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The “independent craft brewer” BrewDog has announced plans to open 30 new sites in 2020, having launched 20 locations last year. Expansion, at least for now, appears to be working. The Scottish beer brand reported a strong December run, which saw like-for-like bar sales climb 12 per cent.

Group chief operating officer David McDowall said BrewDog’s new alcohol-free range was a key component to its recent success.

“Very strong sales of our core beers, especially our new alcohol-free range, along with a sharp uptick in food sales and pre-booked business led to industry-leading like-for-like sales performance in our bars in December,” Mr McDowall said.

“[It’s been] a stunning performance by our incredible team. We launched 20 locations in 2019 and have 30 in the plan for 2020.

“Franchised locations will make up 20 of those 2020 sites and we continue to search for like-minded operators internationally to help us grow our franchise business and deliver our mission of making others as passionate about great craft beer as we are.”

There has been a considerable backlash against BrewDog’s meteoric rise since it was established by James Watt and Martin Dickie in 2007. The duo forged what was then a distinctly “punk” brand, and its popularity saw BrewDog’s first bar begin trading in 2010, just three years after the first batch of beers were brewed.

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Investment and funding came primarily from “equity punks” – a vast number of regular punters who bought a a handful of shares. They were buying into something fresh and, at the time, detached from the mores of big business, where beers were churned out en masse and flavour compromised.

As BrewDog grew – in part by way of a confrontational, occasionally offensive marketing strategy – beer aficionados dismissed the company as selling out and turning mainstream. Is the brewery craft any more? Well, even if some of BrewDog’s PR tactics have been arguably unsavoury, and even if it’s diluted its core concept, altering some of its beers to be more accessible, even homogenised, it probably doesn’t matter all that much.

What BrewDog has become is the point of entry to craft beer – consumers, by and large, don’t care for ultra-niche products. That’s why they’re niche and stay niche.

Maybe it’s paradoxical that what made BrewDog appealing in the first place is what’s lost it credentials with the self-proclaimed protectors of fine beer in Britain. The fact is that BrewDog is now mainstream, but still seen, by nearly all drinkers, as a craft beer brand. Its success is to be admired

‘BrewDog don’t need us any more’

Beer expert and author Pete Brown said to i: “I’ve been following them since the start. On social media, people are negative about nearly everything they do – people slag them off.

“I guess people don’t realise BrewDog don’t need us any more – they’re the first craft beer brand that totally crossed over to the mainstream. BrewDog is the general public’s idea of what craft beer is. They’ve changed the image and language to be more mainstream.

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“The Punk IPA is a different beer to what it was when it launched. It used to be more hoppy and bitter. I don’t think it’s a worse beer, though, it’s just a step over, and it’s more accessible.”

BrewDog is now made on three continents. You can buy its beer on easyJet flights and the company is about to launch, with London-based plant-based burger and wings outlet Temple of Seitan, a vegan menu in its 100-plus bars, which will be served by any one of its 1,000-plus employees.

Compared to the biggest names in brewing, BrewDog remains slight, but it is well beyond what some consider to be an artisan brand. Then again, trying to define what “craft” is might be foolish.

“It’s hard to determine what craft beer is,” Mr Brown added. “Consumers have a pretty good idea of what it is, but it’s a bit like a giraffe – you can’t really define a giraffe, but you can easily describe one.

“BrewDog’s beer is still of a higher quality than a lot of manufacturers. The company has bought top equipment in order to continue to produce its beers, and it still matures its them properly when many breweries don’t.”

Mr Brown conceded that craft beer is as much about going against the grain, fighting big corporations and forming a local, independent identity as it is about perceived quality. Beer might mirror indie bands – ‘I’m allowed to drink/listen to it and it’s allowed to be craft/indie, but if my mates start drinking/listening to it, it no longer is’. But then how dull is that?

Also, who cares? Hardly anyone. Some people just want something to drink that isn’t Stella. The only real gripe might be price – BrewDog isn’t cheap. £6 a pint isn’t craft beer for the people.

Melissa Cole, another beer expert and author, doesn’t drink much BrewDog these days. Then again, she too said BrewDog’s merit as an authentic, craft brewery is “wholly irrelevant to your average drinker”.

“The average consumer doesn’t give a monkeys about slating BrewDog in the craft beer world,” Ms Cole told i. “It’s a half decent beer in a music venue or on a supermarket shelf.”

And so BrewDog will grow still: “I have no doubt there will be 20 people out there to take franchises off BrewDog. It’s a strong name and a strong brand.

“I don’t think it’s an overreach to open 30 new sites. Continuing to supply and offer consistency and quality of product will be high pressure – tough on brewing resources. It’s got potential to be a problem, but I’m sure the company’s factored that it in.”

BrewDog, punk or not, craft or not, is still disrupting the industry. It’s ignited interest in younger drinkers and it’s made no secret about its searing ambition. The equity fund signified that.

Still, however broad its appeal becomes and however far its reach stretches, you don’t actually have to go into a BrewDog bar and pay £6 for a pint, or £25 for a pint and a share. I certainly won’t be.

By Josh Barrie

Source: iNews

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