Brewdog has lost its bite

12 November, 2010

You’ve got to love Brewdog. I can’t think of any other brewery anywhere else in the world that has the sheer chutzpah of these guys.

On the one hand, everyone loves its beer – it is essentially making US craft beer in a remote Scottish brewery. On the other, people seem to have had enough of its marketing schtick – the maxim there’s no such thing as bad publicity seems tailor-made to its approach.

The incredible thing is, although every­one admits they are tired of Brewdog’s self-publicity, they keep buying its beers. That’s quite an achievement for “the dandy brewpunks of Fraserburgh”.

About a year ago, I started dealing directly with Brewdog. This involved a lot of hard work, getting half-pallet deliveries to the shop, handballing them in, and then handballing them back out again to other local businesses who wanted to stock the beers.

I did that because I believed in what Brewdog was doing. At that time, I think the only supermarket it was listed with was Tesco, and people were asking for the beers all the time. We’re a specialist beer shop, and so we like to respond to customer requests – hence the half-pallet starter packs.

A year later we have managed to pass Brewdog’s beers over to our sibling wholesale company, Beer Paradise. Business with its beers is good, both for the core range and the numerous specials.

But something odd has happened of late. Everyone I speak to in the trade seems to be dealing directly with Brewdog and doing a bit of wholesaling.

Add to this its listings in three of the major UK supermarkets, and you begin to appreciate the scale of what it’s achieved since its inception in 2007.

All this success seems to go against the grain of its “smash the system” attitude – maybe it’s trying to smash it from within? If so, that might explain its latest escapade – selling its beer for own-label rebadging.

Tesco Finest American Double IPA is a rebrand of Brewdog’s Hardcore IPA. Despite having a decent set of critical faculties, I still can’t tell if this is the ultimate sell-out for “craft” beer, or a staggeringly audacious attempt to bring great beer to the mass market.

There was a bit of a discussion about this point on Twitter a few weeks ago (see box, left, for details). The starting point is that once its beers are listed with a supermarket, the pretence of being revolutionary is lost.

In beer retailing terms, it is the equivalent of the line variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, and others: “We have established what you are, madam. We are now merely haggling over the price.”?

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