This Scumbag

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Musician, engineer/producer and former employee at Beer Ritz in Leeds. Enthusiast of extreme metal and beer, which happily go extremely well together. Follow @BenCorkhill

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The BrewDog Saga: Is Punk Dead?

Tip of the Tongue

You are not worthy.
For a while now, everyone has been talking about BrewDog. The self-proclaimed Beer Punks have certainly caused quite a stir in the industry since their arrival a few years back, as we all know. Inevitably, as any well managed business should, they have grown year upon year and is now a household name in craft brewing across the world. But have they stuck to their controversial ideologies right the way through? Is there such thing as punk beer? Let's look at the obvious aspects of BrewDog. For a start, they do make some incredible beers, and also some not-so-incredible beers (but good ones nonetheless). They have received several awards, their beers are consumed internationally and they have created the strongest beer in the world not once, but three times. That's a pretty impressive track record for just four years of brewing. Whether or not the amount of hype around these guys is a product of their superior beers or their in-your-face, arrogant marketing techniques is a matter of some debate, but for now let's just agree that they do produce good stuff.
Tesco Finest American Double IPA

Declaring war on mass produced lager was pretty punk. Bottling beer inside stuffed animals was pretty punk. Using adjectives like 'explicit' and 'iconoclastic' in beer descriptions is pretty punk, I suppose. But - and sorry if I'm getting a little deep here - is describing yourself as 'punk', punk? Surely the entire concept of being punk is not to label yourself as anything, but allow others to label you according to what their rigid rules of society deem you to be… Yeah I guess that was a little deep, but hopefully it made sense. My point is, do you consider their ideology to be genuine or just a clever and exciting marketing ploy? 

Money Talks (and drinks)

Then there's the business side of their operation. Fair play to them, they've come a hell of a long way and done great things while maintaining their high standards of beer quality, but is producing a beer for sale as a Tesco home brand punk? The positive aspect of this is that it's probably introducing a lot of people to a great craft beer without them realising it; the negative is that it somewhat undermines their anti-establishment stance so carefully nurtured since their inception. Their latest venture, selling shares of the company, is one that has raised a lot of discussion. Most people I've spoken to about it have thought it was a great idea - to be honest I think I'd get involved if I had the money - but it's the phrase 'Equity for Punks' that makes me a take the kind of inward breath a mechanic would if your car was slightly damaged. The word 'equity' itself conjures images of being sat facing a financial adviser, nodding obliviously and giving the occasional "mmm…" as if you know what the fuck he's on about. As I say, I think it's a good idea with advantages for both the brewery and its customers/stakeholders, but you can't just sugarcoat what is blatantly a capitalist venture by sticking the word 'punk' next to it. Nor does hiring several models to dress like Nancy Spungen's nightmare and pose in London hide the fact that BrewDog is at the top of its game financially. Sooner or later, the ugly truth has to be faced that this brewery is getting bigger and bigger, and its reputation as an angst-fuelled anarchy machine is being somewhat eclipsed by a giant pound sign. James Watt described Equity for Punks as "punk rock to the banks' Celine Dion", but I can't help but think the guys are leaning more towards the comparison of Green Day to craft brewing's Sex Pistols…

I imagine this post will spark a bit of reaction, but I'm not slamming BrewDog at all. Aside from probably not being as in-the-know about them as many of you are, I think their beers are good, I hope they continue to do well and raise the profile of craft beer; but the question has to be asked whether they can convincingly keep up the anti-everything sentiment while conveniently using the tools of capitalism to do so. Perhaps it'll be up to us to decide for ourselves.


  1. Make a good point here how they are using a 'punk' image as a branding technique but i don't believe they are quite that bad yet. So long as they keep to original plans and don't exploit share holders and keep the great beers coming i'm not going to complain too much.

  2. They're still sticking two fingers up to the big brewers the "establishment". Even more so by being stocked in Tesco because they're going to get people off of the mainstream stuff. A lot of punk bands were on major labels but it didn't mean their ideas were any less punk. Its the age old paradox of sacrificing anticapitalist ideas in return for greater spread of your message. Some people might call it selling out, but not me.

  3. As I said in the blog Steve, the Tesco scenario definitely has its advantages and you're right about the major labels thing; I guess I'm just wondering how long can a certain attitude be employed as a marketing technique for what is ultimately an opposite outcome? Its less to do with BrewDog's beers, more to do with ideologies etc. Perhaps I've been reading 'Man Walks Into a Pub' too much!