers with such passion and enthusiasm could have such a bland mainstream band headlining one of their events. No punk ethos in the choice of bands playing here, the Lemon Tree didn’t do it for either of us on the night.
Needless to say we left after about 5 minutes and headed over towards the Brewdog bar and had the huge good fortune to find 6°N on the way which was on my list of places to check out while in town for the weekend. It was a huge craft beer bar with it’s own brewery brewing Belgian style beers, lots of draft beers from both British and other craft breweries as well as 3 cask beers. If that wasn’t enough it had a collection of 300+ bottled beers as well. It was beery heaven with waitress service at the table so you didn’t even have to go back and forth to the bar. This pub was seriously impressive and is a must visit for anyone in town. It was well after midnight when we finally staggered out of there and headed back down union street to the hotel.
And so Saturday arrived, we didn’t make it to the hotel breakfast but did manage to get our act together to arrive at the AECC 10 minutes before the doors were due to open. People were already going in, there were two stations set up to scan the invitation bar codes and progress into the venue was fairly rapid. The venue already had a few hundred people inside so they must have opened nearer 11:30 rather than the announced midday. First priority was to grab a handful of tokens, a couple of beers then settle down with some food, we had a pulled pork sandwich and a cheese burger to put a lining on the stomach. The pulled pork roll was outstanding with a nice hot sauce on it, there were plenty of other choices too – they definitely got the food right for us. It was time to get another beer then head over to the stage area for the business talk, we got settled in a good seat before 1pm when the talk was due to start but Zarah made a PA announcement that there were big queues of people still stuck outside so the talk would be delayed until about 1:30. It finally started about 1:40 with Greg Koch of stone Brewery doing an introduction before James and Martin took to the stage. It was all very promising, the brewery has been expanded, production, turnover and profit are all seriously up, more bars are planned both in the UK and overseas, Bottledog is expanding, new packaging is imminent and Brewdog will be helping other craft brewery startups via an investment fund.
The business talk finished around 2:40 so it was time to head up to the Crombie Suite for the first tasting session, this one was by Greg Koch of Stone and there were several other tastings by other breweries throughout the day. There was a huge queue to get into the tasting session, people having to have their invitations scanned again. This took a long time and by the time everybody was inside and seated it was 3:20. There was another 5 minutes wasted while they tried to get the mic working then it was over to Greg for a very entertaining talk that lasted about 30 minutes which included a tasting of 2 stone beers. The talk was cut short at 3:50 to get everyone out so they could get ready for the next one at 4:00. The time scheduling looked ambitious, there was only an hour for each scheduled talk and the roughly 400 people were taking far too long to get in and out reducing the time for the talk itself.
Once back into the main hall we tried to get to the bar but the queues were seriously humongous, at least 10 people deep at both bars to get served and they were moving painfully slowly due to the 4000 or so people who had turned up for the AGM. So slowly in fact that some people went back into town as they got sick of the long wait to get served. We headed off to see the bands (without a beer) to wait for the queues to go down. First band The Little Kicks were just finishing their set as we got back into the main hall, then it was Cold Crows Dead who were Ok but nothing special. MFC Chicken were next and were one of the highlights of the day, a hugely entertaining and fun band that had a few people dancing in front of the stage. We’d managed to get some beers by this time and Zarah interrupted the MFC Chicken set halfway through to apologise for the queues and to say they had been up to the brewery in Ellon and brought back a load of cans of Punk IPA which were on sale from the merch desk which helped to bring the queues at the bar down.
It was nice to seea few new bands to the festival next, We Were Promised JetPacks were very good and they were followed by an acoustic set by Idlewild. This was a bit of a coup for Brewdog as it was their first gig for a couple of years, they were also hugely popular with the crowd as half the people in the hall went to the stage for their set. It was obviously what a lot of people had been waiting for as a load of people left the venue after they finished and the queues magically disappeared from the bars.
Another new band to the AGM followed in the shape of Indian Red Lopez who were also pretty good but by this time the missus had had enough and we left early without seeing either The XCerts or Bombscare.
After so much beer on Saturday I didn’t need another session on the Sunday but the trip to the brewery in Ellon just had to be done. I caught the Fraserburgh express form Aberdeen bus station after 11am, the bus was quite full by the time it got to the park and ride drop off point and nearly everyone got off the bus for the trek through the industrial estate to the brewery. First thing you notice is the new warehouse building next to the brewery, it is massive and must have freed up a lot of storage space inside the brewery. Everyone went into the new bar ‘DogTap’ to quench their thirst after the trek across the Industrial Estate and the first tour started after about 10 minutes. I waited for the second tour which was led by one of the senior brewers, Franz who gave a very interesting commentary as he showed us all around the site. It was noticeable there was quite a bit more equipment in the brewery compared to last years tour as the brewery has been continually expanded over the last year with even more fermenting vessels to be added in the coming weeks.
All in all an excellent weekend of great beer, some good bands and fantastic hospitality by the Brewdog crew. There were a couple of areas that need looking at though, firstly the number of scanning stations at the AECC entrance needs to be increased as the business talk had to be delayed for 40 minutes as there were so many people stuck outside waiting to get in, there needs to be an extra scanning station for the entrance to the tasting sessions, Greg Koch was massively entertaining on the tasting session I was at but half the allotted time was wasted getting people into and out of the hall. There needs to be more bars as the two bars could not cope with the 4000 people who attended, if this is not possible due to the hall layout then the two existing bars need to be lengthened by several metres to increase the rate of serving, A separate bottle and can bar would also be a good idea especially if the long awaited canning line is installed before the AGM in 2015.
Lastly the band line up is getting very predictable, MFC Chicken, XCerts and Bombscare have all played the festival before and The Little Kicks have played all three AGMs at the AECC. It was nice to see some new bands there and Idlewild were hugely popular but I would like to see this taken further with more new bands and a more varied mix of musical genres. A big ommission from the bands was Scottish band The Rezillos who were touring intermittently through the year. I saw them at Leeds, Stockton and Newcastle this tour and they were phenomenal, a bit more variation with the bands would definitely be a good thing.
I’m looking forward to next years AGM already.
Brewdogs take on the AGM can be found here: