End of an era?

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

What now for Brewdog?

Related tags Brewdog James watt Craft beer Beer Brewery Bars Brewing

As BrewDog’s James Watt steps down from leading the disruptor business he founded, does this mark a watershed moment for the operation?

Is BrewDog, the brattish upstart that set out to turn the world of brewing on its head, finally about to grow up?

The company famously started out in a garage in Fraserburgh, founded by Watt and his business partner Martin Dickie. It quickly established itself as one of the foremost brewers in the craft beer scene, setting out to disrupt, annoy and reinvent a category that was already proving divisive.

BrewDog threw a hand grenade into already murky waters, declaring war on established brewery business and posturing as the “punks” of the brewing world promising to “blow shit up”.

The posturing, along with clever and innovative marketing initiatives, quickly gathered a loyal fanbase of supporters, creating an almost cultish following akin to Steve Jobs and Apple, one that they then leveraged to generate funding with their “Equity for Punks” scheme, another innovation at the time, although one that hasn’t lacked for critics.

The business quickly grew from a garage to an impressive international brewing and bar operation, but as with any operation undergoing astonishing growth, it was not without pain. While it set out to claim that “chaos was addictive”, it probably did not anticipate the chaos to come.

Underdog crown slips

The initial position of being the underdog of the brewing world rapidly began to ring hollow for some, as BrewDog became one of the most dominant in the craft world, with breweries in Scotland and the US.

Litigation against smaller operators, from craft spirits producers to independent bar operators brought a degree of further tarnish to a brand that liked to think of itself as the champion of independence and small operation.

A manifesto claim of never having anything to do with companies involved in the production of mass produced beer was somewhat undermined by taking investment from TSG Consumer Partners, who part owned Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Further revelations that Watt had been courting Heineken and personally owned shares in the business caused a further stink.

This was then followed by staffing woes after an open letter from former and existing employees accused management of creating a “culture of fear”. 

While Watt and the team attempted to salvage the situation, promising change, further oil was poured on the water with a BBC documentary claiming allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Watt, claims he disputed.

Some might have argued that Watts should have stepped aside some time ago, to focus on dealing with some of the personal issues created.

However, he remained in place until today, when he handed over the baton to James Arrow​, who now has the challenge of navigating the future for the once illustrious brand.

Future plans?

But perhaps this creates a watershed moment for BrewDog, a chance to draw a line in the sand in the past and position itself as a more mature, sophisticated brand.

While there are plenty of detractors out there, there is still considerable support and it remains a serious craft beer brand, particularly in the off-trade.

Arrow now has the opportunity to move the business forward with perhaps a little less chaos, and a focus on solving some of the cultural challenges and driving what is a very successful brand onwards.

Like it or loathe it, it’s been quite a ride, and BrewDog has helped to re-energise the beer category with a younger generation of drinkers that might previously have eschewed beer, and that is something to acknowledge and celebrate.

Watt leaves behind an interesting, somewhat challenging, but strong legacy, and hopefully his successor can shore up the foundations and continue to build on that.

Related topics Beer

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