Speaking at a Q&A session at the brewery’s headquarters in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, James Watt and Martin Dickie expressed disappointment at the negative public reaction to the beer – designed to highlight issues around the gender pay gap - but admitted the campaign “kind of fell down” due to the way it was perceived by drinkers online.
“I think unfortunately people just saw the top line and didn't get the nuance or the sarcasm, which meant the whole campaign kind of fell down, and there was a bit of a backlash,” Watt said.
“In hindsight, would we have done it differently? Probably. Would we have had the same intentions? All day long. Trying to draw attention in an innovative way to an issue that we are very passionate about was absolutely the right thing to do, but our issue was that we put too much faith in people's ability to get the sarcastic nature of it.”
Dickie compared the Pink IPA to the Scottish brewery’s ‘Hello, My Name is Vladimir’ stunt – aimed at satirising Russia’s banning of ‘homosexual propaganda’ in 2014, but agreed that the ‘beer for girls’ slogan may have contributed to the public reaction to the release.
“It was done in a very similar way to the Vladimir one,” he said. “But when you look at it now and compare the bottles side-by-side the 'beer for girls' was perhaps a bit more subtle and that is maybe where the concept was lost in translation.”
Watt added: “It's maybe where it got lost, but it is also maybe why it meant that so many more people were speaking about the gender pay gap because of what we did. Love it or hate it, it got many more people aware of and speaking about the gender pay cap, which was kind of the point.”
Draft House plans unveiled
Watt and Dickie also revealed further details for the brewery’s plans for its new Draft House estate of pubs, purchased last month for £15m. BrewDog intends to remove any beers that do not meet The US Brewers Association criteria of craft (less than 25% owned by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer), and remains committed to keeping cask lines in the sites.
“They [the non-independent beer brands] will not be there for long,” Watt said. “The only ties we have are some of the Heineken ones, and that is just in one location. The rest of the sites are free of tie.
As a company we always want to support independent craft, so part of our stocking criteria going forward will be, does it meet the BA definition of independent craft? We are working towards that [removing beers that do not meet those requirements] now.”
“The cask lines will stay,” he continued. “We think the Draft House sites serve a different purpose [to other BrewDog venues]. Draft House is an amazing modern take on a classic British pub with fantastic beer, and if you think classic British you think cask ale, so we see that as a key part of the operation.”
BrewDog intends to put no more than two of its own beers on draught in its Draft House sites, and the brewery has confirmed all employees will receive the living wage, as is the case for all current BrewDog bar staff.
“We want to help the range, and showcase some of our favourite beers, but we don't want to turn Draft House into satellite BrewDog bars,” Watt said. “That’s not why we bought the brand. We want to focus on our favourite UK-based independent beers and showcase that in the best possible way.”
“We’re also delighted to confirm that the Draft House is to become a living wage employer. This adds about £1m to our annual overheads but we completely believe in it - it is what we want to do as a company and how we want to treat people. For us it is not about how much it costs, it is about the type of company we want to be”
Indie Pale Ale tweaks explained
In a wide-ranging Q&A, the Scottish duo also outlined their rationale for tweaking the recipe of the brewery’s Indie Pale Ale, after the beer received what Watt described as a “terrible” reaction online.
“We missed the mark in terms of where we the beer wanted to be and how we communicated about it,” Watt said. “A lot of people were away at the time it was packaged and perhaps we weren't as thorough as we could have been in our QC process.
“It was still a good beer, and there was nothing defective with it, but it just wasn't quite where we wanted it to be. Loads of companies make mistakes and do things that don't work out. For us, when we do something like that, it is important that we hold our hands up and try and fix it as quickly as possible.”
Dickie highlighted the lack of dry-hopping as an issue with the first batch of the beer, and suggested the brewery needed to be better at signing off on new releases.
“Our taste panel is trained to detect difference between batches, and obviously when a new batch is released there is no set precedent for what the beer is supposed to taste like,” he said. “That is where you need a more senior member of the team around to sign off and make sure the beer is where it should be.
“It [Indie Pale Ale] had the bitterness quantity that we wanted, but the perceived bitterness was not as high as it was intended to be because of the lack of dry hopping.”
Sour beers added to portfolio
The BrewDog founders were speaking to journalists as part of the launch of the brewery’s new sour beer facility, Overworks, which is being headed up by former Wicked Weed brewer Richard Kilcullen, and which will release its first batch of beers to the public later this month.
The beers are produced using alternative fermentation and barrel ageing techniques, and Watt stated his belief that the project was an example of how BrewDog remained relevant and interesting to the independent UK pub and bar sector.
“I think if you look at our portfolio we love how diverse it is,” he said. “We have got beers like Punk, Dead Pony, Elvis Juice that we can sell in supermarkets and in lots of multi-estate sites like M&B and Greene King and Wetherspoon, but now we have this facility and the capacity to do some really interesting things for the independent side of the on-trade.
“Things like Overworks, Abstrakt and our new Fanzine beers will help support our independent customers and give them a point of difference that the national on-trade doesn’t necessarily have.”