By Josh Platman
Campaigning outside parliament with a dwarf to change a 300 year-old licensing law, serving 28% beer from a deer’s head, and driving a tank through London to mark the launch of their Camden bar. These are just some of the stunts pulled by Brew Dog, Scotland’s largest independent brewer. Having earned a reputation as the enfant terrible of the British beer since their 2007 birth, I met barman Jonny Bright and questioned whether, as they claim, BrewDog really is ‘Beer for Punks’.
As I arrive at BrewDog’s Camden bar I’m keeping an eye out for any punk signifiers that might reflect the company’s slogan. Aside from a table of very alternative-looking customers (unsurprising in Camden), there are no visual references to anything punk. Over a pint of Dead Pony Club, Bright, 27, explains that the statement is more attitudinal.
“The idea behind beer for punks is that we brew beer in a way and in a style like the way that the punks rebelled against pop culture and big corporate brands’”.
Surely having their beer sold in supermarkets contradicts this? “We are trying to have a craft beer revolution; you can’t have a revolution with ten people, you’ve got to do it with everybody,” Bright says.
BrewDog have fallen foul of some CAMRA diehards (who swear by cask brewing) over their use of kegs. Tim Davies, ex Chairman of the Glasgow and West of Scotland branch of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) believes the way Brew Dog present itself could be a hindrance. “I’m not sure that ‘Beer for Punks’ helps them, and it could come across as a bit elitist and negative,” he says. “Ale should be for everybody, and ultimately we [CAMRA and BrewDog] both have similar goals [promoting ale over lager].” He also sees some of their promotional work as a gimmick.
“Although they are deliberately trying to provoke discussion, some of their points were lost on me, like brewing the strongest beer in the world”.
According to Bright though, BrewDog is ‘for people who want to be different, which is punk.’ He brushes Davies’ fears of elitism aside, citing freedom of choice: “It’s about drinking something that’s not widely available. A lot of people are getting really into organic foods and I always wonder why people take such care in choosing what they eat but when they drink they don’t really care,” he says.
He is also a supporter of BrewDog’s bold marketing policy, which has brought legal action against them in the past. “Sure we grab attention but there’s accolades there as well,” he says. “We held the world record three times for the world’s strongest beer. We’ve pioneered the technique of freeze distillation and many people have been very interested, wanting to know how we make beer that strong.”
BrewDog are passionate about their product, which Bright reflects when speaking about his work. “Serving craft beer is different to selling any old pint of lager’, he stresses, almost visibly shuddering when saying the ‘l’ word. “People who drink craft beer [brewed at microbreweries] are interested in what they’re drinking, the flavours and processes involved, whereas you can’t talk to someone about the intricacies of a pint of Fosters”.
By the time I leave the bar the parallels I’m drawing between BrewDog and punk are stark, entirely validating their slogan. Much like the Sex Pistols, they don’t shy away from outrage to generate publicity. BrewDog also share common punk sensibilities having unsettled the established order, broken new ground and proudly stood out from the crowd. If the beer revolution tastes this good, then count me in.