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JUNE 2014 COMMENT

‘We don’t give a s**t!’ 'About anything but sales, BrewDog?'

By Ben Bouckley+

05-Jun-2014
Last updated on 10-Jun-2014 at 15:17 GMT

Photo: Christopher Edvartsen/Flickr
Photo: Christopher Edvartsen/Flickr

Some brands, Scottish brewer BrewDog first among them, will leave no stone unturned in the quest for millennial notoriety, in their quest to convince their moms and consumers they 'don’t give a s**t'.

‘About what though?’ Ah, that’s a trenchant question. Anything but sales perhaps, since if you didn’t really give a s*** then you wouldn’t be shouting about it from the rooftops, would you?

‘On behalf of BrewDog PLC and its 14,691 individual shareholders, I would like to issue a formal apology to the Portman Group for not giving a shit about today’s ruling.’

That’s a BrewDog April 2014 blog post following the Portman Group said packaging for the Aberdeenshire-based brewer’s Dead Pony Club 3.8% ale, after the body objected to phrases including ‘Drink Fast, Live Fast’, which it said encouraged anti-social behavior and rapid drinking.

The ban seems fair enough to me, despite the fact that it's not the kind of brew that will attracted hardened alcoholics. Alcohol abuse costs Scotland £3.56bn ($5.97bn)/year and untold human misery. But BrewDog doesn't need to own anything but a selective social conscience, does it?

Brilliant burlesque send-up of Putin

Easier targets or social attitudes win you wider critical acclaim among your ‘punk’ fanbase about, notably Vladimir Putin, and I admit to enjoying BrewDog’s brilliant burlesque send up of everyone’s least favourite pop-eyed pugilist and botox bully…the injections smooth out those wrinkles, and a few national borders to boot.

And whatever its politics, BrewDog has keyed into the Caldedonian independence zeitgeist – I think it’s less easy to be an English rebel nowadays, incidentally, in the current political environment – successfully positioning itself as outré, rebel without a cause...

There is always a cause though, isn’t there, in business? And BrewDog’s is flogging beer. Perhaps I’m too old at 33, but I find the brewery as irritating as a hair shirt in a sauna, not that I’ve had the pleasure.

I dislike BrewDog’s selective ethics, their support for freedom of speech undercut by the close attention they clearly pay to micro-managing their message, the tiresome release of hot air that accompanies each attempt to paint themselves as outside an establishment they’re part of, like  some insufferable gang of spotty adolescents, only tolerated because they crack the occasional good joke.

Taking ethics alone, Putin was one thing. Their 2010 stuffing of animals with beer bottles (see photo below) quite another – a move condemned by Advocates for Animals but praised by the brewer (grooming its own pelt) as an “audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion”.

How old is Brewdog front man James Watt now? 32, mid-30s max? Most people manage to work through the adolescent rebellion phase by the age of 20, but he seems determined to cling on with all the attitude of some superannuated Scottish James Dean. 

Want an interview? Forget it!

Together with business partner Martin Dickie…they're the beer world’s answer to Beavis & Butthead. More intelligent though. Much more...

Then there’s the freedom of speech trumpet – one Brewdog is forever making itself apoplectically red-faced trying to blow. For a company that prides itself on its openness – and beer is inherently sociable, brewers tend to be affable people – BrewDog’s execs are hard to track, out of the media ken.

No doubt, for a company of BrewDog’s stature, a trade site like BeverageDaily.com doesn’t count, since it’s not a case here of press suspicion full stop. I mean, why speak to your peers when you can speakeasy with the establishment you claim to despise and cosy up to the English millennial middle class?

I allude, in this context, to interviews Watt has conducted with, for instance, The Sunday Telegraph, also known as ‘The Sunday Torygraph’ in the UK for its Conservative politics.

No offense there, I’m center right in my politics anyway, but it seems a strange sort of soap box for BrewDog to stand on, if indeed they are so (sharp intake of breath) subversive. But then they play the clean-faced iconoclast card very cleverly indeed in pursuit of sales and profit.

When the Portman Group news broke, I asked BrewDog PLC director James Watt (I’ll use his formal title here to annoy BrewDog) questions several times on Twitter.

Neither he nor BrewDog bothered responding. That’s strange for a supposedly media-savvy, plucky craft brand.

I’ve given up phoning the brewer – have tried to do since 2011 – as no-one is ever available to speak. Perhaps if I worked for The Mail or The Sun? “Tell ‘im to send an email” – I heard a dour voice say in the background when I rang a couple of years ago to request an interview. I never got one. 

A plucky underdog with $18m+ sales

Don’t take this for an uncalled for attack on a plucky underdog – in the past I’ve given big boys including Diageo some stick . Brewdog is already a sizeable business, the latest company accounts for 2012 show a turnover of £10.65m and pre-tax profits just shy of £500,000. No doubt the business is considerably larger now.

With greater size comes scrutiny, and this size in large part due to clever marketing – by positioning themselves as The Bad Religion of beer, the folks at Brewdog enjoin a lemming-like adoration from their followers.

Continuing the punk analogy, I have no problem if you like music, but you don’t have to swallow the musicians’ every opinion.

Similarly, it’s a shame you can’t enjoy BrewDog’s beer (it’s good) without having to listen to the strains of its Beavis & Butthead-inspired soundtrack.

Ben Bouckley is Editor of BeverageDaily.com

(Both inline photos, BrewDog.com)