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.