Remembering the Early Days of Brewdog

2008 vintage Brewdog bottles.

We’re writing about the emergence of Brewdog for our book project at the moment and would really welcome your help in remembering how beer geeks felt about them in their first five years.

Nowadays, even people who still have a soft-spot for the (wealthy, successful, very businesslike) punks begin any statement about them with the words ‘Whatever you think of Brewdog…’ or ‘I don’t like their marketing but…’

Back in their early days, though, there was no such quibbling: Brewdog were, as far as most people were concerned, a thoroughly good thing. Here’s what we said when we’d barely been blogging a year:

Isn’t BrewDog’s marketing strategy just ace?  Cool-looking bottles that you’d happily give to non-beer-geek mates. Limited edition batches, like 90s indie singles. Lots of publicity in “taking on” the Portman group… you have to be impressed with that ambition.

Melissa Cole liked them enough to do this when the Portman Group were picking on them in 2008; and Zak Avery said this in 2009. Even Tandleman was impressed. Then things like this happened, and the love affair turned a little sour.

Because recent history is all a bit of a blur, we’d love to hear your recollections, or read old blog posts to which you can point us, either by email or in comments below. We’re especially interested if you:

  • ever described yourself as a Brewdog ‘fan’
  • started a blog mostly to write about Brewdog
  • got angry at people for criticising them
  • were on their side over Speedball
  • aimed to buy everything they released, even if it was expensive or hard to find.

What attracted you to Brewdog? And, if you’re now out of love with them, what was the turning point for you?

30 thoughts on “Remembering the Early Days of Brewdog”

  1. You’ll be wanting to talk to Mr garvie.

    I remember trying on cask in Southampton camra beer fest 2008, thinking…what is this crazy stuff…10% paradox! My blog has a fair bit of brewdog on, but its post EFP2 as that’s when I got discount. Have also been through a phase of trying all their beers…100 at the moment

  2. Hmmm…I was an early Brewdog fan, must have been late 2007 I discovered them. But by mid 2009 I started going off them, and must have stopped buying their beer two years ago now.

  3. I will check my emails. They used to send wonderful boxes of samples across the ocean of all those varietal single malt cask stouts. I have one still where the label was put on by hand with scotch tape.

  4. I was a latecomer to the party, because here in rural Shropshire we don’t usually get to be first in any scene. I remember picking a bottle of Punk up from Sainsbury’s when it first appeared and thinking “wow! This is completely different and I think I love it!” The other beer that had the same effect on me was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which I understand was the beer that inspired James and Martin to start brewing their own.

    Fast forward to the present and I’m one of the dwindling number of people who still think Brewdog brew some of the most exciting beer in the UK. Probably because I still live in rural Shropshire and still don’t follow trends. Maybe I’ll join the backlash in a couple of years when I’ve caught up.

  5. I was a huge BrewDog fan back in the day – a bit later than Ed, say 2009-10. But I was never impressed by the ordinary bottles, I could never afford any of the fancy bottles, and then they stopped doing cask and that was that. Cask Trashy, cask Edge, cask Saint, cask Zeitgeist… man, they were good.

    Unfortunately I started beer-blogging too late to write much about BD in their prime. This is an interesting snippet from a ‘review of 2010′ post:

    Cask beers of the year
    Spingo Middle, Conwy Celebration, Yates Wight Old Ale, BrewDog 5 A.M. Saint.

    Keg beer of the year
    Shut up.

    1. Forgot to mention, even when I loved the beer I absolutely bloody hated the marketing – even when all I knew about BrewDog marketing was what they wrote on the bottle labels. The more I heard about their marketing, the more I hated it. The Speedball con (which I only found out about in retrospect) was a real ‘dark side’ moment for me.

  6. I’ve been drinking good beer for several years but only just became a bit of a beer geek over the last 2 years, only just started blogging and my opinion on Brewdog was my 3rd post (naughty self promotion: http://beerbypaul.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/the-brewdog-stance.html )

    …I basically think that they are a good reference point to get peoples attention about decent beer and then explore all the other wonderful British breweries, and eventually American, Scandinavian, Australasian etc breweries.

    It definitely started as, and still is a love hate relationship, emphasis being on loving their beers but not always appreciating their marketing, as is the case with many people.

  7. First encountered their beer through selling them in Oddbins, always thought ‘great beer’ if a bit flowery, and not exactly very ‘punk’. Some friends still in the pub trade started getting it into the pubs on reciprocals and enjoyed it there too, back before their own bars appeared and keg took over from cask.

    1. Oh, I think that was 2008, possibly late 2007.

      I still drink their beer and really enjoy it. Their marketing didn’t put me off then, and just because they’ve turned the volume up I’m still not put off (although I kind of ignore it.) I try to judge them on the beer, and apart from some dodgy punk (which seems to have bounced back) I can’t remember any I’ve not enjoyed.

      That said, they make quite a few beers I’ve never bothered with because they’re too expensive for me to justify. That’s not a comment about them being over-priced. Since I’ve been (incorrectly) accused of and abused for that on Twitter I’ll leave that for others to claim! It just means I personally can’t afford them.

      So I’m not sure how many boxes I tick. I didn’t start blogging to write about them, I don’t attempt to try all their beers. I do like their beer but not sure I’d describe myself as a ‘fan,’ because if that’s in a sports team context that suggests a certain degree of monogamy. I have only had anger directed at me for criticising rather than feeling angry, and I was on their side on the Speedball thing.

      Hope my fence-sitting helps.

  8. My first encounter was with cask Hype in November 2007. Because *everyone* (ie Stonch) was talking about them I pulled out all the stops to get hold of a mixed case of what was then almost the full bottled range, reviewed here in early 2008.

    BrewDog was the first of a series of UK breweries about whom there was loads of chatter in Ireland, with the occasional rare bottle opened reverentially by a returned traveller, then increasingly available to the point of being commonplace. It was Thornbridge next; it’s currently Kernel; it’ll be someone else in a bit.

    A nasty e-mail from James Watt to a well-meaning friend was what made me realise BrewDog weren’t on the same side as me; that and the Portman scam, which mocked people who deserved better.

  9. Here’s my entire Brewdog archive:

    http://www.fuggled.net/search?q=brewdog

    Learnt about them in 2008, loved them at first, lugging beer from Oxford to Prague to share with Evan Rail and Max Bahnson. They sent prototypes to Prague, and everything was fantastic, then they started their daft shenanigans like complaining about their own beer. Haven’t drunk any of their beer for about 3 years now, their stuff just doesn’t stand out in the US market other than for its price.

  10. Looking back through my archives, I’ve actually rarely ranted about them. Maybe that’s more to do with the fact that I try not to rant on the blog, but there you go. I think this post sums up where I was in 2009 with them, and the comments are pretty complimentary, too.
    http://goodfoodgoodbeer.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/grattis-brewdog/

    I think, overall, it’s only their PR (which, now hipsterism is so maistream, is actually becoming dated in terms of language) that annoys me. I still drink BD beer, enjoy it for the main part (despite it being way too expnsive in THEIR OWN BARS) and overall see them, as you do, as important for the UK scene. honestly. I also spied an early post about BD Edge, a 2.8% dark mild that was delicious. Now I’d like to see that brewed again.

    1. Yes, the price of beer in their own bars sticks in the craw (there may be perfectly valid reasons – blah, blah – but at the end of it all, I expect to get a discount at the brewery tap).

  11. I first heard about them when they appeared on Jeff Randall Live on Sky News. I think my initial thoughts were apathy and indifference. Indeed I think i was hoping for them to get on with hawking the grog and get off because a more interesting bit of the show was coming up with an interview from someone from the ECB about the Euro and I was off on a trip shortly afterward and wondered whether the Euro was going to survive long enough to spend the Euro’s I had just bought.

  12. I think at first I thought that these guys were a force for good. I liked their brash approach but slowly became disillusioned by them. Their cask beers were usually tremendous but the keg beers are masked by carbonic bite. Stopping cask was cynical and their subsequent revisionist statements about cask offensive, given that it was really done for margin rather than quality.

    But you can’t deny their policies work on many levels. They are cynics if the first order but clever ones.

    James has as much personal warmth as Heinrich Himmler. They really could do with being just that bit nicer but underneath the fizz and the hype there is decent beer. Just too off putting for me I fear.

    Shame really.

  13. I live in Toronto but travelled every few years to England and I started seeing the beers there and in export markets in the U.S. not long after this company started up. To me, the beers and marketing were based on similar things I had seen in the States, a number of breweries here were using non-conventional marketing and Punk IPA was an APA in style, like countless beers of the beer revival here. So it seemed an extension of (relatively) recent developments here in other words. While noteworthy and the beers were and are well-made, the significance beyond the novel image was that the new American taste was penetrating evermore to the U.K. and while I haven’t been there recently, I fear that it is starting to replace the classic flavours of English beers that were based on Fuggles, Goldings and other local hops with a distinctive English character. Indeed we read that English hop acreage is at an historic low point these days and foreign varieties are being grown in part of what is left. Brewdog played an important role in extending the U.K. beer scene in a novel way but I hope that traditional-tasting beer (mainly pale ale/bitter and mild) will endure in England at the same time as the diversity of taste and styles increases there.

    Gary

  14. Scanning the side of a very delicious Punk IPA in 2009, led to a visit to the website, a chance encounter with a “Deals for Punks” offer on some prototype Punk Monk and Trashy Blonde Monk, and a perilous slippery slope into mail order beers. I didn’t start a blog, but my second order of the Movember beer, Bashah, Tokyo* and others led to starting a beer cupboard and the earliest entries in http://www.flickr.com/photos/beinmysolo/sets/72157629293165265/

    A year of trying everything, culminated in a great friendly chat with Stewart Bowman and the Irish importers at a beer festival, and then the first 4 Abstrakts really notched up both my enthusiasm (and what I was willing to pay for beer). A lack of organisation meant that I missed out on the original Equity For Punks by about half an hour, but I jumped into the second offer.

    I’d still describe myself as a fan, but the arrival of the bars definitely seemed to bring a velvet rope across the idea that shareholders would be guaranteed access to new and limited beers. Then there’s a definite sense that pricing has increased to swallow the substantial discount enjoyed by thousands. The pricing on Tokyo Rising Sun put a badly needed nail in the head of my “must try them all” reflex, and the teething problems with quality at the new brewery have introduced a definite hesitancy about buying before the reviews are out.

    That said, the must try them all reflex that was kickstarted in me by them, grew fairly quickly to encompass, first collaborators like Stone & Mikkeller, and then pretty much everything. And that’s led to a whole new hobby.

    And it’s worth pointing out that everyone I’ve dealt with online, at festivals, and last year’s AGM have been friendly, generous with their time and enthusiastic.

  15. Was a bit of a BrewDog groupie for a good while. I bought a few shares at the EFP2 stage and proudly flashed the card around to mates of mine while enjoying a canny discount on the (then fairly priced) online store. It’s only been the past few months that I’ve been increasingly turned off them: batch inconsistencies during the brewery change were incredibly frustrating – nothing worse than buying twenty quid’s worth of bottles to find that 80% are drainpours. Plus, ever since they employed someone full-time to man the social media accounts I’ve found them nauseating to a certain extent: Punks this, scamps that, awesome the other – give it a bloody rest for ten minutes between each bloody tweet will you! I unfollowed them a couple of weeks back and haven’t been outwardly annoyed at the company since – maybe we needed a break! The owners’ constant need to swan around the world to do telly and promo stuff has also annoyed me – they’re spreading themselves far too thinly, and haven’t been where it matters (i.e. the brewery) to sort out the huge QC issues they’ve obviously been having. As a shareholder I’d like them to make sure the core elements of the business are watertight and firing on all cylinders before the company attempts to leap to the moon and beyond. Finally, this year’s IPA is Dead was utterly insulting. Felt robbed of my fifteen quid or whatever ridiculous sum it was. Still a fan of the beers (mostly) and do still like the company a great deal – they’ve just become like a family member that’ can be a complete tosser, but you put up with them all the same.

  16. I think I first came across them in 2007-2008 in Oddbins in Blackrock. At first I really didn’t pay that much attention to them- I’d pick a mix box and they were just another bottle in it. Then the hype started kicking in so I would try and get hold of as many of the different styles as possible. This culminated in me getting a bottle of Sink The Bismark. And boy was that a disappointment. Too much wrong flavour just trying to cover up a high ABV.

    I still get their stuff today and to summarise about how I feel, I’ll just repeat what I told one of their brewers early this year when he asked me if I like their beer:

    “When you brew regular beer, it’s very good. But when you brew off-the-wall, ‘challenging’ beers, it’s terrible.”

  17. I first encountered BrewDog in 2008 – I’d heard a couple of things about them and was looking forward to trying their beer at the Scottish Real Ale Festival in Edinburgh. I got their and was told they hadn’t delivered and when enquiries were made they’d said that “they’d bottled it, that business is more important to us”.

    I really enjoyed their cask offerings when I was able to get them, and their bottles have always been good beers, if inconsistent.

    From not the greatest start (their attitude towards a failed delivery), their stunts and general attitude have ground on me since almost the beginning, and BeerLeaks prompted me to write a blog post for the first time, followed fairly shortly afterwards by one about the manufactured controversy surrounding their supply to GBBF.

  18. Punk IPA was far and away the best bottled beer you could get in Tesco 5 years ago and probably still is.

    Outside of the beer geek bubble, Brewdog are the only new wave UK brewery anyone has heard of. The marketing isn’t aimed at us, they probably don’t care that we don’t like it, they saw a gap in the market and now they’re millionaires. Fair play to them.

    Don’t know why everyone keeps saying they’re expensive, when was the last time you could buy a bottle of Thornbridge or Kernel for £1.69 or a pint than £3.95?

  19. Have to say that is the first time I have been compared to a prominent Nazi. Although, I am not sure how valid the comparison is. I have looked online and Heinrich Himmler, to all extents and purposes, did not have a huge love of American hops.

    Anyway, sure we have made mistakes, we have done some amazing things, some things we regret and some things we would do a million times over. However, you have to see things in a little context.

    Martin and I set up BrewDog at 24. We had never run a business before and I had no experience of doing anything except working on a fishing boat. The UK beer scene was a very, very different place back then and seeing how diverse it is now it is easy to forget how little craft beer was available in 2007.

    Our marketing strategy (which admittedly has been hit or miss) was based on zero experience and trying to throw massive darts into a generic beer dartboard to broaden people’s perceptions of beer. From a brand awareness perspective it has been pretty successful regardless of it merits. We are experimental, love our art and not afraid to take a few risks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    However, what no-one can argue with is our passion for great craft beer and our absolute commitment to trying to raise the profile of craft beer in the UK through our bars, our distribution and our media efforts.

    Our beers this year from our new brewery have been as good as they ever have been and we are completely focussed on doing all we can to make them even better.

    Our goal when we set up the business is to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we like to have fun along the way too.

    James, BrewDog

    1. One word, James: cask. You (or some people working for you) were a brewer of great, great cask beers. Then you killed them. That was the end of the story for me, and doubtless many others.

  20. Late to comment, but yes I was an early convert. I remember raving to Tandleman about them in 2008 and my blog duly records the fact that we were sufficiently impressed to get Punk for that year’s CAMRA festival. And 5am Saint was beer of the festival in 2009. Oh the excitement of finding Trashy Blonde in my local! Never was a fan of their marketing, but was a big enough fan of their cask beers to buy shares the first time around. Still a shareholder but wouldn’t buy any more.

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