The Pros and Cons of the BrewDog Blueprint

BrewDog bar sign.

A challenge floated across our Twitter timeline today: can anyone really write objectively about BrewDog’s new ‘Blueprint’?

Well, we’re going to try.

The blueprint is a document which sets out their intentions for the next decade – a business plan, effectively, only simplified and given a heavy graphic treatment, as is de rigueur in the corporate world these days.

Before we get into dissecting what is there, let’s look at what isn’t: any evidence of contrition or regret for several years’ worth of clangers and crassness in the marketing. This is as close as it gets:

We have done some amazing things, we have taken some insane risks and we have always worn our heart on our sleeve. We know that we can always get better and we work towards that every second of every day.

There are people we respect who regard BrewDog as irredeemably homophobic, sexist and transphobic, and the Scottish Brewery has been given lots of chances to get this right but keeps failing. Nothing in this new manifesto suggests the management really understand those complaints, or that they intend to address them.

We think there’s a vague, implied desire to do better but until it’s been, say, a year without any spunking beer bottles or similar, who will be convinced by that?

Cask ale

After a couple of false dawns and sidequests BrewDog is going to start producing cask ale again. (Yes, cask is back from extinction for the second time this week.)

Pros: This sends a long overdue conciliatory signal; if cask is endangered and needs support, well, here it is; and DPC is a good beer, so if it ends up being an alternative to Doom Bar in mainstream pubs, that’s fine by us.

Cons: For breweries scraping by supplying the hoppy cask ale niche the re-entry into the market of a large, well-funded, commercially aggressive competitor is probably bad news.

Allsopp IPA

We’ve known about this for ages, and even suspected Martyn Cornell’s involvement based on whispers here and there, but this is the most detail we’ve had on the project. It sounds cool, and they’ll probably do a good job of it.

Pros: This is an important beer and being able to taste what we hope will be a serious recreation will be exciting.

Cons: Historical recreations aside, is this really the opposite of a trad brewers sneaky craft sub-brand? Will the packaging be sufficiently transparent that people buying it will know it’s from BrewDog?

Beer on TV

Beer Bucket List, in which Martin Dickie tours UK breweries, probably won’t be for us, but we can imagine it going over well with people a few notches less geeky than us. It’s simple, will be cheap and fast to produce, and sidesteps the issue that has scuppered successive attempts to produce The Great British Brew Off: beer is sloooooooow.

Pros: Beer on TV! And they’re using the opportunity to promote independent breweries, too.

Cons: But it’s also a big BrewDog advert, isn’t it?

Ethics

As a team that is 50 per cent accountant we very much approve of the commitment to shorter payment terms for small suppliers.

There’s also a pledge to reduce plastic packaging, and a fund for investing in smaller breweries with a mission to promote inclusiveness.

Pros: This goes beyond posturing – it’s concrete and practical.

Cons: But it’s kind of the bare minimum really, isn’t it, for a firm that’s trying to reaffirm its indie cred. And we reckon the plastic reduction is being driven by the supermarkets anyway.

Supporting local breweries

There is a commitment to having local guest lines in BrewDog bars – a smart move to counter the impression that it’s a rootless chain. (Which it is.) There are also pledges to collaborate with smaller breweries – an interesting list which might be said to represent the current indie top table.

Pros: They don’t have to do this and it is something we’ve suggested larger breweries ought to do more of.

Cons: Who can tell what’s sincere and what’s about brand building at this stage; and it’s nothing they can’t withdraw from at the drop of a hat.

Franchises

This is a weird one, and a bit of a surprise. We’ve wondered in the past whether there might not be more BrewDog branded bars not run directly but BrewDog but expected it to be via a bigger partner such as Greene King. Now, they’re offering Equity Punk shareholders chance to open BrewDog branded bars of their own, with training and support.

Pros: More BrewDog bars in small towns, which we guess is good news for small town BrewDog fans; and these bars will probably be smarter and better run than some indie craft bars outside big cities.

Cons: It’s yet more high street homogenisation.

* * *

Overall, this blueprint reinforces what we already thought: BrewDog is an important presence in British beer culture, and always worth watching, but it becomes less human with each passing year.

If they really want to shore up their craft credentials, which seems to be at least in part the intention, then they’ll need to be a bit more radical than this. And, dare we say, a touch more modest.

20 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of the BrewDog Blueprint”

    1. And they obviously can’t have been working that closely with Martyn Cornell if they think Allsopp’s was the first commercial IPA.

    2. There was a bit of chat but not much. Partly it’s that Twitter is becoming a ghost town, but also that the document is fairly clear and uncontroversial in its own right, so commentary (like ours…) is essentially superfluous.

  1. I didn’t think it too bad at all and I’m not their biggest fan, but of course it’s BrewDog so pick up a large pinch of salt. I think your commentary is fairly, er, fair.

    Allsopps IPA interests me, but I’m looking for and Ind Coope Burton Ale alike, so bound to be disappointed. Might go to their London piss up if I’m around.

  2. On the move towards franchising, I’ll admit surprise. Their Brussels bar (different contexts I know) was a relative failure as a franchise and they ended up taking it back in-house. Curious to see how much this will dilute the “brand”

  3. Isn’t the Beer Bucket List Mark Dredge’s latest book? Pretty shitty and shameless rip-off. (He’d be far better on TV too, more objective and it wouldn’t be a huge advert.)

  4. I followed this news less to see whether Brewdog are going to become my favourite brewery again, and more to see which ways some canny industry operators think the scene as a whole might be moving (and which ways they’re going to try to push it). From that point of view, I feel reasonably positive – I like that cask ale is a thing that they want to be involved with, and that freshness, coldchain distribution and historic British beer are things that they think it’s worth making a noise about.

  5. Can’t remember the last time I had a BrewDog beer, 2016 maybe, on my last jaunt home? Might have to see if I can find some relatively fresh Punk IPA for an Old Friends post on Fuggled. Shame they got rid of Rip Tide, that was a lovely beer.

  6. but you know (he said, sceptically) with the float slated for 2020, all this will be up to the institutional shareholders, will it not?

  7. The concession to cask is about as half-hearted as it could be. As I understand it, it’s just one beer, that has already featured in their cask-like Live! Range, available in their newly-acquired Draft House chain only. Whoop de fucking do.

    If they were actually serious about it, rather than bandwagon-jumping in the way they always do, they’d commit to putting a proportion of every single beer they brew into cask and let the drinkers make up their own minds…

    1. I’d argue the other way – it’s a sign of doing cask seriously that you keep the choice narrow. Then if it works and you get the volumes needed to maintain quality, then you can expand the range.

      But how many beers do they make that are actually suited to cask? That benefit from a bit of oxidation, that don’t have stupid ABVs? It’s a bit like complaining that Ferrari are half-hearted about the van market.

        1. Shorthand for “the complex biochemical changes that happen in beer that are different between conditioning in a keykeg and conditioning in something that’s been vented to the atmosphere where empty volume is replaced by air”.

          I was trying to use shorthand that would communicate that point more effectively. Oxygen is the big difference between cask and what Brewdog tried to do before with conditioning in keykegs (“LIVE beer”) which earned them a torrent of abuse for not being “proper” cask conditioning regardless of whether it might actually better suit their beers.

          1. It did not get them a torrent of abuse for not being “proper” cask conditioning. They got ridiculed for making out they’d invented putting beer in a keykeg, when other brewers had been doing it for ages.

        1. Seconded – Saint was an amazing cask beer, as was Zeitgeist. There was a time when I was genuinely puzzled by BD’s approach – if you can make such superb beers, why do you need the puerile in-your-face marketing? It rapidly became clear that the answer is (a) the marketing did what they wanted it to do and (b) superb beers? oh, those superb beers… still, never mind eh?

          It is interesting that they now think it’s worth keeping a toe in the cask ‘space’, but it is only a toe (DPC) and availability looks like being limited. It’s probably more a sign of the decline of cask than anything – would they be doing it if cask still had ‘mass market’ written all over it?

  8. All sounds great….but still no mention as to when equity punks can get a return on their investment.
    Will it ever get to trade on an open platform and offer some clear and concise share price or continue to elude the question as always?

    1. That was covered elsewhere yesterday (see The Scotsman). James said they are considering an IPO in 2020 – when presumably EFPs will be able to see their shares if they want to.

  9. I think it’s hard to be a seasoned observer of the beer scene and not be ambivalent about BrewDog. And that does tend to translate to being more than a little cynical about their marketing exploits. The big takeaway from me from the whole Scofflaw business was that virtually everybody thought it was exactly the sort of thing they would do, and remarkably few people were shocked in any way. Which is perhaps why the Blueprint is so important right now – all things that promote a more positive discussion of the company.

  10. Is there some kind of clickbait quiz somewhere that promises to guess your age based on answers to a series of questions about “Real Ale Myths”?

Comments are closed.