Scottish brewery BrewDog has just announced the second wave of its ‘Equity for Punks’ scheme which aims to find investors to fund further expansion of the company. In particular it wants to build a new eco-brewery in Aberdeen as well as several new BrewDog branded bars around the country.
A rapid beer success story, with distribution everywhere from supermarkets to Michelin starred restaurants their beers seem to be in high demand. BrewDog does however divide opinion almost as much as the subject of my previous post, the cask v keg debate.
Well known among beer enthusiasts and beyond for media coverage off the back of brewing some incredibly high strength beers such as Tokyo, Sink the Bismarck and The End of History (which at 18.2, 41 and 55% ABV respectively drew criticism from industry watchdogs and responsible drinking groups for being too strong and from aficionados for not actually being beer) I found that there are those who consider BrewDog’s success to be a case of style over substance and think they wouldn’t have got so far without these controversial headline grabbing beers.
Their unconventional approach to marketing is obviously a factor in their achievements, but image is only really enough to get someone to try your product once; it’s making great beer that keeps drinkers coming back for more and plenty of people are doing so. As well as the popularity measured by sales, a mixture of eavesdropping and upfront asking around turned up a fair number of BrewDog fans who rate them highly and consider their image and marketing simply to be a savvy way of promoting their product.
Few could dispute they have a strong brand. Although I’ve not visited their pubs, their beers are easy to spot on the supermarket and beer shop shelves. There’s no mistaking a BrewDog bottle. But look a little closer and you’ll spot a potential flaw in their marketing.
Their so-called punk philosophy means they don’t care who they offend – presumably in the manner of no publicity being bad publicity. But you’ve got to wonder if this attitude could turn around and bite them – because it wasn’t the divided opinion or the ridiculously strong ales that kept me away – it was their branding.
Like books and covers it may not be a completely reliable method to judge a beer by its label but the fact that I did meant the punk brewers had one less customer.
I was particularly offended by the name of one of their beers, ‘Trashy Blonde’, even though it is exactly the sort of beer I’d normally go for. More than once I picked one up, only to put it back down after reading the bottle. It made me too uncomfortable to buy it. Here’s what BrewDog put on their bottles that annoyed and offended me so much:
“A titillating, neurotic, peroxide, punk of a pale ale. Combining attitude, style, substance and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure; what would your mother say?
You really should just leave it alone…
…but you just can’t get the compulsive malt body and gorgeous dirty blonde colour out of your head. The seductive lure of the sassy passion fruit hop proves too much to resist. All that is even before we get onto the fact that there are no additives preservatives, pasteurization or strings attached.
All wrapped up with the customary BrewDog bite and imaginative twist. This trashy blonde is going to get you into a lot of trouble.”
What bothered me is that if someone is referred to as a blonde, said individual will invariably be a woman. Men aren’t usually spoken or written about in terms of their hair colour and whenever I’ve heard a ‘blonde joke’ it’s usually been about a woman. So to call the beer Trashy Blonde struck me as the sort of unpleasant gender stereotyping that makes me want to throw my beer in the author’s face.
Add to this the “titillating, neurotic … and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure,” and I had a nasty taste in my mouth that would take more than a few good beers to wash away. I’ll not launch into a full feminist critique here but suffice to say that even in the 21st century women are subjected to – and the subject of – far too much derogatory, degrading and violent treatment, behaviour and attitudes and anything that contributes to that ought to be considered unacceptable.
Apart from being offensive to women, BrewDog also like to insult their customers by suggesting via their bottle labels that they are too stupid or unsophisticated to appreciate the contents; and they like to slate what they consider to be lesser brewers (read: mass market) for producing bland, ‘lowest common denominator’ beers. While I might agree with the latter sentiment, I’m not sure how wise it is – in terms of brand – to specifically and directly condemn these products. Not least because of the potential for libel, but also in terms of persuading drinkers of such beers to try something else. Will they really be queuing up to try your beer if you’ve just told them their current choice is shit?
But I don’t mean to do a BrewDog on BrewDog and as such I have of course now actually tried some of their beers – including Trashy Blonde which I found overwhelmingly bitter and rather too gassy as opposed to titillating and neurotic – and yes I am glad I didn’t like it.
Punk IPA on the other hand was a good beer. I liked its powerful tropical fruit aroma, which carried through into the flavour. It was hoppy and bitter, but in a balanced way rather than assault of bitterness launched by the Trashy Blonde.
I also tried 5am Saint, which had an obvious blackcurrant aroma detectable even to the ‘untrained’ noses of my stepdaughters. Its creamy, bitter flavour came with a floral sweetness followed up by a medicine-like dry aftertaste; which sounds weird and horrible but worked for me. The testament of a good beer, I was sorry when I finished it and annoyed with myself for only buying one.
My verdict? They’re obviously capable of brewing some tasty beers but I’m still put off by their branding. In practice they’ll lose out on my custom if there’s an alternative beer available without a label that gets up my nose.
I wonder what sort of impact their brand will have on potential investors.