What if… BrewDog & Greene King?

What if BrewDog entered into partnership with Greene King to roll out second-tier BrewDog packages in places where their flagship bars cannot reach?

Yesterday, we promised a prediction, but it would be more accurate to describe this as a bit of fanciful thinking plucked more-or-less from thin air. We just want to put it in writing so that, if it does come to pass, we’ll look dead clever.

1. We can’t stop looking at the keg beer menu at the new Greene King ‘craft beer concept’ in Cambridge as pictured on the Pints and Pubs blog: it features one GK beer, Hop Monster, but four from BrewDog.

Keg beer list at the Grain Store, Cambridge, by Pints and Pubs, used with permission.

2. Wetherspoon’s Craftwork package, which borrows heavily from BrewDog’s aesthetic and features their beer in bottles and keg, hints at how such an arrangement might work.

Craftwork point of sale materials at Wetherspoon's.

3. Though they have ambitious plans, finding and fitting out suitable premises seems to be holding BrewDog back. Greene King, meanwhile, have 1600 pubs up and down the country, few of which anyone interested in beer will touch with a bargepole.

4. The Scottish Wunderkinder have already dabbled in franchising.

5. They’ve been critical of Greene King’s beer in the past, but they work happily with Tesco, arguing when this relationship is criticised (as we read it) that they’re spreading the gospel of Craft Beer in an otherwise barren land.

6. For Greene King’s part, this would be a route to instant credibility, even assuming that such a partnership might give a temporary hit to BrewDog’s own reputation.

7. We keep coming back to the similarities between BrewDog and David Bruce’s Firkin chain in the 1980s: that went truly national when he sold his company to a bigger brewery which turned what he’d developed over the course of a decade into a (not as good) out-of-the-box branded package.

Just to reiterate: this is just guesswork, for fun — we have no ‘specific and credible intelligence’, as they say.

But what do you reckon — are we barking up the wrong tree? Or, to put that another way, if something like this was announced next week, would you be surprised?

(And, as an aside, imagine what fun might ensue if BrewDog got a batch of GK’s Old 5X stock ale to play with…)

27 thoughts on “What if… BrewDog & Greene King?”

  1. The cynical might take the view the the long-term BrewDog business plan is geared to eventually cashing in their chips and selling to a major industry player.

    I’d say the main factor holding back their bar expansion is that they’re looking for a specific demographic profile. We’ve had fun on Twitter discussing which towns were least likely to get a BrewDog bar.

    “few of which anyone interested in beer will touch with a bargepole” – perhaps putting it a bit strongly. The main reason I don’t tend to go in my local GK pubs is that they’re all very foody, not that I actively dislike their beer.

    1. “I’d say the main factor holding back their bar expansion is that they’re looking for a specific demographic profile.”

      That’s exactly where a second-tier package offered through GK would work — in places where a full-blown property acquisition and refit would be too risky.

    1. Fixed. Seriously, about a third of the comments on this blog are from people picking up on errors in our numbering of lists.

  2. You’re quite kind about Allied’s roll-out of Firkin. The process was overcooked and the concept was over-ambitiously planted into towns that were just not suited, in the corporate drive for numbers. Rugby being a classic example (with no offence to its residents).
    I had imagined Brewdog cared too much about their brand integrity, but who knows. They are certainly not afraid of expansion.

  3. A ‘Strategic Partnership’ as you’ve suggested would have little or no drawbacks for either party – Brewdog sell more beer and increase their profile with little or no financial risk, but there could be a reputational risk if GK managed to devalue the brand, GK make more money from retailing more beer and gaining ‘cachet’ from the BrewDog association.

    I was running BrewDog I’d be looking more along the lines of franchising.

    1. ‘An elegant solution’ — I seem to remember those were the words used by Paul Wells in describing the ‘partnership’ between them and Young’s…

  4. I wonder what a second-tier concept would be like. Similar to a coffee shop concession in a larger store? Or like Apple franchises which don’t have all the trappings of the flagship stores?

    Obviously brewdog would be supplying their beer but I wonder if they would do staff training, as their staff are generally very good. That really would make a difference.

    1. Continuing the guesswork: BrewDog would write a manual and run initial mass training courses but there wouldn’t be the same ongoing development that their core staff get now. The second-rank non-Genius Apple stores are a good analogy.

      1. Brewdog beer being served greene king style.

        “I’ll have a Brixton porter please.”

        Short lad looks in confusion at the cask pumps. “Which ones that?”

        I point to keg pump at back. He starts to pour.

        “its very dark… is that ok?”

        Some other customer complained about the lack of Carling. He say “don’t blame me, I’m a rooftiler”.

        much preferable to the usual proselytising nonsense you get in bd bars.

  5. This is a very exciting prospect. I live in Biggleswade, a town that had a large brewery closed down by Greene King in the 90s and as such is dominated by Greene King pubs (much to my displeasure, although there are a couple of good free houses).
    However, one of these, which was once particularly down-at-heel, has now reopened promising a ‘craft’ offering.
    To date this has amounted to Greene King’s own take on the scene (poorly executed in my opinion), bottles of Punk IPA in the fridge, and (most excitingly) at least one cask Oakham on at any one time (along with a much wider range of non-Greene King cask beers).
    I would love to see them roll out a Brewdog-led keg offering to the provinces, and am hopeful that the New Inn is going to be part of it. With a Wetherspoons due to open soon that would leave this least-likely-to-have-a-Brewdog-bar town spoilt for choice!

  6. The interesting question, I think, is how protective Brewdog need to be of their craft-credibility in order to continue making money out of being the craft-credible brand that you can get in supermarkets. Their bottom line isn’t going to be hurt much by craft beer bars stocking something from Buxton or Weird Beard rather than Punk as their go-to IPA, but it might be if, say, Beavertown cans or Thornbridge bottles got into Tesco and seemed like a cooler or classier option compared to a brand that’s lost some of its cachet by association with Greene King and Spoons.

  7. GK are definitely trying to get into the craft space. Those 330ml bottles with the hand-drawn illustrations for labels are still in Tesco’s, but they’re pushing the Metropolitan range as well now – stylish-looking bottles, big M branding, Greene King in tiny little letters on the back.

    What’s weird is that they don’t seem to have worked out how to source the beer for a ‘craft’ range. As a family brewer you can either dig around in the old recipes and bring out something old and authentic-looking, a la Sheps & Bateman’s (and GK have got 5X right there…), or you can set up a ‘craft’ spinoff and let them do their own thing, a la Brain’s, Thwaites’ and Hyde’s. I tried the Metropolitan IPA – whose label says it’s “brewed with seven hops and dry-hopped for extra intensity” – and what they seem to have done there is put mediocre beer in a funky new bottle; it tasted like cold sweet tea. Also – and I really hate to say this – they’re selling it too cheap; even on a supermarket shelf, £1.25 for a 330ml bottle just looks wrong. (Although £1.80 for 500ml would look fine, weirdly enough.)

    So I think the only thing holding GK back from making BD an offer is the poor guy who said he’d “do the craft thing” in-house and is convinced he can make it work this time… OK, maybe next time…

  8. I like your thinking. When I spoke to some folk from Greene King at the Grain Store launch, they did suggest they had worked closely with BrewDog, and that BrewDog had been very supportive and helpful. You never know…

  9. Do brewdog have the spare capacity? The this is lager deal with spoons will have used up much of spare cap. If they do then wouldnt next logical step be to try for keg lines of punk in spoons? Now is bd sold up and new owners cared little for rep and wanted fast profit outsource production of basics like punk, saint and pony to gk or whoever and go for national takeover (gk chain of pubs might make nice start) keep high end and headline grabbing stuff in house to maintain reputation. Oh note to bd fanboys in the event of a buy out that share u bought is prob worth tenth of what bd got you to pay.

      1. Given that NZ’s Yeastie Boys plan to contract-brew *at* BrewDog starting this year I expect BD *must* have “spare capacity” 🙂

        Aren’t they doubling the floorspace at Ellon so they can whack in loads more FVs? (Or have they done this already?)

    1. Never had cask Punk, but cask Saint, cask Zeitgeist, cask Trashy and cask Edge were all rather wonderful IMO, especially the first two. I was quite a BD fan back then.

  10. “Greene King, meanwhile, have 1600 pubs up and down the country, few of which anyone interested in beer will touch with a bargepole.”

    seriously ?

    well then you wouldnt be interested that one of those 1600 pubs,the Bushell, in Bury St Edmunds no less,which has been selling a Greene King craft lite concept (inc lots of BrewDog) for at least the past year, is holding a special BrewDog beer sampling evening next week,with a selection of their beers,promised surprises & where you can even meet one of the BrewDog team…

      1. As I said on Twitter: BrewDog *is* already a “Greene King Brand” in these parts (Cambs/EastAnglia/etc).

        Where is the only place you’ll find Punk IPA? In a Greene King pub. Increasingly so – the BD list at the new Cambridge place is just the next step in what they’re already up to. This actually goes back a long way perhaps – I remember finding Trashy Blonde cask in a Greene King pub in Baldock a few years ago – on enquiring about it I was told it was from the GK guest selection at the time. (It was in shocking condition in a not very good pub.) At the time this got my hopes up that GK might be pulling in some more interesting guest beers… but it was clearly just a toe in the water and didn’t happen again.

        I believe, but am not 100% certain, that Greene King supply BrewDog to the “free trade” too now. Which is pretty much why almost none of the region’s craft-destination type pubs are ever found to have BrewDog in them. (Few want to deal with GK – although I do hear their keg/cellar/mainstream services/prices are very good & know a handful of “freehouses” who do use them, not craft-type places though who tend to go with Adnams.)

        The only other place you find BrewDog is ‘spoons.

        Oh, and Tesco. Pattern emerging?

        I don’t particularly see this as either a bad or a good thing. Certainly not lambasting BrewDog for choosing to do business with the sort of folks most able to shift the highest volume of their beer. They copped flack down in NZ for selling their beer via asshat multinats… some years ago. Nothing new here. BD is a company that’s clearly primarily about growth and with that in mind this course makes perfect sense (same with getting beer in ‘spoons). They’re getting interesting keg beers into the face of folk who’d normally never see the stuff… that is, perhaps, actually a good thing.

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