BrewDog, Elvis Juice
In 2006 James Watt and Martin Dickie, two old school friends, “bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK market” and inspired by breweries on the West Coast of America like Stone Brewing and Ballast Point, brewed their first batch of Punk IPA from a garage near Aberdeen.
Soon after, they scraped together ten grand in savings, blagged another thirty from the local council and set about building arguably the most successful new brewery the UK has seen since the industrial revolution.
Anyone who tried the hop forward explosion of mango, pineapple and grapefruit that was Punk IPA in 2007 knew immediately it was going to be a game changer. A quick read of the label… “it is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate the depth, character or quality of this premium craft brewed beer”... only confirmed that BrewDog were going to tear things up.
Their anti-establishment stance and brash marketing quickly gained them an army of fans that weren’t just willing to drink every drop the brewery made; they were also keen to invest in the business. In 2009 BrewDog launched the pioneering ‘Equity for Punks’ which gave their fans the opportunity to collectively buy a 5% stake in the company. They raised over £700,000 from 1,300 people, valuing a two year old business with twenty employees at £14 million (they turned over £800,000 in the previous year). Equity for Punks II, III and IV have since followed, raising over of £26 million from 50,000 shareholders, many of whom turn up at their chaotic, beer-fuelled annual meetings. The last fundraising valued BrewDog, now the fastest growing food and drink business in the UK, at £300 million.
They’ve upset a few people along the way too. Which is all part of the plan of course. It started with CAMRA, who they upset by focussing solely on keg (instead of cask) beer. This was an incredibly brave move at the time but one that has since been adopted by countless new UK brewers. Other antics have seen BrewDog package beer in stuffed animals and sell it for £500 a pop, driving through town in tanks, brewing the world’s strongest beer and launching BeerLeaks...“exposing the myths perpetuated through the advertising and propaganda of mainstream breweries”.
Even by BrewDog’s standards, Elvis Juice, this week’s grapefruit-infused American IPA, got a lot of tongues wagging when it was launched this Summer.
It started with an innocuous, but still pretty clever, offer whereby customers could pay for the new beer in one of their thirty BrewDog bars... with grapefruits. These would then be shipped back up to the brewhouse in Ellon to be used in the next batch.
Then Elvis Presley’s estate issued a law suit. James and Martin did what only James and Martin would do. They both changed their name to Elvis by deed poll, to prove that a name shouldn’t be confined to a single, late celebrity.
In James’s, sorry Elvis’s words “everything we do is about the beer. Everything. We want to make people as passionate about great beer as we are”. Elvis Juice is a case in point. Forget the stunts for a second and just admire an American IPA with a bitter edge that will push your citrus tolerance to the brink. Loaded with tart pithy grapefruit peel, there is a subtle caramel malt base underneath a full frontal citrus overload. Amazing.
No other brewer has changed the British beer scene like BrewDog have. Love them or loathe them they’re doing exactly what they set out to do; brewing incredible, innovative beers and challenging the industry to do the same. They’re also unearthing and appealing to new audiences with craft beer. Nobody can knock them for that.