Exclusive Interview: BrewDog Aberdeen opens its jaws

By Claire Dodd Claire

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beers Brewdog Beer James watt

Licensing laws. They can really be a total kill-joy can't they? All you want to do is offer customers who tattoo your brand logo on their body free...

Licensing laws. They can really be a total kill-joy can't they? All you want to do is offer customers who tattoo your brand logo on their body free beer for life in exchange, and suddenly the fun police wade in to stop the party.

But BrewDog is used to controversy. Some would say the company thrives on it. And so from the creative brains that brought you the world's strongest and most expensive beer, The End of History, which came encased in stuffed squirrels and stoats and cost a mere £500 per bottle, comes Aberdeen's latest nightspot.

The tattoo opening celebrations were, alas, not to be. But perhaps that's a fortunate thing.

BrewDog's first pub, simply called Brewdog Aberdeen, has what managing director James Watt describes as the "the look and feel of a utilitarian warehouse". It has been kitted out with cheap furniture from Ebay and from local papers' second-hand sections to "poke fun at buyers who have million pound budgets and then still sell the same generic beers afterwards".

The thought of an old dear walking past the bar and spotting Dotty's old armchair among the "borderline alcoholics with commitment issues" that James describes as his target customer, is undoubtedly amusing.

But there is a serious point that the brewers, for all their marketing immodesty and authority goading, don't want to get lost.

Nothing else like it

BrewDog has opened this bar because there is nothing else like it, not only in its corner of Scotland, but in the UK.

"We want the bar to be a beacon for artisanal beer in the craft beer desert of the North East of Scotland," says James.

"It's a focal point for the craft beer resistance in our struggle with the industrial beer bourgeoisie.

"When we set up the business in 2007 we couldn't find any beers we liked in the UK so we decided the best thing was to make our own. But we couldn't find enough bars locally to sell them so we decided to start our own.

"It is a completely different model than anyone else is doing in the UK pub business at the moment - to be completely and categorically focused on amazing beers, and keg beers as well. Hopefully we're going to make a bit of an impact. There's no-one with the selection of beers we have."

To that end the bar has 12 draught lines which will serve mostly BrewDog beers. But there will be guests. And the bottled range includes iconic craft beers from around the world such as Stone and AleSmith from San Diego, Three Floyds from Indiana, Denmark's Mikkeller, Struise and De Dolle from Belgium and Nøgne Ø from Norway. The bar won't offer food, just snacks, and the venue will be used for regular tastings with brewers from around the world.

"We want to educate people and show them there is an alternative to mass market beers. For us craft beer in undeniably the future of the beer market," says James.

BrewDog will be in the unique position that most of its customers will not have tasted most beers on offer. Staff passion is essential so each team member will complete an induction which will include a few weeks spent brewing with the team.

Plans for expansion

And though the Aberdeen site has been open merely weeks, BrewDog is about to sign on the line for another venue in Scotland by the end of the year. The plan is to have four sites open by the end of 2011, including one in Northern England.

If the team are worried about opening the sites amid a turbulent market where even long established licensees and big brands with solid financial backing are struggling, they're not showing it. Indeed, the misfortunes of other operators have played their own part in the company realising its dream.

The freehold of the Aberdeen bar, which was formerly a Belhaven site that had been closed for two and a half years, was bought for just £130,000. As BrewDog's attitude to beer was a wake-up call to a beer market that was stagnant, old-fashioned and just plain dull, so its bar is an opportunity to show the trade what bars could be.

"The pub industry is going through such a tough time, and they're still so blinkered. They're still going down the path of selling just generic industrial beers," says James. "If they just opened their eyes a little bit… I mean a pub is something that sells beer, so they should pay a bit more attention to the beers that they sell.

"We're not worried. We have complete faith in our vision. We're not trying to please everyone. We're doing what we love and what we're passionate about. We want to share our passion for great beers with as many people are we can."

And the way to do that is through keg beer, the BrewDog team believes.

"I think we're unique in Europe in that we're a beer bar that doesn't do any cask ales at all, it's only keg," says James.

"We think keg beers could be the future of craft beers in the UK. We see cask as being more sleepy, stuffy, traditional and it just has this kind of stigma attached to it which isn't going to get young people excited.

"It's all CAMRA, beards, sandals, beer bellies, hanging out at train stations at the weekend. We want to get away from that."

Aside from its image, James says keg dispense suits the beers better, giving carbonisation and a slight kick to the beer which he says is more accessible to novices.

Going against the grain

BrewDog has made going against the grain a company policy. And so far, it has worked. The brewer now produces over 500,000 bottles per month and has experienced growth of over 250 per cent this year alone, having secured listings in major supermarkets, the most recent of which is Morrisons.

Planning is under way for a new brewery, which will take brewing capacity to 10 million bottles a month. Though this is something James is keen to point out they will grow into when it opens in two years' time, it shows they continue to think big and for the long term.

"Things have been moving so fast for us that we don't have the chance to step back and see where we've got in this amount of time," says James. "We're now in 22 export markets, nationwide in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Oddbins.

"But we're very much at the start of what we want to achieve so we don't take any comfort in what we've done so far, because there's just so much more we want to do with the business."

Massive growth is definitely part of the plan. But what about keeping it punk?

"For me it's not about what size we are it is about how we do things," explains James. "So I'm not concerned about how big the company gets. I think we can be a Goliath. But the key is to act and think like David."

Our favourite BrewDog moments

  • April 2007 - James Watt and Martin Dickie found BrewDog in Fraserburgh, Scotland, and start the fight against industrially-brewed lagers and stuffy ales. Both are aged just 24.
  • June 2008 - Tokyo, BrewDog's strongest beer to date at 12 per cent ABV, is released.
  • July 2008 - The Portman Group takes issue with BrewDog's labelling. In response to allegations that labels on beers such as Punk IPA could be associated with anti-social behaviour for describing it as a 'aggressive beer', BrewDog issues the following retort: "If I wanted to encourage anti-social behaviour my labels would state:

Step 1: Drink bottle of Punk IPA.

Step 2: Blow up a goose with a foot-pump and use it as a harmonica to play various Celine Dion hits.

Step 3: Hit any small children with a German-sounding name (e.g. Andreas) over the head with a peppered sausage."

  • February 2010 - BrewDog reclaims world's strongest beer title with 41 per cent IPA Sink the Bismarck, after German brewer Schorschbräu snatched it with 40 per cent lager Schorschbock.
  • October 2010 - BrewDog's first bar opens. For its Hallowe'en party, guests dress as BrewDog brands such as Punks, Trashy Blondes and even Penguins.

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