How the BrewDog empire was crafted

Want to become a global lifestyle brand in just under a decade? Take note from the Scottish kings of craft. 

BrewDog Punk IPA
Punk IPA, the UK’s best selling craft beer

Lots of businesses aspire to be lifestyle brands. Their goal is to claim a greater share of consumers’ time by becoming relevant to more aspects of their lives. Some try and many fail, but if you fancy a blueprint for success it might be worth taking notes from BrewDog.

In the space of 12 years the Scottish brewer has gone from craft beer upstarts to global mega brand through a carefully coordinated campaign of expansion, product innovation, content marketing and collaboration – all deliberately built on a punk sensibility.

Described as a ‘post-modern classic’, the brewer’s flagship Punk IPA is now the best selling craft beer in the UK. Worldwide the company currently employs 1,000 people across 70 bars and is on track to go public in 2020.

Yet despite the hotels, gin brands and TV channel, co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie are clear that BrewDog still has plenty of room to grow. In October the brewer published its BrewDog Blueprint for the future, in which Watt and Dickie claimed that while BrewDog is no longer a small company, it is “still absolutely inconsequential in a beer industry dominated by behemoths”.

The vision expressed in the manifesto is to prove craft beer can be a “force for good” and create a new type of independent-minded business that is in part community-owned and “radically transparent”.

Central to this push for transparency was the decision to open up the business through the Equity for Punks share scheme, which has created a grassroots community who care about the future of the brand, while also enabling the business to fund its expansion without the need for a cash injection from a faceless private equity fund. 

Describing the Equity Punks as its ‘beer crusaders’, BrewDog has managed to recruit close to 100,000 of these shareholders through the crowdfunding scheme and recently entered its sixth funding round in nine years. If the brewer hits its target it will have raised a total of £74m to date. 

BrewDog is also keen to amplify its purpose that beer can be a force for good by offering an annual £200,000 investment, or interest-free loan, to help a small craft brewery get off the ground. The money is intended to help the chosen brewer to showcase its beer, source ingredients and connect with BrewDog’s international sales network.

The latest recipient is Dope & Dank, a US duo on a mission to bring craft beer to a more diverse audience. The investment will be used to help the brand open its first brewpub in LA, as well as introduce their beers to the US and UK markets.

BrewDog Angel
BrewDog bar in Angel, London

Aside from building a vibrant community of followers and fans, the company has been shrewd when it comes to owning its supply chain. BrewDog now owns breweries in Scotland, Columbus Ohio, Berlin and is currently constructing sites in Brisbane, Australia and China.

The brewer has also had an eye on evolving in line with consumer trends, expanding its product range with low alcohol variants like Nanny State, creating a gluten free alternative with Vagabond and moving into spirits through the launch of its Lone Wolf vodka and gin brands.

BrewDog has even created its own beer to celebrate British Airways’ centenary. Specially brewed to reduce the taste and smell sensitivity common at high altitudes, the Speedbird 100 Transatlantic IPA is now being sold on all BA long and short haul flights.

And if operating bars, running hotels and launching special airplane beers was not enough, BrewDog’s move into content got very serious in August 2018 with the unveiling of subscription TV channel, the BrewDog Network. The TV channel, which already has 5,000 paying subscribers, was renamed in November to Drink TV to reflect the wide scope of the content.

Serving up shows on craft beer, artisan spirits, travel and food, the latest programme – Beer Geek Bucket List – will feature 10 episodes showcasing the best craft brewers across the UK.

Then in February BrewDog’s next – and perhaps most audacious – move was to offer its beer fanatics the “ultimate immersive experience” by chartering a flight to take a select number of paying Equity Punks on a round-trip between London and Columbus.

The specially trained flight crew offered passengers a beer tasting in mid-air, while they enjoyed a dedicated pairing menu and were given branded goodie bags complete with BrewDog eye masks and blankets. The package included a tour of BrewDog’s brewery, a visit to the brewer’s DogHouse Hotel in Columbus and a visit to BrewDog’s beer museum.

Based on all this evidence, it’s fair to say BrewDog is a lifestyle brand in the truest sense of the word. It has managed to carve out a place in the hearts of its fans that is so important to them they would invest in it, pay over £1,000 to fly with it, drink in its bars, sleep in its hotels and watch its TV channel.

The way the brand has built up this level of devotion in just over a decade is formidable and comes down to the fact that fans buy into BrewDog’s punk vision so completely that they want to make it a part of their daily lives. Other brands take note. 

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