“There’s lactose in this one, is that okay?” might be a common phrase if your friend is a bartender and you’re lactose intolerant. Normally, the only warning a bartender will offer about your pint is when it’s more than £6. But at BrewDog’s latest Dry Jan-friendly offering, ‘BrewDog AF’, a strictly alcohol-free bar, this is very much the norm.
I’ve never personally been someone who’s a fan of Dry January, possibly because my first and only attempt lasted six days and honestly I’m not sure my ego could take the hit again.
So it’s fair to say that I went in expecting very little. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Behind Shoreditch Grind, tucked down a little side street you’ll find BrewDog AF. Despite the seemingly one-month concept, it’s fully decked out with two floors, plenty of seating, booths, hammock-style chairs, a takeaway fridge and even an outside area!
And for that one customer who’s desperately searching for a drink after last orders, there’s a vending machine outside chock-full of the most popular non-alcoholic beers.
Despite its similarities to its boozed-up brethren, the first difference you notice is the colour scheme. Compared to BrewDog’s usual all-black, the alcohol free bar is completely white-walled, presumably thanks to the lack of stains to hide from boozed up late night spillages…
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Second is the sound. Though fairly busy, the noise remains at a light but steady hubbub that pleasantly fills your ears and lacks the malice that tends to follow and precede sambuca and Jägerbombs.
Some people sit around playing board games from the bar’s vast collection whilst sipping on non-alcoholic sours from breweries all over the country; some even finishing up work on a laptop with a non-alcoholic G&T.
With 14 draft taps (six of them guest beers!), there’s plenty to choose from, with styles ranging from classic lagers to stouts and sours.
I was lucky enough to chat with the manager over a Peach & Passionfruit Popsicle Parade about how things were going.
We talked about customers and how much more pleasant they are throughout the night. Everyone here is a genuine beer fan looking to try things and explore new flavours in a way that they’ve not done so before.
People using the bar as a workspace is increasingly common, with customers setting up from midday, ordering lunch and cracking on with a powerpoint over a porter. Brewdog have always been supporters of a good life/work balance, even offering customers a free pint if they show staff their out-of-office between 2-12pm on Mondays.
If BrewDog knows what’s going to happen with AF come February, they’re keeping their cards close to their chests. The staff have no idea what’s going to happen; either everyone will return to the BrewDog bars they previously worked for, or AF will become a permanent fixture. But it does seem like those that work here have truly developed a love for the place.
Overall I’d be interested to revisit the AF bar, as the main asset it brings to the table is the removal of temptation. In years gone by non-drinkers would have to sit in the pub watching their friends and those around them become increasingly inebriated whilst sipping a £5 pint of Coca Cola and ingesting enough sugar to take down a small, presumably diabetic, rhinoceros.
Now you can walk into a bar and instead spend a fiver on something that actually tastes good, with just as much variety as any other pub, and enjoy an evening with other people doing the same. Best of all you get to do it without the consequences of a sore head the next day. What’s not to love about that?
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