Brewdog: Growing up gracefully

Has Brewdog come of age? The Aberdeenshire brewer founded in 2007 has consistently put industry noses out of joint with stunts which it insists represent a refusal to play by the traditional rules of beer marketing – while generating great publicity both for itself and the craft brewing scene as a whole.

Over the past 13 years its founders have sold beer bottles bound inside taxidermy road kill, produced a Viagra beer called Arise Prince Willy to mark the wedding of the second in line to the throne, and donned a panto horse costume to prance around in their local swimming pool to spoof the famous Guinness Surfer ad while plugging their own stout.

So prolific has been their output that it wouldn’t be difficult to produce a dozen such lists of examples if space allowed.

But recently the PR machine has been on a more mature setting, first with plans to plant a 2,000- acre forest to become “carbon negative” and then by teaming up with artists of colour to create can designs for a brew to drive awareness of racial equality, marketed in collaboration with its LAbased producer Crown & Hops.

It’s not the first time that Brewdog has tackled big issues of the day. For the 2014 Winter Olympics, it produced a beer called Hello, My Name is Vladimir in protest at anti-gay laws in host nation Russia.

But the sometimes clumsy nature of its stunts has occasionally seen its well-meant intentions backfire.

A pink version of Punk IPA ahead of International Women’s Day in 2018, publicised as a “beer for girls” and sold for 20% cheaper than its parent brand in an attempt to highlight the gender pay gap, resulted in a widespread social media backlash from critics who felt it sent out the wrong message – or at least failed to convey the right message in an appropriate way.

The latest attempts to confront major issues take a much more direct approach and are more coherent in delivering their message as a result.

The artists commissioned for the designs for the Crown & Hops 8 Trill Pils beer are Kingsley Nebechi,

Upendo and Baketown, and its campaign is fuelled by serious academia: the name comes from a WK Kellogg Foundation study that suggests the US economy could make a US$8 trillion GDP gain by closing the racial equity gap by 2050.

The launch comes with the setting up of a $100,000 development fund to establish and support black-owned breweries, and the breweries worked with the Kellogg Foundation to identify ways to make a useful contribution.

The plans for Brewdog Forest will see the Scottish brewer invest £30 million in green infrastructure projects, including the planting of over a million trees in the Scottish Highlands.

Its enlisted Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting, a leading academic and expert on carbon footprinting, to develop its plans which it says will see it remove twice as much carbon from  the air as it emits.

Berners-Lee says Brewdog was “giving some of the leadership the world so badly needs” by “raising the bar for the business world, both in their strong carbon-cutting action and their straight talking”.

Brewdog co-founder James Watt talks with the tone of big corporation diplomacy when he says “huge change is needed right now, and we want to be a catalyst for that change in our industry and beyond”, before showing that some of the old no-nonsense spark prevails by adding: “There has been too much bullshit for too long. Governments have proved completely inept in the face of this crisis.”

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