"Two guys, a dog and a dream" - The BrewDog Example

March 5, 2015


More than 40 BCCJ members and guests joined the Building a Brand in Japan: The BrewDog Example evening at BrewDog Roppongi yesterday.

BrewDog Japan celebrated its first anniversary last week, and Neil Taylor, head of BrewDog international bars, and David Croll, CEO of BrewDog Japan, explained the company's history and its approach to the Japanese market.

Neil described the company's growth since it began life in April 2007 as "two guys, a dog and a dream." Founded by James Watt and Martin Dickie, the company produced 1050 hectolitres (equivalent to 180,000 pints) in the first year. Fast forward eight years and they are producing 18 million pints a year and employing 350 staff.

Explaining a photograph showing a huge increase in the size of the containers used for brewing over the years, Neil said: "It's quite a growth curve we've had. We actually now have some twice the size of the largest ones here, and have ordered some that are twice the size of that.

"When we moved into the new brewery we were told to expect it to last five to ten years, but after eight or nine months we were needing somewhere bigger. In one brew we are now doing a third of what we did in our first year, but again it's about quality not quantity."

"We are keeping the old brewery running for our experimental work and using the new brewery for volume."

The company is still based in Aberdeenshire, with Neil explaining it would have been cheaper to move elsewhere but that BrewDog feels a loyalty to its roots.

He said that BrewDog's bars were conceived out of necessity, due to initial reluctance from pubs to stock their brand, and also as a way to increase awareness about craft beer. "We want to make people passionate about craft beer. When you are face to face with someone with a drink in their hand, that's how we get people interested and show what we really do."

The company plans to open a further 10 - 12 bars in the UK this year, to add to their current 18, as well as another 10 -12 new bars internationally. "With the overseas bars, I would hate for us to have 100 bars around the world that look the same and run the same. I want people to walk in and know they're in a BrewDog bar but also know where they are in the world. That's why I do this job."

BrewDog has taken an innovative approach to funding its growth, raising £4.25m in 2013 through a crowd-funding scheme where "fanvestors" bought shares at GBP 95.00 each. The scheme was the third time BrewDog has sourced funds directly from the public and was so successful that the sale closed a month early. The Equity for Punks scheme cuts out any middle man by selling direct to investors.

Last year the company updated its branding for the first time since it began. "Initially are branding was really aggressive because we were fighting against something. Now we have got bigger we are in a position where we can be loud but not fighting."

Guests also enjoyed a taster set of beers as Neil explained the different flavours.

During a Q&A session, which also saw David Croll, CEO of BrewDog Japan, take questions from the floor, the pair were asked whether they believed whether western craft beer was generally agreeable to Japanese tastes.

Neil said it was difficult to generalise across the country. "From where I have been, I don't think you can sum up a country by a single preference, but it would be arrogant to think one beer works everywhere when food tastes vary between countries. I think generally people start off with a pale ale, then IPAs and then they go for the hoppiest they can find and then go back to barrel-aged beers."

David added: "We have to FoodEx today giving samples and found that 80-90% of people reacted positively. One challenge we have is that Japanese beer has been made to go with food, so it's not controversial or characterful."

They added that they had been unsure whether BrewDog's more aggressive style and creatively named beers, sometimes based on puns, would translate well to the Japanese market. But the company's more mature approach has coincided with their entry into the Japan market. Neil said: "The founders were guys in their early twenties when they started and now they're both in their thirties and have children, so it's a different attitude." Asked whether there were any marketing exploits from their early days that might now cause embarrassment, Neil said he couldn't say for certain but it was possible that the time Watts and Dickie projected themselves naked onto the Houses of Parliament could potentially be a regret. "I think maybe also just being antagonistic when it wasn't necessary, trying to pick fights when there didn't need to be one."

Exports have been a large part of BrewDog's business since the early days. "The usual story is that you sell to the local community and go from there. With BrewDog, nowhere local wanted to buy the beer. If we tried to sell in Aberdeen we were told it was too expensive and no one wanted to drink it. But we could sell in Sweden. So we had people buying our beer in Sweden but not in our local town. The UK wasn't the best market for it."

Neil was asked whether the company had considered pasteurising the beer to help the problem of a relatively short shelve life coupled with international shipping. He explained the company has a tight distribution system using its own refrigerated containers and trucks. "We accept that BrewDog beer will taste a little different around the world. If we pasteurised it would taste the same, but it would taste like it was three months old everywhere and we can get it people tasting fresher than that. It's about commitment to quality and a constant battle for our logistics guys and making sure we don't compromise."

David and Neil said they believed there was "much more to come" from the craft beer market in Japan, which is currently growing and has been noticed by Japan's beer giants such as Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo. David said: "We had some of them in and explained what we do. This is just the start of things in Japan."

Neil finished by explaining that although BrewDog planned to continue innovating and improving in quality, it was also supporting new breweries through a financing scheme. "We want the standard of craft beer generally to improve. Of course we want to be leading the way but we'd rather the others improved with us." 

See photos from the event on our Flickr stream

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