26 Jul 2010 @ 11:48 AM 
 

The End of History Starts with a Dead Squirrel

 

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?

and

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.

Gaudy Self-Promotion:

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.”

Tags Tags: , , ,
Categories: industry, marketing, media, new beer, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 26 Jul 2010 @ 11 49 AM

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Responses to this post » (13 Total)

 
  1. Jeff Bearer says:

    Fun Article, I like your sentiment. I’m not too turned off by the availability or the prices of these beers. They are what they are, and the sooner a beer geek learns that it’s ok not to try every beer on the BA top 50. or the need to try the worlds strongest beer, the happier they will be with the beers they can get. It’s hard. I mean I’d really like to taste Sink The Bismark if it’s as good as reviews make it out. But I’m not going to go out of my way for it.

    I’m of the camp that iced beers are the performance enhancing drugs of the craft beer world. Anyone can make a beer stronger up to somewhere in the mid 90 percents with enough cold and enough time. whoopdee doo. Yes, I know doing that and making it taste good is noteworthy. However in my heart the title of “World’s Strongest Beer” should only be stowed on beers that achieve that by fermentation only without the help of distillation.

    If I were Boston Beer Company I’d market the hell out of that. Utopias, 100% ice cream factory free. Oh and we’ve held the real title for what 10 years now?

    I have one issue with your article, and it’s on a throwaway sentence you were using to make a greater point:

    “But there are many comparable imperial stouts (to Dark Lord) on the market…”

    There are many delicious, great, fantastic, wonderful imperial stouts on the market. Some I’d drink over a Darklord. But nothing I’ve experienced ..compares.. to Dark Lord.

  2. erik says:

    Really? I mean.. I liked Dark Lord. But not having tried it next to another impy stout – I had it solo all by itself – I’m not sure I could say that it was so mind-bendingly different or better than other really enormous stouts that I’ve had.

    Otherwise – yeah. We’re there. There is something going on right now in the beer world where I think things like the BA Top 50 are really ranked largely by availability, anyway. Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s good, but that seems to be the case for pretty much every rare beer out there. It doesn’t statistically make sense to me.

  3. Jeff Bearer says:

    I’ve seen no beer that has the viscosity (literally) of Darklord It poured like a melted chocolate milkshake.

  4. erik says:

    Huh. Mine wasn’t nearly that thick. Maybe it was too hot.

  5. Jeff Bearer says:

    The first time I had it it didn’t have any ‘gunk’ and was, ok. and I thought it was over hyped, then the second bottle I had contained the ‘gunk’ and was unique and pretty damn good. I got an email from a listener after that who said the first year I had it they ‘took out the gunk’. and then they put it back in for the following year.

    No idea how true, or what the gunk is or indicates. but it made it for an un-comparable beer for sure.

  6. erik says:

    Huh. I feel like I probably had one sans gunk.

  7. Tim Ratzlaff says:

    Do you know who is the financial backing for Brewdog? I ask because I wonder who is calling all the shots here. Is it James or someone else?

  8. erik says:

    They’re public, as far as I know. Unless that is some sort of well-done ploy.

    I’m not sure that, as an investor, I would totally get behind this method of marketing.

  9. Matt Lake says:

    So, Fullsteam, I started following you on Twitter when a buddy of mine @dbrowell returned from the Craft Brewers Conference in Chicago. I read your blog post with curiosity because at that same time I reached out to James Watt to partake in video-conference tasting at my beer shop. He agreed and in late May he joined me and almost 50 Richmonders over the Internet for a fun hour of tasting (you can watch the result -> http://www.wineandbeerwestpark.com/?p=406).

    Why bring this up? Well, for starters I like James and the BrewDog beers, and, more importantly, I think celebrity has mistreated BrewDog a little more then others.

    In the week leading up to our tasting and during the hour interview, I realized that these guys loved making beer that much. I believe behind the gimmicks and the humor is an earnest guy who just likes good beer.

    Why make the unholy trinity of giant beers – why not? There’s fun, and hell, maybe some art to stretching your talents to the limits. I don’t think brewing the high alcohol stuff was about exclusivity, even though that became an unfortunate byproduct.

    If I made something as insane at the TNP, I’d want to share it in some crazy way too. By the time the End of History arrived, where could BrewDog go, but lampoon themselves a bit – so enters Mr Stoat, an exclamation point on the huge brew campaign of the last year. I can’t imagine they really needed the money… if you can grow a company from 2 guys and a truck to 35 employees in two years, I think you can work out the money for a project like this. I guess the real truth will be whether they go for another giant beer or leave things as they are…

    For me, it comes back to the earnestness. I do believe James is THAT guy who cares a ton, and just wants to share what he’s made. I think he’s so excited about the stuff BrewDog is making that the creativity bubbles over into the vids, too. So, yes, there was some collateral damage with the pricing, which we all wish were unavoidable too. Imagine the horror if it were affordable and people couldn’t get it?

    As for posting a response… yeah that never really works out. But I feel pretty good in my earnest declaration – they’re in their late 20s, on a global stage, and have only been at this for a couple of years – I think we might see a few more snags down the road. To that end, if you can’t act crazy and shameless when you’re young and excited about what you’re doing, then when the hell can you? :]

    I’m curious about where craft beer is going. I don’t think a few gimmicks makes or breaks any particular brewery. At the end of the day the BrewDog beers made me rethink the way I was tasting beer, and I happen to like them. I have their 22s on the shelf for $7.5 and that’s cheaper then many of our stateside friends who aren’t making beer that’s quite as interesting.

    Sorry for hijacking your comments, and I hope you don’t mind the link, but that interview is just the difference maker for me. There have been few opportunities to see BrewDog outside of the bright spot light…

    Cheers,
    Matt Lake

    PS I’ve been enjoying the tweets as well.

  10. erik says:

    Hey Matt —

    Just to be clear: I’m not Fullsteam, but I am a brewery near him. 🙂 I’d hate for Sean to be painted with the brush of my rants.

    I’m going to be a bit of a devil’s advocate here and say that regardless of how nice James is – and he seems like a genuinely nice guy – and I am a huge fan of BrewDog’s beers – this is a mismanagement of brand.

    You can’t be his mild-mannered guy who genuinely loves to make and share good beer AND a Punk! Rebel! Push the Envelope! CEO at the same time.

    I mean.. sure.. you or I could. We didn’t climb to celebrity status. We’re allowed personal complexity. When you’re in the public eye, you don’t get that. Nobody gets to read your internal monologue, you get one storyline and you have to stick with it. And yes – I totally agree with you that celebrity has mistreated BrewDog. I think it hit them fast and they weren’t prepared for it and that maybe, just maybe, it kinda went to their heads a little right out of the gate. 🙂

    On the other hand, they had the opportunity to mitigate that between TNP and now.

    As you say – there have been few opportunities to see BrewDog outside of the bright spot light. My question is: why is there a difference? Why aren’t we seeing that passion for good beer instead of all of the silly crap?

    And here’s an answer to another question: if you can’t act crazy and shameless when you’re young and excited about what you’re doing, then when the hell can you?

    You can do that all you want when you’re not the public face of international publicly held company. 🙂 And even then: Sure – act crazy and shameless! Shit – go to town! But don’t be surprised when you get backlash for it.

    I don’t want to bash James. He seems like a nice guy. I think that the public uproar that they’ve gotten themselves into is fascinating and, as I said, I think it will ultimately work out for them. But boy howdy – I think they can learn from it, and that others should, too.

    It is what I think I would call a teachable moment. 🙂

  11. Matt Lake says:

    You know what Erik, I follow you on Twitter too, so it all works out in the end… were you on a panel with Dean too? I seem to remember adding you and Fullsteam at the same time – totally my mistake 🙂

    I chime in on this stuff because my wife does PR and we talk about BrewDog’s shtick a bit. From a PR standpoint 15k doesn’t seem like a bad price tag for a stunt that garners international attention. At what point does that crossover into evil genius CEO?

    I’d argue that you can be both nice generous guy and front man for pushing the envelope of brewing.

    It’s all about context – in Scotland, the very existence of their brewery is beyond punk. It’s not like they grew up in the states where the craft beer industry has been leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for anyone with a curious palate over the last 20 years.

    I look at Stone Greg and Dogfish Sam and I see a lot of similarities. Do you think Jim Koch & Fritz might have been like ‘look at these young guys and their ridiculously hopped beers…’

    Perhaps the new context is European sensibility and a very dry sense of humor. This is all next generation stuff brewing stuff.

    I don’t know, but nice guy James sent us 2 bottles each of TNP & STB (gratis) for our virtual tasting, but the Punk showed up with insane stories and props…

    As far as the passion goes, I’d say if they weren’t making interesting beers that were available all the time (or almost all the time), then the Mega beers would seem a lot more gimicky. But, we’ve had 10 different beers in my shop, and quality wise they all made the grade for me, which is pretty good after just two years…

    Just gonna play Devil’s Advocate back a little, how much public uproar is there? I can’t really see counting the Beer Advocate message board as mass public outcry :]

    PS. I like your tweets too – just, maybe, not as much as Fullsteam’s… 🙂

  12. erik says:

    Hey – yes. I was also on a panel with Dean. And Fullsteam, at the same time. 🙂

    I agree with you – 15k doesn’t seem like a bad price tag for international attention, but I think if you alienate your core audience while doing so you’re doing just as much harm as good. I also don’t think that there’s any sort of evil genius CEO thing going on here. If anything, I think it’s kind of hapless.

    And yes – I think you can be both a nice generous guy and the front man for pushing the envelope of brewing. I hope to be. But that’s not the narrative that BrewDog presents. It might be the narrative that James presents, but that’s incongruous with the marketing of his brewery, his videos, and his extreme beers.

    Yes. It’s all about context. But the context of this isn’t rural Scotland. Sure. That’s where BrewDog is located, but as near as I can tell their primary market is the U.S. while they battle the stodgy alcohol boards of the U.K.. I also have a hard time placing international news about the World’s Strongest Beer in “rural Scotland” context. This is global and they knew it. They could have – and should have – foreseen the backlash they were going to get and maybe even worked it to their advantage instead of being on the defensive.

    I think your parallel is Stone Greg is good. It’s obvious that Stone is BrewDog’s template. But I’m also not completely on board with all of Stone’s media blitzes, either. I think the comparison to Dogfish Sam is a stretch – Sam controls his narrative very well. I think that the comparison to Jim Koch and Frtiz is apples to oranges – were they pioneers in the field? Certainly. But we’re not really pioneering, anymore. I think at this point we’re trying to build efficient railroads and maybe to kill as many buffalo as possible (to stretch a metaphor a bit too thin).

    And no – by public outroar I don’t really mean the BA boards. I don’t really read those because I find them so grating. I mean the general feeling of beer bloggers and enthusiasts that I run across.

    I get the general feeling that people felt this was more about a marketing stunt than it was about making great beer. Moreover, that’s the spin that their political rivals in the U.K. are sitting on, as well. These guys are trying to start their own craft beer revolution, but in the midst of doing so they are giving as much ammunition to their opponents as they are to their advocates.

    Like I say – I’m not trying to badmouth the guys or the beers. I genuinely like both, and I want to see them succeed. I am saying that there are good business and marketing lessons to be learned from the reaction that they have garnered.

    • Anty says:

      It’s just a ralley ralley cool beer. By American IPA standards, it’s rather wimpy (the Southern Tier oaked un-earthly IPA would be a better’ beer, more assertive), and by English IPA standards, it would be pretty aggressive, so it falls into this interesting middle ground. But just the fact that you get the chance to quite literally taste history you gotta find it! Head to your local beer store that sells Brewdog immediately and see if they can order a 6-pack!

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