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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 September 2018: Runcorn, Rochefort, Rules of the Tavern

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from PR disasters to art installations.

Last year Kirst Walk­er wrote up a pub crawl of Run­corn’s Vic­to­ri­an pubs with her trade­mark spark; this year, she notes plen­ty of changes, giv­ing the exer­cise a cer­tain aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est as well as pure enter­tain­ment val­ue:

Time for the Lion, where every­body knows your name! Last year’s win­ner was where we we would end the night once more. I didn’t dou­ble up last time but as we’d already had time bonus­es, sam­buc­ca, and sand­wich­es I threw cau­tion to the wind. Alan bought a round of pies like a freak­ing bil­lion­aire and we had a group de-brief with plans to repeat the oper­a­tion next year on the same week­end… The Lion has lost much of its orig­i­nal room lay­out since it was refur­bished and part of it con­vert­ed into hous­es, but it’s still the type of tra­di­tion­al cor­ner pub which is a hub for the com­mu­ni­ty, and in my opin­ion it as bet­ter to try and save the pub than keep the entire sprawl­ing space.


Price list in a pub.

We tend to ignore click­baity brouha­has over indi­vid­ual expen­sive pints these days but Mar­tin Stew­ard at Pur­suit of Abbey­ness has wait­ed for the dust to set­tle before reflect­ing on one such recent inci­dent, pro­duc­ing a slow-cooked opin­ion rather than a flash-fried ‘hot take’:

The most remark­able thing about the price of Ale­smith Speed­way Stout Hawai­ian is not that it is five-times high­er than the price of Rochefort 10, but that it is three-times high­er than Alesmith’s ordi­nary Speed­way Stout… That pre­mi­um buys you some toast­ed coconut flakes, some vanil­la and some rare Hawai­ian Ka’u cof­fee beans, which are indeed three-times more expen­sive than your bog-stan­dard joe… If you can taste the dif­fer­ence after those beans have had beer fer­ment­ing on them, I com­ple­ment you on your sen­si­tive palate. If you think it jus­ti­fies a 200% pre­mi­um, I have a bridge to sell you.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 29 Sep­tem­ber 2018: Run­corn, Rochefort, Rules of the Tav­ern”

Stella, Doom, Punk

A dog.

We had one of those moments this week that shines a light on the health of a brand: we saw BrewDog on the beer list at a new local cafe and thought, “Oh, it’s not really a beer place, then.”

It’s not as if we think Brew­Dog’s beer is bad. We spent a hap­py hour at its Bris­tol bar on Sun­day and prob­a­bly have a more pos­i­tive view of Punk IPA than many of our peers. (It ain’t wot it used to be, and so on.)

It’s a sign that Brew­Dog beers have become one of the go-to cash-and-car­ry prod­ucts along with Stel­la Artois and Doom Bar, which changes their sta­tus in the mar­ket­place. (Here’s Pete Brown on Stel­la.) It is no longer a treat, no longer wor­thy of an appre­cia­tive “Ooh!”.

You might say this start­ed years ago when they first turned up in super­mar­kets, or in Greene King and Wether­spoon pubs, and that’s prob­a­bly true.

And we’re not com­plain­ing, real­ly. After all this was the dream a decade ago – a sup­ply of strong, bit­ter, furi­ous­ly hop­py IPA on every street cor­ner.

It’s just inter­est­ing to us that where­as once the pres­ence of Brew­Dog on the menu indi­cat­ed a beer geek work­ing some­where behind the scenes, it now means no such thing.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from ongoing developments in the discussion around sexist beer branding to the ever-expanding BrewDog empire.

Katie Tay­lor has an inter­est­ing run-down on Moor­house­’s rebrand­ing exer­cise. Pack­ag­ing re-designs are usu­al­ly among the world’s most bor­ing top­ics but this case sees a long­stand­ing prob­lem solved as poor­ly ren­dered ‘sexy’ witch­es in flim­sy frocks are out, replaced by more abstract, mod­ern designs that come with an unam­bigu­ous state­ment of intent:

When I joined, Moor­house­’s was a strong brand, tied into the prove­nance of the local area,” said Lee [Miller] when I met with him a cou­ple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our brand­ing was inde­fen­si­ble and real­ly could have hap­pened soon­er. What I want­ed to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I want­ed Moor­house­’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”

But the stuff about the tem­per­ance influ­ence on their new range of beers is almost as inter­est­ing.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Return­ing to his favourite top­ic Roel Mul­der gives us‘Eight Myths About Lam­bic Debunked’, with plen­ty of reas­sur­ing ref­er­ences.

Quite a lot is made of the fact that lam­bic is made out of wheat, today usu­al­ly 30% to 40%. In the 19th cen­tu­ry, that was even more: a 1829 recipe spec­i­fies no less than 58% raw wheat.[15]How­ev­er, at that time all-bar­ley beers were only just start­ing to gain pop­u­lar­i­ty in Bel­gium. In fact, at the start lam­bic was quite mod­ern for not hav­ing any oats, spelt or buck­wheat in it.… only in the 20th cen­tu­ry did it become spe­cial for not being an all-bar­ley beer.

A reminder, this, that snap­py sto­ries and sim­ple expla­na­tions in beer his­to­ry are usu­al­ly the work of sto­ry­tellers and mar­ket­ing peo­ple; the truth is almost always more com­pli­cat­ed and, frankly, less fun.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mel­low­ness”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, covering everything from Pink IPA to Gothenburgs.

First, a blast of pure rav­ing enthu­si­asm to cheer every­one up as Steve The Pour Fool Body wax­es lyri­cal about the “new rock-star flower-bomb” hop vari­ety that “makes your beer taste like Lemon­Heads can­dy”. It sounds good; we want to try it.


Illustration: "No! Bad dog."

Now on to the prob­lem sto­ry of the week, Brew­Dog’s Pink IPA. We con­sid­ered pro­vid­ing a round-up of all the ‘hot takes’ but decid­ed instead to point to one real­ly sub­stan­tial, thought­ful post by Oli (@CraftBeerCommie) guest post­ing at Craft Queer. It express­es a counter view to ours (“the idea itself doesn’t seem so dread­ful even if the exe­cu­tion is ter­ri­bly clum­sy”) and puts this spe­cif­ic inci­dent into a broad­er con­text of Brew­Dog’s behav­iour over the years:

Brew­dog as a com­pa­ny has a long his­to­ry of mis­un­der­stand­ing (some might be so bold as to say abus­ing) social com­men­tary as a mar­ket­ing tool.… [In] the com­pa­ny’s ear­li­er years, the bad humoured, unapolo­get­i­cal­ly offen­sive tone and actions of the com­pa­ny’s founder-own­ers was able to shel­ter beneath the veil of an appro­pri­at­ed rev­o­lu­tion­ary lan­guage and DIY punk ide­ol­o­gy.… After this, how­ev­er, it seems that, as with so many oth­er com­pa­nies, Brew­dog inten­tion­al­ly courts con­tro­ver­sy as a means of mar­ket­ing itself. The search for an ini­tial, per­haps viral reac­tion of offence before the sec­ondary “A‑ha! Here’s the punch­line” is yet again deliv­ered in a man­ner that relies as much on cus­tomer enrage­ment as it does engage­ment.

For more on this sub­ject check out Alco­hol by Vol­ume where the opin­ions of women in and adja­cent to the beer indus­try have been col­lat­ed.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 10 March 2018: Lemon­drop, Brew­dog, Hard­knott”