Beginning in 2007, BrewDog founders James Watt and Martin Dickie started a beer revolution that has continued to the present day, as the brand continues to shake up the industry through its beers, bars and hotels. Here, RLI sits down with James Brown, CEO of BrewDog Bars to discuss the exponential rise of the company and how it continues to drive innovation and growth.
After a chance encounter with renowned beer writer Michael Jackson, BrewDog CEO James Watt and CEO of BrewDog Distilling Co. Martin Dickie were persuaded to become more than the keen homebrewers they were and instead quit their jobs and follow their passion of changing the beer industry in the UK.
“When they started the company 16 years ago, it was a time when lagers and cask ales dominated the marketplace, but James and Martin were determined to make everyone as passionate about beer as they were and they became obsessed with the ultra-hoppy beers being brewed on the US West Coast and set about creating their own recipes to mirror these new modern styles,” explains James Brown, CEO of BrewDog Bars.
After an incredibly successful history to date, today the company operates over 110 locations globally, including four hotels. Their portfolio started with their first bar launch in Aberdeen city centre in 2010 and now consists of more than 65 sites in the UK, 16 across Europe and the Nordics, nine in the US, soon to be five in India and four in Australia.
The last few months has seen a slew of openings take place, with two of their most high-profile sites opening their doors in Waterloo and Las Vegas. Waterloo is their biggest site to date and includes 60 taps of the freshest craft beer, an epic food menu, a GRIND coffee bar, DuckPin bowling, an ice-cream van, a secret cocktail bar, ping pong tables, co-working spaces, a beer school area, zoom rooms, a podcast studio and a slide.
Meanwhile their Vegas location has one of the best views on the strip, features 96 taps pouring the best craft beer, an on-site micro-brewery and some brand-new additions to the food menu including a wagyu burger served in a treasure chest and the ultimate lobster mac ‘n cheese.
“When we build iconic locations with the scale and size of Las Vegas and Waterloo it has shown us that we can turn up our customers experience and connection to the brand as a whole. This is incredibly valuable to our mission to make as many people as excited about great beer as we are.”
The company has also launched three franchise locations recently with brand new partners. Upminster is their first opening in Essex and the other two opened in Australia in Pentridge, Melbourne and South Eveleigh, Sydney. They are also expanding in the US with their first partner opening in the summer and have a growing pipeline of bars opening in the travel sector.
“Our two newest locations coming online are Amritsar and Chandigarh in Punjab. This brings us up to five locations across India and we have got exciting plans there over the next year as we look to reach 50 sites. Working with partners who are super experienced hospitality operators who share our ethos and mission, gives us the edge when we are looking to grow our brand and business in new territories,” Brown highlights.
Their pipeline moving forward is focused on bringing as many of their larger format locations to the market in key high population centres in international cities. Furthermore, they are working with some exciting new franchise partners to bring BrewDog to more travel hub locations in the coming year and into 2024.
Since their inception, the company has always been committed to pushing boundaries and maintaining the mantra of ‘if another brewery can do it, we won’t’.
A great example of how they stay current and tap into cultural trends is through collaborations. “Historically, we’ve joined forces with other brands that share our vision, from chocolate companies to podcasts. This gives us an opportunity to speak to a totally new consumer group in another category, widening our awareness within a new pool of people,” Brown says.
With the overwhelming changes in the industry in recent years, BrewDog continues forward with the combination of its physical and digital offerings and one of its key consumer initiatives is its BrewDog loyalty programme, Planet BrewDog. Brown says this is free to enrol in and gives consumers member-only pricing on our e-commerce site as well as rewards for making certain purchases, earning badges and benefits in the process. The next stage of this programme is to integrate this into other channels, including their bar network, developing the loyalty programme to give consumers added benefits and rewards when they shop in-store or drink in their bars.
BrewDog’s presence on social media reflects everything that the business is about – being bold, standing out from the crowd, doing things differently and not giving a damn what the naysayers might say!
“Many of our recent campaigns have driven a huge amount of attention and engagement on social media platforms, for reasons which explain exactly what makes BrewDog the brand it is. We know that a lot of that noise can be negative, but we also know that is simply the nature of social media reaction when a brand like us takes a stance… and we never let that take us off course.”
Back in 2020, the business set out on a new journey to create great beer which doesn’t cost the planet. They set out a roadmap for zero operational emissions by 2023 and they are well on their way. As a company they are fully focused on leaving the world in a better place than they found it and reducing emissions has always been and will continue to be the most important priority for them.
The ethos of BrewDog centres on Beer, People and Planet and they focus all their decisions around these core beliefs. “If it doesn’t involve making great beer or connecting current or new consumers to great beer in a sustainable way with great engaged team members, we really shouldn’t be doing it.”