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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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.