I have written and rewritten the intro to this review more than six times. This is a hard product to review.
I think this stems from the fact that there were so many very excellent parts of this knife and so many very terrible parts of this knife that any one day, the wind blows in a certain direction and I am sure of my opinion about the Brouwer, only have the wind switch and be equally certain of an opposite opinion. After an extraordinarily long time and a few different carry periods, I have had my opinion solidify, but it is still an opinion marked with a lack of clarity.
This knife, more than any other I have owned, has been one that makes me engage in design theorycrafting.
“What if they...?”
”I wonder if they could have...?”
Over and over again I could see the beautiful bones that Jerry Brouwer brought to Spyderco and wonder what could have been had they left well enough alone. In the end, this is a knife that sacrificed design purity in favor of including features that do nothing other than fill out a checklist. Sometimes a product is better if it doesn’t try to cram everything companies think people “want” into it.
Here is the product page. The Brouwer, thus far, has no variations. It is a custom collab between Jerry Brouwer and Spyderco. The custom original was known was the Flanker. Here is Nick’s review. Here is a written review (with many of the same criticisms—I found this review after writing my review). You can find the Brouwer at Blade HQ. Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money):
Twitter Summary: A good knife that suffers from a cascade of flaws caused by one design decision. And then there is the price.
If any one knife better exemplifies what happens when you ignore an “as used” approach to design, it is the Brouwer. They really, really, REALLY wanted to include a lanyard hole on the handle, and so they made a series of designs deicisions that really screwed up the knife. First, the lanyard hole forced the clip placement to be off-centered (why they didn’t use the Native-series spoon clip with the lanyard hole through the clip’s screwdown area is still a mystery). Second, they decided to use the off-the-shelf spoon style clip and did not account for its size (as you can see in the lead photo). Third, the clip’s size and placement rendered the knife irritating in the hand during use. Over and over again, in a futile attempt to make sure they checked the feature list box for “lanyard hole” Spyderco swung and missed on design decisions. The custom original fixed the lanyard hole problem with a simple, small clip. What was wrong with that solution? This knife’s design was crippled in an effort to shoehorn in a feature that is nowhere close to essential all the while using off the shelf parts. Its a clear case of ignoring a one or the other problem. It is a crying shame as the non-clip parts of the knife—the slim height, the size, the blade shape, and the choil are otherwise some of the best ever from Spyderco. This is a knife that has Caly3-levels of potential but is stymied because Spyderco had to have a lanyard hole and insisted on using one of its stock clips. Copy the original. It looks quite good. Or design a clip. Or use another OTS clip. Or do anything but this.
The performance ratios are okay, noting that this is clearly a “handle-first” design. The b:w is .99 while the b:h is .70, which is not great, but still better than the Delica which is a .68. This is not a knife with problems because of weird ratios. They are decent, but entirely unrelated to the real problem with the knife.
Fit and Finish: 2
I imagine the manufacturer in Taichung Taiwan something like Achilles—they can do everything, or nearly everything perfectly. If it weren’t for compression lock flippers, they would be unassailably great.
Like everything else I have handled made in Taichung, which has distinctly not included compression lock flippers, the Brouwer’s fit and finish is excellent. Great surfaces, nice edges, excellent finish on the the titanium. There is a small pokey part where the Spydiehole and the plunge line meet, but given how flickable this knife is, it is hard to complain about that. I have yet to slow roll this guy open given the pivot (but more on that below).
Have you ever noticed that King Kong never grabs a dude on crutches? There is never a scene in any King Kong movie where the King of Skull Island, rampaging through New York, sweeps down a might hand and scoops up some unsuspecting person that, because of a sprained ankle the day before, was on crutches. Not in the original. Not in the 1976 remake. Not in the 2005 remake (which has held up surprisingly well). Not in the atrocious, so-bad-its-good King Kong v. Godzilla. Not even in the more recent Monarch-verse Skull Island version. Not once. Do you know why? It would be really, really uncomfortable if he did (oh and also because Hollywood, even now, cannot portray human life in all its variety).
That is what it is like to hold the Brouwer with the stock clip. The clip is just too big, too long, and too much in the way to make it work. With a different clip or no clip things get better, but as it is, this knife is a mess to hold and use, which, you know, happens quite a bit with a hand tool like a knife.
For all its way too bigness in hand, the clip, a traditional Spyderco spoon clip made for a knife twice this size, does good in the pocket. Add to that the humpless design and thin profile and the Brouwer is a very good pocket companion.
Look, S30V is a good steel. Its not bad at anything other than sharpening. In terms of sharpening it is somewhere between ZDP-189 and Maxamet, which is odd because its edge retention is an order of magnitude less than those steels. But really, its not bad. Its not good either, given today’s steels, so it gets a one. The really offensive thing here is that this knife costs $175 and runs S30V steel. Yes, the Gent is equally well made and runs S35VN and costs $100 less (or $75 if you want a fancy Gent). I am not taking off a point here for the lack of value, but expect to see a complaint further on in this review.
Quite aside, as a devotee of ZDP-189, with its British Racing Green handle color cue I was very excited when I first saw this knife. Spyderco, you have conditioned us in the B.F. Skinner sense of the word to link that color and that steel. When I found out the steel was S30V, a little sad trombone played in my head.
Blade Shape: 2
Yes. Yes. Yes. This is a great blade shape. It is quite useful, just the right size, and quite slim. There is plenty of belly, a nice sturdy tip, and enough straightaway to do food prep. In all, this might be the best blade shape on a Spyderco ever. If there is any reason why you’d look through the mess that is the Brouwer’s clip and steel choice this is why. Great job here.
I love thin grinds that are capable of peeling off material in thin, translucent sheets. What you get here can’t necessarily do that, but it still a very decent cutter. Instead, thanks to thick stock, you get a robust blade capable of a wide variety of tasks. Its not a blunty or wedge-y blade thanks to a very expert grind, but you don’t have to worry about a chipped or rolled edge here. Combined with the awesome blade shape, the Brouwer shows people that you can have stout blades on EDC knives and still have something that is useful.
Deployment Method: 2
While not as notably excellent as the blade shape, the deployment on the Brouwer was truly great. It hangs in there with the best knives Spyderco has made in terms of deployment—the snappy Mantra 1 (avoid the compression lock Mantra 3) and the crisp Techno. I like the Brouwer as much as these knives when it comes to opening. For all the market’s current obsession with flippers, there are a bunch of different ways to skin the opening-a-knife cat and this is a good one.
Retention Method: 0
Crash and burn. You can probably sense that I think the clip is awful. I am subtle in my reviews. But here is the real issue—there are three different designs ALREADY MADE BY SPYDERCO that would have been better. This is clearly an off-the-shelf clip. They had a custom design from Jerry Brouwer and instead of making a custom clip Spyderco just went to their back catalog of stuff and pulled this one off the shelf. Bad choice. Instead they could have pulled off the shelf the excellent short wire clip from the Dragonfly. That would have solved some of the hot spot issues. They could have also used the “lanyard hole” clip from the Gen 4 Native. Maybe it wouldn’t work with the lay out of the handle, but maybe they could have tucked it in at the very edge of the handle and still got the lanyard in there. Finally, they could have skipped the lanyard and used the over the top spoon style clip from one of the 2018 Janisch restricted knives. It is smaller and more discrete. In short, there were many options that Spyderco could have used here and fixed the clip problem. There would still be placement issues because of the insistence on including a lanyard hole, but it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe.
Lock/Blade Safety: 2
Simple, good, and easy to use. This is a great lock, the result of Taichung’s consistently superior finishing. It is easy to engage and disengage and locks the knife up dead solid. I think the lockbar interface is a bit of a gimmick (after all the Sebeneza was around for more than 20 years without one and there hasn’t been a wave of problems reported), but it doesn’t detract from the knife.
Fidget Factor: Very High
With a crispy detent and a responsive pivot, the Brouwer popped open like a dream. In terms of action, this is the best Spyderco I have had, including the Mantra 1 and the Techno. I really, really enjoyed opening and closing the knife when I wasn’t using it to cut stuff.
Fett Effect: Medium
There is not a lot that can age here, which is a good thing if you like pristine looking gear, but bad if you enjoy carrying things that wear their history out in the open. The grinder satin blade shows some wear and even there it does so at a rate so slow you can’t tell. The lockside is darkened (blasted?) titanium, so you will get snail trails but so far it hasn’t been anything remarkable. Depending on what you like this is either a good thing or a bad thing.
Value: Very Low
In 2018-2019 you cannot release a knife with S30V and G10 and sell it for $175 and it be a good value. Especially when you also sell as part of your same line up a knife with XHP and Carbon Fiber (from the same OEM) for $110 (the original Chaparral). Over and over again, I cannot see why this knife was this expensive. This has become a worrying trend from Spyderco—custom collabs with off the charts pricing despite meh materials. The Firefly was the first of these knives and all this trend does is underscore just how stiff the competion is right now. You can get all of these same features—high end Chinese made framelock with G10 handles with stunning fit and finish—for $80 in the Massdrop Gent and that is a fundamentally better design. What’s justifying the additional $100? Honestly, I have no idea. If this were an American made knife or sported some kind of exotic steel or handle material, I could get it, but as it is, this S30V and G10, nothing unusual or noteworthy. Between Reate, Kizer, and WE, the bar has been raised. Even if you exclude overseas makers, TRM alone has put pressure on older companies. The Neutron is a better knife with better steel and it is 100% American made.
Overall Score: 14 out of 20
The bones here are truly superlative. The clip screws up a lot as does the steel choice/price. Had Spyderco stuck to tradition and used ZDP-189 as the scale colors dictate, we’d be talking about this knife in much different language. As it is, this is a knife with a lot of good and a lot of “humph...” I love the blade shape and the in-hand feel once the clip mistake is corrected, but I just can’t get to a point where I would recommend this knife to folks at its current price. At $100, this would be a very good knife, though still not better than the Gent, the Chaparral, the Dragonfly, and a few others. I like the Brouwer. I use it quite a bit. But if I were in the position of having a small knife collection, I couldn’t justify purchasing this thing. In the end, the Brouwer is a worthy design, but an utter luxury, a knife you can justify only if your collection is already 10 or 12 folders deep.
Of all the knives I have owned, the Brouwer was the most improved by the addition of an aftermarket clip. After a week of use made sour by the terrible clip, I messaged Casey Lynch and asked if he had any clips left (none were available at any retailer at the time). He did and he sent me one over. The result was a transformation of the Brouwer. With the new clip, everything about the carry and in-hand feel of the knife was made better. The Lynch clip-equipped Brouwer is a sterling EDC and had this been stock the knife would receive at 19/20. In that configuration, the only real knock on the knife is price. With a decent clip the amazing bones of the Brouwer design shine through. Wearing the Lynch clip, the Brouwer is edging awfully close to an all time classic. Should Spyderco release this knife with better steel and a wire clip, well, the landscape of EDC folders will be very different. As it is, go buy a Lynch clip if you have this knife. If you don’t have either strongly consider buying them at the same time (though that pushing the total price even higher) or wait for a sprint run, which is desperately needed for a knife this good with such an obvious and easily fixed flaw.
Honestly, the Gent wipes the floor with this knife. As mentioned above, it is just a better blade. I also think this knife is very similar to the Strider PT and that knife, even though it is much older is probably better. Its much more expensive than the Brouwer, but it was also American made and produced by a very small company. The price point here just makes no sense. A dozen or so other knives fill this niche for less. Heck, half a dozen of those are from Spyderco’s line up. This one is a head shaker in terms of competition. With a lower price or better steel or a better clip, this knife could edge closer to the poll position. As it is, the Brouwer is hard to justify. Such a shame given the bones of the knife.