BrewDog are the Big Dog

Vintage-style lightbulb pictured in BrewDog, Sheffield.

Some people might not like to hear it, but the fact is, BrewDog are interesting and important.

That is the main rea­son why peo­ple (includ­ing us) just can­not help talk­ing about them.

Of course it also helps that they have the will and the means to court beer writ­ers and blog­gers, and a well-drilled army of staff on social media, but even those who are scorn­ful of the ‘pooches’ appar­ent­ly feel com­pelled to pick at the scab.

If we had to pick one brew­ery to sym­bol­ise every­thing that’s hap­pened in British beer in the last decade, it would prob­a­bly be Brew­Dog. When estab­lished brew­eries decide to ‘do craft’, it is more often that not the boys from Fraser­burgh they have in mind:

In an inter­view with James Hur­ley in The Times this week (thanks for the heads up, John West), Brew­Dog founder James Watt set out plans to become even big­ger:

We love the chaos of fast growth,” Mr Watt says. “If we don’t have that, we’re not push­ing hard enough… You’ll laugh at me, but we want to list for £1 bil­lion in five years’ time… We’ve got the road map with annu­al tar­gets. We think it’s an achiev­able objec­tive.”

As part of the plan, Watt says, the com­pa­ny is matur­ing, and ton­ing down the com­bat­ive rhetoric. That’s a relief for bor­ing bas­tards like us, but we won­der what those who enjoy com­bat­ive rhetoric will make of it? And where does this fit in?

At any rate, Brew­Dog is well on its way to becom­ing a house­hold name, if some­thing we over­heard in a pub the oth­er day is any­thing to go by:

I’ll just have a lager. Carls­berg, or that Korev. Oh, wait, no – have they got my favourite lager? That Punk IPA?

UPDATE 04/09/2014: how close Brew­Dog are to being a house­hold name is hard to mea­sure but this Google Trends graph gives a clue: it com­pares the vol­ume of search­es from the UK for Marston’s, Greene King, Stel­la Artois, Mag­ic Rock and Walker’s crisps. Brew­Dog, who have nev­er run a nation­al TV ad cam­paign, are up there with the big brands.

33 thoughts on “BrewDog are the Big Dog”

  1. I wouldn’t have said I was scorn­ful exact­ly. I drink plen­ty of Brew­Dog beer. Just point­ed out a few things about their busi­ness and guess­ing (prob­a­bly wrong­ly) about what will hap­pen next.

    I’m sure Brew­Dog would rather be talked about than not.

  2. You’ll laugh at me, but we want to list for £1 bil­lion in five years’ time”.

    Aye, there’s the rub. Long term goal has always been to see off the whole kit and kaboo­dle as an inter­na­tion­al brand for top whack. Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that but it cer­tain­ly makes all the “punk” claims of authen­tic­i­ty all the more tire­some.

  3. I think the “punk” com­par­i­son works well if you think about Mal­colm McLaren rather than, say, Crass – they’ve always seemed to have two goals:
    i) cre­ate a seis­mic shift that rewrites what they see as a mori­bund cul­ture by any means nec­es­sary and
    ii) make absolute­ly stacks of cash,
    and it’s often hard to decide which is the dri­ving force and which is the col­lat­er­al…

    McLaren is also a pret­ty good com­par­i­son in terms of inspired guer­ril­la mar­ket­ing genius and bang­ing on about authen­tic­i­ty only when it suits you…

    1. So what? So what?
      So what if Brew­dog added more hops?
      So what about the fuck­ers, I don’t give a toss!

      I start­ed lis­ten­ing to some Crass recent­ly and I must say I’m quite tak­en with ‘So What’. But I don’t sup­pose I’ll lis­ten to much more as I sus­pect they’re best in small dos­es.

      The way Brew­dog keep going on about the punk thing though they should at the very least have ‘pay no more than £1.50’ on their bot­tle labels.

  4. Brew Dogs are cer­tain­ly very suc­cess­ful and good at what they do. But let’s be clear that they haven’t invent­ed as much as peo­ple give them cred­it for. Bare bricks, fil­a­ment bulbs and neon signs are an indus­tri­al design trend not start­ed by Brew Dogs. How­ev­er, they have very quick­ly become so dom­i­nant in the British craft beer scene that oth­ers are now per­ceived to be fol­low­ing their lead, as opposed to being inspired by the same influ­ences..

  5. Brew dog are about as punk as my old Nan­na and frankly the whole shtick is as bor­ing as an old boot.
    Tire­some indeed.
    Change the record. Play some real punk!
    Flo.

  6. They may (or may not) be rev­o­lu­tion­ary in brew­ing but their busi­ness mod­el of con­tin­u­ous expan­sion is noth­ing new. The only way they can keep rak­ing it in while pay­ing their share­hold­ers noth­ing is to keep grow­ing.

  7. Join­ing in the Brew­dog hype, B&B? I say that because I don’t know any­where I can buy their keg prod­uct, although I some­times see bot­tles of Punk IPA in Tesco, the epit­o­me of the punk ide­al, of course.

      1. We bought their black IPA in Tesco the oth­er day.

        Maybe a wob­ble while they roll out re-brand­ed stock?

    1. We’re rea­son­ably hap­py that we’ve got a rea­son­ably objec­tive view based on hav­ing thought about it (a bit too much..) – we’re not ‘fans’, but we don’t have an axe to grind with them either. Over the years, we’ve crit­i­cised them, and we’ve praised them, in fair­ly equal mea­sure.

      They’re in most major super­mar­kets and branch­es of Wether­spoons; they’ve got high pro­file city cen­tre bars across the coun­try; they get inter­viewed in the Times; and they’re on to series two of their US TV show. That’s not main­stream, as such, but it’s not far off.

  8. They do a wide range of real­ly very good beers that are more wide­ly avail­able than those of any oth­er sim­i­lar brew­ery, and they have good bars with knowl­edge­able staff, good atmos­phere, that in my expe­ri­ence are no more expen­sive that oth­er sim­i­lar bars. What’s not to like? The share thing was a rip off I sup­pose, and they clear­ly bribed a load of blog­gers not long away, which was hilar­i­ous.

    Peo­ple just like to moan about any­thing suc­cess­ful.

  9. Brew­dog is essen­tial­ly a mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny, in the style of any of the big brew­ers. Once they are list­ed at £1bn expect big ad cam­paigns to boot.

    They been incred­i­bly clever in their use of social media to sub­vert the big brew­ers. The van­guard of craft in the UK in that respect. But all they’ve real­ly done is copy a trend that already exist­ed in the US. And they only did it wit­the expert back­ing of the Skyy Vod­ka guys. The long term aim is clear.

    As an orig­i­nal ‘Equi­ty Punk’ I’m all for this. Might make my ‘invest­ment’ grow. But will they recog­nise the peo­ple who helped them in the begin­ning? On the share­hold­er forum quite a few EFP1 peo­ple com­plain that they are almost for­got­ten. I’m not so sure.

    In the end I do think that they want to pro­mote good beer, but prof­it and growth come first now. But if that makes bet­ter beer grow over­all and oth­er brew­eries can ride on their coat tails, then fine by me.

    From my first Trashy Blonde and Punk IPA back in 2008 and becom­ing a share­hold­er in 2009, to more recent dis­ap­point­ment with their bars (price main­ly) and their aloof­ness and lack of engage­ment (com­pared to the small­er brew­ers) at LCBF, it’s been one help of a ride.

    A jour­ney that I will con­tin­ue to fol­low with inter­est.

  10. Just out of inter­est I asked the fel­lows in my local tav­ern last night whether they’d ever heard of Brew­dog.
    Not one of the dozen or so chaps had the faintest notion of what I was blath­er­ing on about.
    I’d sug­gest the only way Brew­dog is quick­ly becom­ing a house­hold name is if that housh­old con­tains one or even two beer blog­gers.
    I can’t believe even you have fall­en for hard sell.

    1. For every ‘no one I know as heard of them’ sto­ry, we can pro­vide a ‘some­one we know has’. E.g., the lad at the bar in the Dock Inn, Pen­zance, last year who was back from his first term at uni­ver­si­ty in Bris­tol and lob­by­ing the land­la­dy to get Punk IPA in.

      There is a mid­dle ground between think­ing they’re Jesus, and think­ing they’re Satan…

      1. One impres­sion­able young buck back from Uni ask­ing for a cer­tain beer does not con­sti­tute that beer being ” well on its way to becom­ing a house­hold name. ”

        Out­side the beer blog­ging bub­ble Brew­dog bare­ly mer­its a rip­ple in the waters of our nation­al drink­ing habits.

        Indeed in my local bot­tle shop it is chiefly renowned for being flogged off cheap after its sell-by date.

        Stel­la Artois Cidre – now that’s a house­hold name even if,like Brewdog,it is only drunk by impres­sion­able apes.

        1. See the update to the post (at the bot­tom) for some­thing a bit more like objec­tive evi­dence. Google Trends isn’t per­fect, but it’s got to be more reli­able than us cit­ing spe­cif­ic instances of peo­ple hav­ing heard/not hav­ing heard of Brew­Dog at each oth­er.

      1. Well on the way to becom­ing a house­hold name in Scot­land per­haps but around the UK ?
        Like­wise Mag­ic Rock ?
        Frag­gle Rock more like.
        Beery types like us may have heard of them but my mate Google ( yes, he’s the pub know-it-all whose nick­name real­ly is Google ) hadn’t and that’s a sound enough Google trend for me.
        Don’t get me wrong,I’ve got noth­ing against any­one enhanc­ing their rep­u­ta­tion with grandiose claims – look no fur­ther than Cook­ie and the yarns he spins about his sex life,
        I just think their beer is over-priced shite.

        PS: Pro­fes­sor Pie-TIn ? With his toi­let habits ? How very dare you !

  11. We love the chaos of fast growth’ ah yes yge chaos of fast growth. Any ear­ly adopt­ing pub land­lord who stocked Brew­dog three years ago will be very famil­iar with ‘the chaos of fast growth’.

    This par­tic­u­lar line is from their cor­po­rate his­to­ry (/mythology) which one of their staff glee­ful­ly recit­ed at the press open­ing of Brew­dog Man­ches­ter. They boast­ed about how they agreed to sell to tesco despite not hav­ing the capac­i­ty. This was all done in a ‘lol what are we LIKE?’ man­ner of course.

    So what was the real­i­ty of ‘the chaos of fast expan­sion’? Their dis­tri­b­u­tion to small pubs and bars pret­ty much col­lapsed (that’s not to even men­tion the extreme vari­a­tions in qual­i­ty. E.g – and these are both sto­ries I’ve heard from brew­dog bar staff at the time when I com­plained the beer was different/no good – putting the wrong malt in 5am mak­ing it almost a porter or run­ning out of sim­coe for punk so just brew­ing it with­out). Deliv­er­ies weren’t turn­ing up. We’d go weeks with­out so much as an apol­o­gy. When the deliv­er­ies did turn up they were wrong. The whole thing was an utter sham­bles and amongst oth­er things is what led us to stop stock­ing their beers.

    I remem­ber one (braver man than me) who asked a few point­ed ques­tions at this cor­po­rate history/tasting talk which demon­strat­ed that we were cer­tain­ly not alone in how we were treat­ed by them. I think their pri­or­i­ties have been very clear for a long time – sack off the lit­tle guys who sup­port­ed from near the begin­ning (and even launched their beers pre-brew­dog bars!) in favour of stock­ing the big super­mar­kets.

    Inci­den­tal­ly about 6 months lat­er they actu­al­ly apol­o­gised and said they had hired some­one to over­see dis­tri­b­u­tion (hah!). Too lit­tle too late, espe­cial­ly com­bined with the declin­ing qual­i­ty of the beer and the over night 1/3rd increase in prices.

    Should also point out that they seem to have recov­ered from this now and their core range is tast­ing great again after 2 – 3 years of incon­sis­ten­cy and bland­ness.

    Essen­tial­ly what I was try­ing to say is ‘the chaos of fast expan­sion’ is a phrase that will stick in the throat for many who were com­plete­ly screwed over by them and it will be inter­est­ing to see if they are actu­al­ly pre­pared for it now.

    1. That chimes with what the bar­maid of a small town-cen­tre bar (where I drank a lot of BD cask back in the day) said to me. I’d noticed a BD pump label in among the “com­ing attrac­tions” on the side wall & asked (expect­ing the answer No) if they were going to be get­ting their cask beer again. She got quite ani­mat­ed – “Brew­Dog? Oh, no – no way! You want to talk to the boss about Brew­Dog – he says he’s nev­er doing busi­ness with them again.”

      This is why BD arouse such strong feel­ings, I think. A smile and a wink and a lol what are we LIKE? will only get you so far. Some­where in that com­pa­ny – some­where quite high up – some­body has to be say­ing that qual­i­ty and con­sis­ten­cy don’t mat­ter as long as you can shift the units, and let­ting peo­ple down doesn’t mat­ter as long as you can get more cus­tomers in to replace them. Or if they aren’t say­ing it now, those same peo­ple have sure as hell said it in the past.

      It’s about sharp busi­ness prac­tice, and how you feel about it. Some of us react very bad­ly to it. Not every­one, though; some peo­ple think it’s fine. I used to work on an IT mag­a­zine which was a spin­off from an Amer­i­can mag. I remem­ber the boss of the US mag explain­ing his ‘ear­ly renew­al’ sys­tem to me. You get peo­ple to take out an annu­al sub­scrip­tion, then you remind them to renew at month 10 and bill them (or take the DD) at month 11. Bin­go – you’ve got twelve months’ income in 11 months. Of course, they notice some­times, and they ask for a refund. So what you do then is write back and apol­o­gise – ter­ri­bly sor­ry, our mis­take, don’t know how it could have hap­pened – and send them a refund, in the form of a book token which they have to spend on our books. So we get the mon­ey back any­way. Plus you put an expiry date on the book token, and lots of peo­ple for­get to spend them in time.

      The inter­est­ing thing is that he clear­ly thought this was per­fect­ly nor­mal, even com­mend­able busi­ness prac­tice. Per­haps it’s an Amer­i­can thing.

  12. Hey,

    just thought I would chime in on a few points:

    Although we are pret­ty big in terms of a UK craft brew­er, we are still just a frac­tion of the size of Amer­i­can craft brew­ers. We are only around 6% of the size of Sier­ra Neva­da and only one in every 2,700 beers con­sumed in the UK is a Brew­Dog beer so we are not real­ly con­cerned about size. What we are con­cerned about is beer qual­i­ty. Our mis­sion is to make oth­er peo­ple as pas­sion­ate about great beer as we are and to make the best beers we pos­si­ble can. These are the only things are focussed on.

    Hali – some of your points are fair. Oth­ers are not. Thanks for appre­ci­at­ing where our beer qual­i­ty cur­rent­ly is. Brew­Dog beers have nev­er been bet­ter. Our new brew­ery final­ly gives us the con­trols and equip­ment we need to ensure our beers are always great. There was a peri­od 2.5–4 years ago where our beers were incon­sis­tent and this was sim­ply due to the poor & cob­bled togeth­er equip­ment we were using in our old Fraser­burgh brew­ery. Again, our cus­tomer ser­vice was all over the place around 4 years ago. But you kin­da have to let that one go now. We expand­ed too quick­ly. We strug­gled to run our busi­ness effec­tive­ly for a brief peri­od and we let cus­tomers (includ­ing The Grove) down. But it was 4 years ago. We have grown, devel­oped and changed a lot since. You can’t keep beat­ing us up about that. Drop me an email (james(at)brewdog.com) and I will arrange for some kegs to be sent to the Grove as a fur­ther apol­o­gy.

    In terms of Equi­ty Punks, I am con­stant­ly amazed by peo­ple who don’t appre­ci­ate the legit­i­ma­cy of this share offer. This was all approved by the FCA, all ver­i­fied by lawyers and all audit­ed by accounts. The ver­i­fi­ca­tion of this share offer cost us close to £100,000. Based on our cur­rent val­u­a­tion mod­el, peo­ple who invest­ed in EFP 1, 2 and 3 all already have a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the val­ue of their hold­ings and they will be able to realise this on our cus­tom trad­ing plat­form which launch­es in Octo­ber 2014. So with a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the val­ue of their hold­ing, being able to enjoy phe­nom­e­nal dis­counts (20% on our online shop), invites to our AGM and being part of this jour­ney with we think it has offered every­one who invest­ed a pret­ty sweet deal.

    Brew­Dog has nev­er been about mak­ing mon­ey. Every sin­gle pen­ny of prof­it we have made since we start­ed has been re-invest­ed and we are com­plete­ly com­mit­ted to con­tin­ue doing this for the long term. We need to be prof­itable to be a healthy, sus­tain­able com­pa­ny but then all of our prof­it get’s re-invest­ed in our team and in help­ing us make our beers even bet­ter.

    It has been a pret­ty crazy roller-coast­er since we set Brew­Dog up with 2 humans, 1 dog and a £20k bank loan back in 2007. The think Mar­tin and myself are most proud of is our team. To have so many pas­sion­ate, knowl­edge­able, tal­ent­ed and evan­gel­i­cal peo­ple involved in Brew­Dog who all love great beer as much as we do is what makes Brew­Dog what it is. I know that Brew­Dog divide opin­ions, and I am com­fort­able with that. Our goal was nev­er to try and keep every­one hap­py. How­ev­er I think what we are doing at the moment both in terms of beer qual­i­ty and the cus­tomer ser­vice we deliv­er in our bars is some­thing we are all very hap­py to be part of.

    I am also real­ly excit­ed about how the beer scene in the UK has changed over the last few years. It was fuck­ing awful back in 2007. We want­ed to be a cat­a­lyst for change. And we believe we have only been able to be that cat­a­lyst by doing all the crazy, high octane things that so many peo­ple took objec­tion to at the time.

    At the end of the day, it should be fun and beer was nev­er sup­posed to take itself too seri­ous­ly. Wine has enough pre­tence for all the drinks world.

    Keep on rock­ing in the free world,

    James

    1. I have a com­plaint from 3 years ago too (tescos were out of punk for 2 weeks in a row), please send me some free kegs.

      Thanks James.

  13. I was one of those sell out blog­gers in 2008 who hap­pi­ly received sam­ples and wrote about it – heck, even Stonch was pos­i­tive. I have a love­ly label from a whisky bar­rel aged stout that was stuck to the bot­tle with rolled up sticky tape. I have no prob­lem with brassi­ness in busi­ness if you can back it up. Many big craft brew­ers in the US sad­ly hold them­selves out as rock stars. Most sad as one guy, Gar­rett Oliv­er, was a punk/ska pro­mot­er of some sort before beer so has some actu­al cred. So when Punk IPA came along after the love­ly stouts and then the weird ingre­di­ent stuff, I didn’t take offense at BrewDog’s direc­tion. But I did get bored.

    It’s the bore­dom that most big craft over here engen­ders. Cult of per­son­al­i­ty + boost­ed price + brand­ing. For­tu­nate­ly, the schism is com­ing where big craft moves on to join big macro at meet­ing about truck­ing fleets and pack­ag­ing logis­tics. These things are nat­ur­al with scale. If I were to wish one thing for Brew­Dog would be a rejec­tion of big craft blah even as they go for the bil­lion in val­u­a­tion. Can you achieve the nim­ble­ness and inven­tion that small scale allows and still avoid the death­ly dull sheen that big craft brew­ers like Stone and Sam Adams have tak­en on? Not sure but it would be fun to see some­one actu­al­ly try as opposed to sim­ple say­ing so on the label.

  14. The region­al vari­a­tion of your Google search com­par­i­son is inter­est­ing. Note that Brew­Dog is big in Scot­land, but much less so else­where… whilst Stel­la is big every­where.

    Amus­ing­ly Mag­ic Rock is big­ger in Scot­land than in Eng­land.

    I’ll file this under “Scot­land is more craft than Eng­land” (despite Lon­don) 🙂

  15. I’m not quite sure what google trends will tell you when com­par­ing brew­dog with stel­la etc. I doubt many of the peo­ple who go to the pub on a fri­day night and have 4/5 pints of stel­la will be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in googling them. It’s a com­mod­i­ty that is backed up by expen­sive adver­tis­ing cam­paigns, it doesn’t need peo­ple engag­ing with them on social media. It just needs peo­ple to recog­nise the font on the bar. Google trends is prob­a­bly more help­ful in show­ing quite how small oth­er craft brew­ers are in com­par­i­son with brew­dog. (Inci­den­tal­ly, I think mag­ic rock is too gener­ic a term to assume peo­ple are look­ing for the brew­ery).

    Where­as the new­er brew­ers are all about more active engage­ment. I’m sure as they grow though that some of their brands becomes com­modi­tised as well. I think you already see it a bit with Punk. But they will still have their lim­it­ed releas­es and so on to keep up their craft cre­den­tials.

    I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly mind all this either. I’m quite glad that I can get a bot­tle of punk for £1.79, when sim­i­lar from oth­er UK craft brew­ers is near­er £3.

  16. Rob – for clar­i­ty, Mag­ic Rock was there as an exam­ple of a brew­ery in a sim­i­lar cat­e­go­ry to Brew­Dog but with much low­er ‘brand recog­ni­tion’ or what­ev­er you want to call it. Even assum­ing that the Mag­ic Rock search catch­es lots of peo­ple look­ing for things oth­er than brew­ery, it’s still way low­er than Brew­Dog.

    Yvan – if you nar­row the search to just Eng­land, the graph stays more or less the same. Peo­ple in Scot­land just Google stuff more, it seems!

  17. Ah right, I was sur­prised Mag­ic Rock was as high as that. If you look at sim­i­lar­ish brew­ers with more dis­tinc­tive names (e.g. beaver­town) they bare­ly reg­is­ter at all.

  18. They real­ly need to start doing cask again. I had a pint of Punk a few weeks back, it was nice enough stuff, but I couldn’t help think­ing a cask ver­sion would be bet­ter.

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