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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 replies on “BrewDog are the Big Dog”

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.

“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.

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…

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.

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..

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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 !

‘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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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) 🙂

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.

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!

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.

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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