When Scottish craft brewers James Watt and Martin Dickie found themselves in Philadelphia for the Fourth of July this year, they took part in the local patriotic festivities. There was some beer. A parade. And a float. And fireworks. But perhaps unlike at your own celebration, the pair were actually in the parade. On the float. Upon which they were brewing 15 gallons of their own beer to which they added the final ingredient as the fireworks lit up the Philadelphia sky. "We were looking to make the ultimate American beer" says Watt. Which sort of explains why he was draped in the American flag as they were creating their colonial style beer, redolent with ground corn and blackstrap molasses. And definitely explains one unique ingredient: 328 million copies of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, you read that correctly, 328 million copies of the Declaration of Independence. In the beer. Explains Dickie, “we worked with a scientist from Penn State who encoded the Declaration of Independence onto DNA, and then we added these DNA molecules 328 million times to the beer.”
All of this may seem less bizarre to those who are familiar with the BrewDog Brewery in Scotland. The self-described “post-punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a brewery” has led the craft brew revolution in the U.K. Frustrated with the lack of beer choices in Scotland, the duo began home brewing to try to get close to the exciting beers that were being made in the U.S. and in Belgium. "We started brewing out of desperation" they explain. Personal passion turned into profession, and they opened their brewery in April of 2007. They immediately began shaking things up, pushing boundaries and challenging people's perceptions of what beer can be by brewing super strong beers, including Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32% (the video about the beer on their website featured simulated penguin sex) and a 55% abv beer that was meant to be poured from a taxidermied squirrel, and aging a beer on the deck of a fishing boat. But their beers aren't stunts — they've created a booming business with their innovative and tasty ales and I.P.A.s.
Still, when the Brew Dogs signed on to star in a show for the newly launched Esquire network, there was little chance that this was going to be a genteel series of visits to bucolic hop farms, brewery tours and tasting notes. Instead Brew Dogs, which premieres Sept. 24 at 10 p.m on the Esquire Network (check your local cable provider for the channel info) is an intense trip through the world of American craft brewing, visiting some of the country's most renowned breweries. They're also creating their own unique local drafts along the way — using local ingredients and inspiration combined with outrageous and out of the box techniques and locations. Each episode has Watt and Dickie in a new city, brewing with different craft brewers.
In Portland they found themselves trying to balance with 15 pounds of boiling wort, while floating on a beer-keg raft down the Willamette River to create a uniquely Oregonian beer with Deschutes Brewery — a fresh-hopped, wild raspberry-infused Berlinerweisse. "We took inspiration from the city we were in for each beer. In Portland we went round with an urban forager" explains Dickie. "i'm not certain that you were supposed to eat a lot of it but he was keen to." In San Diego they floated out two miles off the coast to harvest kelp which they used with Scorpion chiles to make a potent beer brewed while traveling 70mph on a train up the Pacific coast. "At nearly 2 million Scoville units, it was hot" remembers Watt. "I thought I might have to go to the hospital."
In Colorado, they brewed a cactus-infused beer in the Rockies using only solar power. In Seattle Watts and Dickie took their cue from the city's vibrant coffee culture and brewed the world’s most-caffeinated beer — a big, bold, chocolaty, coffee imperial stout — while sailing on the top deck of the Bainbridge Island Ferry. In foggy San Francisco they took inspiration from the city’s foggy weather. “We wanted to make a steam beer, but we wanted to do it in an unusual way,” says Watt. “We actually captured fog with fog nets on the Marin headlands, and then used that to mash in with. But then once we’d fermented the beer, we used a technique called hydrodynamic cavitation and we turned back the beer back into steam. So people actually inhaled the beer. So much of what we taste comes from what we smell, so it was interesting to smell the beer turned into steam with all its flavors, and then to let people taste the beer side by side with that.” Watt describes both the vapor and liquid as reminiscent of toasted marshmallows and honey.
In Boston they met up with craft brew trailblazer Jim Koch of Sam Adams, to brew a Boston Clambake beer, infused with lobsters and clams and brewed on a tall ship sailing through Boston Harbor. But the boat was not the only unconventional part of this brew. "It's a sour style of beer" explains Watt "And we soured it ourself, using our own bodies' bacteria, by getting into a hot tub filled with sour mash with Jim Koch." As you do. "Actually I think it was mostly Jim & James, I like to think I'm pretty clean" says Dickie. Catch the Brew Dogs and their beer brewing and evangelizing ways on the next seven Thursday nights on Esquire.