Johnny Rotten was one of the most interesting & dangerous front men of the punk era. His ragged look, spiked hair, quick wit, nihilistic views & a desire to shock when a microphone was shoved in front of him made him the poster child for the 70’s British punk movement as the front man for the world’s most dangerous group of the time, ‘The Sex Pistols’. They were edgy, provocative, uncompromising & misfits at a time when bands like Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, The Bay City Rollers & Fleetwood Mac were heavy hitters in the music charts. They were punk & the standouts. Roll forward to 2017, Johnny Rotten is no more. He is John Lydon. Still outspoken, anything but a punk or shocking or relevant anymore. And sadly, Punk IPA seems to have gone the same way. Or has it really?
Make no mistake about it, Punk IPA sells by the metric shit-ton for BrewDog. It is their undisputed best seller by a long shot, & accounts for the vast majority of their sales. It is their cash cow. When first introduced, it came against a backdrop of a scene of uninteresting beers in the UK market that was positively gray by comparison. This was a punchy, incredibly bitter hop forward beer of the variety not seen in the UK.
It was groundbreaking, & its contribution to revitalising UK beer from dull beardy old men sipping cask ales to something vibrant, young & edgy cannot be ignored. I genuinely believe, if there was no BrewDog, the UK & Irish craft beer scenes today would be incredibly different. It also didn’t hurt that BrewDog’s own brand of irreverent, & brash marketing with their overwhelming self-belief with abrasive branding helped propel two men & a dog to a behemoth craft brewer not only in the UK, but in Europe too.
Punk IPA has gone through several recipe changes over the years to arrive at its current format, which is heavily powered by the white grape forward Nelson Sauvin hop being the band leader. At one point in my craft beer journey, this was my go-to beer amidst a piss poor selection of beers here in Ireland, & some even poorer, dull, uninspiring & decidedly hit-and-miss quality beers.
This bottle of Punk was brewed in February this year; not as fresh as I generally get it (but I wanted a bottle for this rather than a can, so it was a compromise I was willing to live with). It pours unmistakably as well as it ever did. However, that’s where Johnny Rotten ends on this tasting. John Lydon appears the second I stick my nose in.
Sure, it could be the age of the beer, & I did not have it too cold from the fridge (I’m not a beer noob). But, the citrusy, grape & lychee flavours were not as pronounced as I remember, & the malt was more distinctive. I leave the beer alone for a few minutes & go back to it. Yup, malty aroma.
First taste, it’s fruity, bitter & has that same great drinkable body. The bitter finish on it is dry, but not as dry as I remember it. It’s insanely drinkable. However, one thing I didn’t get while drinking it was a sense of excitement or feeling that ‘Damnit, I should have bought more to drink‘ kind of enjoyment.
I think Punk IPA has become its own tagline – a ‘post-modern classic’, in the same way, I look at an Escort Cosworth from the 1980’s. Yes, it’s beautiful & joyful, but I’d rather a Focus RS or a Mustang GT500. It has aged badly. In fact, I would say very badly. In the same way, Stone felt their Pale Ale needed a revamp due to its age.
Punk IPA while still insanely enjoyable, & no doubt in my mind still incredibly well made by a group of wonderfully positive & enthusiastic people at Ellon is truly the John Lydon of British craft beer; once a poster child for a movement, now an old man that despite its continued massive sales growth & popularity, is irrelevant.
Now, in saying that – relevancy doesn’t matter a damn when you’re a business chasing aggressive growth & sales targets year on year, but I hope that BrewDog’s grown-up sensibilities of recent years don’t make this beer become the Sam Adams Boston Lager equivalent.
The simple fact here is this: Punk IPA will not be going through an update anytime soon given its market dominance, popularity & the sheer amount of money it supplies to BrewDog’s sales numbers. Thinking it will is wishful thinking. You do NOT kill your cash cow when you’re shooting for a valuation of one billion quid.
And it’s kinda sad to think that BrewDog may let this beer age badly rather than trying to keeping it the misfit Punk it always should be & that it was. The beer world is better for Punk IPA having existed. And honestly, still good for it continuing to exist. But, I think I still want excitement in my beers & that cheesy grin on my face. Maybe the change here is me, not Punk IPA. It’s growing up, I’m not.