Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A bitter taste in the mouth

At what point do small, independent, self-styled "cool" companies jump the shark and become corporate behemoths? BrewDog have just found out, having got themselves embroiled in a PR catastrophe that has left them with a bloody nose and fewer friends.

It all kicked off when the company threatened legal action against the recently opened and family-run Lone Wolf pub in Birmingham, which shared a name with BrewDog's new vodka brand. The resulting social media outcry, not to mention a Guardian article publicising the incident, led to some hasty backpedalling - though even then they dug a deeper hole for themselves, co-founder James Watt attempting to shirk personal blame by claiming their lawyers got "a bit trigger happy", as if lawyers don't take instructions from their clients and regularly go rogue.

To make matters worse, BrewDog have long defined themselves as fearless Davids taking on the corporate might of Goliaths like Diageo, or (in their terms) as punks challenging the drinks industry establishment, represented by the staid, reactionary Portman Group. Accusations of rank hypocrisy with regard to the Lone Wolf episode are impossible for the company to avoid, given pronouncements like the one they made last year when themselves issued with a legal threat for exactly the same transgression: "Here at BrewDog, we don't take too kindly to petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck by discrediting our good name under the guise of copyright infringement." Ouch. Talk about your words coming back to bite you in the arse.

Of course, some of us (ahem) have harboured suspicions about BrewDog's claims to be a "renegade craft brewer" set on "burning the established system" for some time, in light of a strategy that appears as aggressively expansionist as that of Tesco and Starbucks. How they respond to this incident will be interesting - perhaps they won't care about losing former friends among the craft beer community, given their increasing access to the mainstream market, but either way their self-image as punky upstarts will no longer wash.

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