Craft beer company BrewDog has never had difficulty making headlines: from the ill-fated porn-themed campaign used to promote its TV network to the clever use of its venues as hot-desking spaces, the business has built a name for itself through its off-the-wall ideas. Millie Milliken sat down with co-founder James Watt to discuss the projects pushing the company forward
James Watt talks at breakneck speed. I’m meeting him in a BrewDog’s east London HQ, where an early arrival gives me time to observe the team in their natural environment. Chipboard tiered seating, casual meeting booths and a whiteboard depicting the outline of, no doubt, a future brew. And a life-size polar bear.
Watt’s velocity is unsurprising – BrewDog has been busy of late. I’m here to talk about the announcement of their Equity for Punks 6 initiative, which will see one investor win a £1m share in the company. But on my way to meet him, news breaks of their new Boilermaker series. ‘We’re working with Compass Box, Duncan Taylor and Zuidam and have made whiskies designed to match our beers – [specifically] Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club, Jet Black Heart Stout and Zombie Cake Porter.' The series will be part of BrewDog Distilling Company, a rebrand of the company’s LoneWolf distillery in an effort to bring everything under the one brand.
Back on track, James explains the thought process behind BrewDog's latest equity stint. They first offered their followers a chance to invest in the company back in 2010, but this is the first time they’ve offered a share prize (to the tune of £1m). ‘It’s been really fun and exciting. We have always been about democratising the business and by offering someone shares, we get a chance to thank our community.’
The winner will be announced live, on stage, at next year’s Punk annual general meeting (AGM), with the winner being picked at random in front of 140,000 people (incidentally, the AGM is the largest in the UK).That lucky winner will be reaping the benefits of some of BrewDog’s latest initiatives, all of which James confidently says are ‘going well’, nodding and bobbing back and forth restlessly in his chair.
Overworks, BrewDog's sour beer brewery which opened last year, might be the company's bravest step – at least in terms of the liquid it's creating. ‘It certainly opened us up to a new market,' says Watt, although he agrees with me that there is still a lot to be done to turn a typical customer onto sour beer. He’s particularly excited about the next release, hot on the heels of the latest Cosmic Crush Peach: ‘Make sure you try our new Hocus Pocus Sour that we’re releasing in May. It’s a chocolate and raspberry sour – it’s absolutely delicious.’
Perhaps customers at the new Hamburg Punk Bar will be some of the first to try it: ‘We get the keys on 1 May. It’s a perfect location for us and is housed in an old gasworks building. We’re really excited about this one.’ By the end of the year BrewDog will have 100 bars in total – a respectable number considering the current state of the hospitality sector.
And it’s not just bars that Watt and business partner Martin Dickie are opening. After the success of Doghouse, BrewDog’s – and the world’s – first craft beer hotel, in Ohio (‘We originally budgeted for it based on a 55% success rate in its first year – it’s nearly at full capacity all the time), they’ve set their sights closer to home. ‘We’re looking in London at the moment and hoping [in the midst of Brexit] that it will run smoothly.’ What’s the key to its success? ‘It’s a cool, experiential product that you can’t get anywhere else… We’ve even had weddings of BrewDog fans in there [Doghouse, Ohio].’