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Posted May 2020


BrewDog goes mainstream

Craft beer │Shock, horror. Scottish craft brewer BrewDog has gone for a rebrand that is so sensible and grown up that it would make the royal tree hugger Prince Charles proud. Is this the way of the world? That eventually all rebellious punks will take out their earrings, get a haircut and wear a tie to work?

It was only thirteen years ago that BrewDog’s founders James Watt and Martin Dickie, punch drunk with revolutionary zeal, made it their mission to bring craft beer to the people. Since then they have opened four breweries (Ellon, Columbus, Berlin, Brisbane), one distillery, 100+ bars and several hotels. They are “probably the best-known craft beer in the world” (to tweak Carlsberg’s famous slogan).

Following their recent rebrand (February 2020), Brewdog will go down in history as the brewery that, with bucket loads of attitude and a loud voice, dragged craft beer into the mainstream. Even its critics admit that, at some stage, a nonconformist brand needs to progress and step up to the next level. But did it really have to be quite as radical as to make the label look like a supermarket own brand?

Ah, BrewDog: didn’t you love Messrs Watt and Dickie (born 1982) for their outrageous publicity stunts, which courted controversy, outcry and consumer backlash? Never shy of infuriating some people, BrewDog picked fights to garner headlines. As in the old graffiti: “The name of the game is fame.” Unsurpassed, they proclaimed the craft beer revolution from the top of a tank driving through London (2011), projected the naked founders onto the Houses of Parliament (2012), and dropped stuffed “fat cats” on Wall Street from a helicopter (2018).

Unforgotten their “End of History” beer at 55 percent ABV (2010), which carried a GBP 500 price tag and came encased in taxidermy roadkill. Or their beer “My Name is Vladimir”, featuring Mr Putin’s visage in Andy Warhol’s pop-art style on the label, to mock his homophobic reign during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Inimitable their “Vote Sepp” beer (2014), which was meant to bribe FIFA’s notorious president Sepp Blatter to select Scotland as host for the 2022 soccer world championship.

You had to admire their guts for not only taking on the Establishment, above all the staid brewing industry and bankers, but also for deliberately inviting legal action. In 2016 they were sued by the Elvis Presley estate for calling a beer “Elvis Juice IPA” (they win). In 2018, they were dragged to court by a man for sex discrimination after a bartender had refused to sell him the “Pink IPA”, a beer designed for women, because of his gender (they lose).

They did not even stop short of “trolling” their own customers. In 2018, BrewDog were pulled into a Twitter storm when US craft brewer Scofflaw said it would give free beer to British backers of US President Donald Trump as part of its residency at BrewDog’s UK bars. Faced with howls of outrage, both brewers backed down, saying it was all a terrible misunderstanding and pinned the whole debacle on a rogue PR agency.

As long as anybody can remember, BrewDog have sought to attract the media’s attention at the risk of eliciting shitstorms all over the internet. While this perilous strategy has stirred a lot of critics, the loyalty of BrewDog’s customers towards “their” company kept growing. In May 2020, @Brewdog had 143,000 followers on Twitter, @BrewDogJames 65,000, their Facebook page had close to 390,000 “likes” and their Instagram account 324,000 fans.

In the light of the recent rebrand, which came with BrewDog embracing a more conservationist image, it would be easy to sneer at their past campaigns as hypocritical and boo them as sellouts. Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, BrewDog was set up as a beer business that was meant to take on the UK and later the rest of the world. To this end, they have cleverly exploited the world of fame (fans) and the woke world (craft brewing) to raise their market value.

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