Who knew that the straw that broke the camel’s back would be carried there by a stoat, much less a stoat in a rather dapper kilt?
I don’t want to write about this beer – about whether or not it’s a beer, or whether or not it should be packaged in a squirrel, or anything. I’m on the side of things that, I believe, would make me a “hater“, even though I think I have fairly reasonable views. I do think that this is the most striking photography of roadkill that I have ever seen, and also I have a secret love of stoats that.. well, I guess is not so secret anymore.
What I want to write about is how fascinating I find it that BrewDog has apparently worn out their welcome on extreme beers so quickly. It’s really pretty amazing. Less than a year ago they were the new darlings of the craft beer industry. This past week, you’d think that they had made a beer made with dead stoat, not packaged in one. I think it’s a really interesting lesson.
Certainly, BrewDog is still getting a lot of really great coverage from mainstream media, but mainstream media continually shows their inability to report about craft beer. They still include things like how many Budweisers that would equal or use wine experts to talk about this new beer fad. Make a splash that will sell a couple of papers or make people keep their cable news on for more than a few minutes and the mainstream media will flock to you. In this case, I think that BrewDog deserves it. They have certainly made a statement.
I’m not sure that I think that BrewDog deserves the ire that it is receiving from craft beer enthusiasts, but I think I know how they got there. If I may:
Over-exclusivity: Craft beer geeks love hard-to-find stuff. Like any comic book with Superman #1 or baseball card collector looking for that Mickey Mantle rookie card, there’s prestige to be had amongst peers for those who can get their hands on rare beer. Why else is there such a hullabaloo over Dark Lord? No doubt, it is great beer. But there are many comparable imperial stouts on the market that are much easier to get your hands on. They don’t have the exclusivity.
With Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Brew Dog created their fair share of exclusivity by having a limited amount of a high end product and by being located in the farthest northern reaches of Scotland. It’s a real pain in the ass to get the product out of there, especially if you happen to live in the U.S. (which appears to be their primary market – I’d be interested to find out how much beer they sell in the U.S. vs. the U.K.). Somehow, TNP seemed like it was a fairly reasonable cost, up front. In the end, I was surprised that the bottle I partook of was only 12 ounces, but hey – there’s a price for exclusivity, and that price was ~$75.
Sink the Bismarck seemed like it carried on the joke, and actually got good reviews, but the price went up. And, of course, this happened again with The End of History leaving most beer geeks to wonder:
What’s the point of spending your time creating a beverage that nobody will ever drink?
Is something exclusive worth having if it’s specifically designed to be exclusive?
If a baseball card is release with a misprint, it becomes an immediate collectible. The value of the card goes up because the baseball card company will correct the misprint, thus making the misprinted card hard-to-find. The value of the card rises in the hands of collectors, but the original cost of the card was just the same as any card.
If baseball cards started getting released with intentional misprints, and sold by companies at a premium because of the exclusivity of said misprint, I think that the value – in the hands of collectors – would drop significantly.
Products become collectibles if everybody has a chance to attain said item but only a few do. By pushing the envelope like this, I think that BrewDog has actually pushed itself outside of realm of beer geek collectibles, simply because the product is not readily available to the common man. It’s, “Buy this if you’re rich.”
What I don’t think that BrewDog understands (based on their comments/responses to critics) is that people aren’t angry because the product was made, and most of them aren’t even angry that it’s packaged inside a dead animal. They’re angry because they’ll never get to try it. They never had a chance.
I like the BrewDog guys. I think they’re funny, and I think they make some good beer, even though I don’t think they push the envelope nearly as much as they think they do. I was surprised, upon meeting James at the Craft Brewers Conference this past year, that he seemed kind of shell-shocked and nervous. Maybe it was jet lag. I expected a little more Trainspotting, a little less polite Brit.
I dislike their videos.
Why? Because they make me laugh, they’re well-done, and I can tell that they know it. They’re always so fucking cool. It’s not irony and sarcasm that doesn’t carry to America, gentlemen, it’s the lack of self-loathing. Watch a few weeks of normal American sitcoms for a while to find out what kind of depressing drivel constitutes our national pastime (ie – watching television from 6PM – 11PM) and you’ll understand.
Okay.. really: That the product releases seem designed to be marketing campaigns for the brewery and, specifically for James and Martin and their costume rental outlet, rather than to actually promote a product available for general consumption is what irks. They’re funny, but the only thing they tell me is that you’re so cool for having made this product, and I’ll never get it and also, you’re awesome. It’s hard to swallow. I’ll keep watching them because they make me laugh, but they’ll make me cringe a little each time.
Responding to critics: Biggest. Mistake. Ever.
Look, fellas: You are pushing the envelope on the extreme beer department. In this case, you’ve packaged a $1000 beverage inside of roadkill. Could you not foresee that this would cause some sort of a stir? It doesn’t matter if it’s a joke or you guys are goofing around. By responding to critics (with a numbered list on BeerAdvocate, a.k.a. snotty critic central), you leave us with one of three basic assumptions:
1) You had no idea that this product or the manner in which it was packaged it would cause this type of response, (which, frankly, raises some doubts about how much you’ve thought through product development) and you are honestly responding with surprise at how it’s being received.
2) You knew damn well that this product would be controversial and that responding to your critics in the fashion that you are is some sort of calculated part of your marketing.
3) You’re just making all this up as you go along.
Please, take this piece of advice from a nerd: Don’t feed the trolls. You knew that you’d get shit back about this. Why? Because you’ve been getting shit back about everything you’ve done pretty much since you opened. Responding only does two things. It gives people more ammunition and it makes you look like you’re either clueless or a dick. You’re the best representation your company has – you’re not doing yourself any favors by attempting to go point by point with anonymous douchebags on the internet. They have nothing to lose. You lose face, especially since you’re so effortlessly cool in your videos.
There are a lot of things you can do when people start to talk shit about your product on the internet. Direct response suggesting that they don’t understand? Low on the list. Real low.
All in all, BrewDog is, of course, going to come out ahead in all of this. Sure. They may have lost money on each stoat. They may lose cred with quite a few beer geeks who have watched this all unfold, but they have received an untold amount of international press which will probably end up selling enough 5 AM Saint and Punk Dog IPA to people who have never heard of them to make it all worth it… for now.
It’ll be interesting to see their next product release, how it’s handled, how it’s received, and how long BrewDog will be referenced by people outside of the industry as the “dead squirrel beer guys.”