Call Scotland Yard! BrewDog in the Center of Another Scandal…How Can This Be?

I know it is HARD to believe, but BrewDog is in the middle of a Media Kerfuffle. I know…what are the odds…right?  Well to set it up properly, BrewDog has been doing some pretty wonderful things to change the beer culture in their native Scotland.  They have introduced the Brew Pub in a totally unique and different way in their country and the people have responded very favorably.  This is a good thing for Scotland, and a good thing for craft beer in Europe, because they have set a new standard for what a good comfortable responsible drinking establishment ought to be.  Something sorely needed in their corner of the world.  Nice.

Well the BII which I have no idea what that stands for, but it is a little like our Brewers Association here in the States and their mission is to raise standards in licensed retail.  They had an award banquet and BrewDog was supposed to win the coveted “Bar Operator of the Year Award.” And by all accounts they deserved it.  Is a matter of fact their name was already engraved on the trophy for the award, which by the way was refused by the winner they called because it had BrewDog’s name on it.  Yeah…that’s a cluster.

Seems these awards were cosponsored by business partner Diageo.  Diageo is a multinational conglomerate that is everything spirits related.  A representative from Diageo told the BII awards people that if BrewDog won any awards that night, they would pull all their corporate sponsorship from BII forever.  Evidently that was enough of a threat for the BII folks to attempt to change the award “on the fly” and give it to the runner up.  Problem was…oh yeah, the trophy thing.

Diageo has since come out and apologized, and said they didn’t mean it, and that isn’t how they do business and they were just misrepresented. Blah Blah Blah.

Here is my take on the thing.  Diageo is a huge corporation, and the left hand doesn’t always know what the right is doing.  BrewDog was supposed to win this award, obviously.  (My hypothesis starts here) The rep that was in the audience from Diageo was disgusted with BrewDog’s “marketing” tactics.  They make fun of the royals, they deride their competitors, and do all this in a very mocking and public way.  We all know this.  Ahem…Dead Squirrel Beer.  So this rep took matters into their own hands and made the threat to the BII folks, who were like “duh, what do we do now”….  They stupidly changed the award.  And BrewDog was denied the award they had won based on the judges votes.

It is all explained here.

The BrewDog version of things goes on to say that this is corporate spirits afraid of craft beer and that they have set up this David and Goliath scenario.  Methinks however that they don’t take responsibility for how their own actions came into play here.  They won the award, fact.  They were denied said award, fact.  Threats were made by Diageo rep, fact.  However why was that threat made in the first place?  Maybe if they weren’t such buttheads about their marketing of their stunt beers, they wouldn’t be seen as bad ambassadors of the award in the first place.

My Grandfather used to say that they burned their ass and now they are upset because they have to sit on a blister.  My thought:  It is a relatively sad set of circumstances that brought us to this point, but blame rests with all parties, Diageo, BII, and BrewDog.

Let us know what you think in the comments.


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39 Comments on “Call Scotland Yard! BrewDog in the Center of Another Scandal…How Can This Be?”

  1. May 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    BII stands for: British Institute of Innkeeping, not at all like the Brewer’s Association. It’s in the blog post that you linked to.

    I don’t entirely agree with your take on the situation. The Diageo representative probably had a problem with BrewDog, not because of their marketing, but because they manufacture a competing product in addition to running several craft beer bars. I assume that the other nominees for “Bar Operator of the Year” don’t also manufacture their own beer or spirits. That is probably what put a bee in Diageo’s bonnet. Since they sponsored the event, they were, in effect, paying to advertise for the competition. Then they acted stupidly and made it much worse for themselves.

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      I meant it is like the Brewers Association in the way it is totally not like the Brewers Association at all.

      Maybe, but I don’t think that would put them over the edge like this. I think it has more to do with the Punk attitude at BrewDog and the fact that they are very prim and proper at the BII and the two don’t mix. I think Diageo wanted to preserve the prestige of the award and they didn’t think BrewDog fit that mold. Either way, their actions made the whole situation MUCH worse, on that we agree.

      • May 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

        You are assuming an awful lot. And forgetting that the BII actually voted for BrewDog “as clear winners of the award.”

        • Don
          May 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

          and then took it away at the first sign of trouble. I’m not really pointing fingers at BII they were just spineless pawns in this situation, but I thin this is personal between Diageo and BrewDog.

    • May 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

      Any company that sponsors awards in their industry is doing the same thing with the understanding that their competition will most likely end up with an award. To try and influence who receives those awards is just plain unethical.

      • Don
        May 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

        I agree 100% with what you said. I also think that BrewDog has a way of bringing these things upon themselves.

    • ScottG
      May 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      Alex, in the UK, many breweries operate their own pubs or sign licensing/operating agreements with pub owners. This agreement typically involves selling all (or at least a certain number of taps) of the brewers beers and having the brewery’s logo prominently displayed inside and out. An independent pub (shortened from public house) is called a “free house” and the owner is then free to sell any beers he/she so chooses.

      As far as I am aware, none of Diageo’s beers (Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, etc.) are used in this manner in the UK but are found in both types of pubs throughout. So they really don’t have any room to complain about advertising for the competition, if that is in fact their beef. I think you’d be hard-pressed to go into a pub anywhere in the UK and not find at least one Diageo brew.

      The BII, according to their website, are a non-profit designed to set standards for operating bars/pubs, and “advance the education and training of persons preparing for entering upon or engaged in the day-to-day running of premises having a Justices’ full licence for the sale of intoxicating liquor’.” Gotta love England’s legalese.

      So based on all that, I’d say it’s more likely some Diageo yutz got his/her knickers in a twist about BrewDog for some reason and decided to speak loudly and threaten to use their big stick.

      • Don
        May 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

        Thanks Scott, you are far more eloquent than I, but I think you just resaid what I said in the post? right? 😉

        • ScottG
          May 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

          Pretty much. I’m still trying to find a job that pays by the word.

      • May 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

        Oh, I’m firmly in BrewDog’s corner here and not attempting to justify what Diageo did. The fact that BrewDog doesn’t sell Diageo (or other macro) products in their bars probably added another reason for that yutz to do what he/she did.

  2. Chad
    May 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Assuming everything reported is 100% true in what way is brewdog to blame? You’re saying this is Karma?!

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      I’m saying its Instant Karma.

      • Katie
        May 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

        I call bullshit. This falls solely at Diageo’s feet. This award was to be based on merit, not marketing practices. To say that BrewDog somehow brought this upon themselves because they are mavericks is to assume that all microbreweries must bow before the “big machine”. Obviously Diageo’s reach is extensive, and we all know the “big machine” can mess with whomever it wants, but what exactly did BrewDog do to Diageo? Take a miniscule percentage of their distribution away? Not like they took aim at them with a marketing campaign. Being renegades of a sort doesn’t breed bad karma. It breeds competition.

        • Don
          May 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

          Don’t get me wrong. I agree that what Diageo’s rep did was totally unethical, and morally reprehensible, and just downright unfair. It flies in the face of everything we have all been taught from a young age that if you work hard, do good, you will be rewarded.

          That said, some critical thinking is needed here too. It isn’t too far of a stretch to say the BrewDog rubs folks the wrong way in a lot of circles. I just think that abrasive approach to EVERYTHING they promote came home to roost and bit them in the ass this time.

          And I don’t think this had anything to do with market share, competitiveness, or a Big Machine. This was personal and it played out in a very bad way.

  3. johnking82
    May 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Who cares…

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

      I don’t really care either. Just low hanging fruit for a post.

  4. CrazyHorse
    May 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    “Buttheads about their marketing”? Really, Don? If they weren’t such clever marketing trolls, you’d never have heard of them, and they wouldn’t have been up for the award. Diageo was clearly in the wrong here, not BrewDog. This was an interesting post until the last two paragraphs.

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      I agree 100% that Diageo is in the wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about that in my piece. I couldn’t disagree more with the notion that BrewDog wouldn’t be up for this award without their marketing stunts. I think they could have been recognized for what they did without having people tattoo themselves for free beer.

  5. May 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I’ve been to Scotland and heard a lot of Scots deride the royals and generally take an attitude much like you describe BrewDog as having.

    In contrast, Diageo’s brands are Establishment in a way without an equivalent in American culture. Even their beer brands are Extremely Traditional, to say nothing of their whisky brands. Basically, if you haven’t been here for a few centuries then thanks for visiting but you really know that you should leave immediately, don’t you?

    To me, this is clash of cultures (Scot vs British, innovation vs tradition) and the folks with money and influence did what they usually do.

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

      I think you are mostly right here Brendan, however Scots speaking ill of the royals usually doesn’t get played out in the media like BrewDog does. They are masters of media manipulation, and good on them. But that attitude is bound to make them some enemies. Looks like one of them had lots of influence over BII.

  6. May 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    I have to agree w/ Brendan here. I originally compared this to the crap that was pulled with the Brewmasters tv series, but then realized that I was being too US-centric. The biases go much deeper than that. The differences between England and Scotland are old, festering and permeate every level of society–kind of like North vs South, but in spades.

    Having said all that, I still think it was a really shitty trick to pull and as a result, I’m not gonna drink any Diageo products for the foreseeable future. I urge you to do the same. Don’t know that it’ll make a difference but maybe somebody will get the message–are you reading this Diageo?

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

      I would agree with the British/Scottish thing, but this was a strictly Scotland award held in Glasgow. If BrewDog didn’t win, some other Scottish Pub would. I really think this was personal and that is what played out here.

  7. May 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    This is making waves over here in the UK too. My last name is McGinnis (American spelling). This is the same name that is related through heritage with Guinness of which is owned by Diageo. As a fan of Guinness, I will never drink another pint of their stout, or any other version again until they (Diageo) do right. I don’t drink Brewdog beers as a norm but they won something fair and square and if any other Americans see this as a screwed up situation, then you will not either. Brewdog is doing good things regardless of my taste but this is complete bullshit. I hope that everything associated with Diageo, too include Guinness goes tits up. This is not what the beer world is about and if Brewdog stepped on some toes to be recognised, then eff everyone else.

  8. May 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    What Brewdog does do here in England, and all their UK pubs is distribute American beers such as Lagunitas, Lost Abbey, Stone, etc. As an American, I appreciate that chance to head down to Camden (London) and get something that I cannot get otherwise. Screw Diageo!!!

  9. Brendan
    May 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for being a good chap about this, Don, but defending the royal family is really a British Establishment response. I don’t know what BrewDog has said, but I know that many Scots don’t want to continue to subsidize British royalty, so I guess that Diageo would have been OK with a Scottish pub that was willing to bow and scrape or at least be silent. It’s in their business interests not to antagonize the system. It sounds like BrewDog wasn’t willing to be Diageo’s bitch here.

  10. May 9, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Good call, Brendan!

  11. Tom
    May 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing??? Could be…nope don’t think so..the sin is that the Diageo’s Rep got caught.
    I find that the best part is that Diageo’s website still has the post:
    May 8th “Paul Walsh key note speech at Responsible Business Summit”
    Paul Walsh, CEO Diageo plc gave the keynote speech in the opening session of Ethical Corporation’s two day Responsible Business Summit in London. In his speech, Paul shares his perspective on sustainability for business – how this can give businesses a competitive edge and how collaboration in sustainability can work for all partners.”

    Would love to get the transcripts of the conversations in the Diageo’s Executive Boardroom about this fiasco!

  12. Bill
    May 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    The whole fiasco was stupid and did nothing but give BrewDog yet another opportunity to stir things up in the Twitterverse. Yes, something rotten went down from Diageo. Yes, BII should be punched in the taint for caving, but BrewDog (in my honest opinion) acted like whining self-entitled babies by taking the issue direct to Twitter rather than handle it professionally. Then again, decorum seems to be beyond them, so whatever. Yay, more pointless BrewDog nonsense…

  13. May 10, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Don, I always knew you were the type to blame the victim. Diageo’s actions had nothing to do with not liking BrewDog’s marketing. They were trying to squelch BD’s momentum and what it might mean for Diagoe brands’ sales down the road.

    • Don
      May 10, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      Zac, your comment is perhaps the most comforting one I have received here to date. If you think like this, I know I’m right. Karma has been kicked around here a bit, but I think really it is a direct result of their attitude and actions that this happened to them. I in no way agree with it, but I can see why it happened. And by the way, I don’t think it is a case of blaming the victim either. They were victims of poor judgement. But like I said to a previous comment bad behavior begets bad behavior. It’s a little like the bully getting his ass kicked by a bigger bully. Hard to feel sorry.

      • May 10, 2012 at 11:07 am #

        I love it when you paint yourself into a corner with your stupidity brush and then lash out at others! Hold on, I gotta get my popcorn…

        • Don
          May 10, 2012 at 11:08 am #

          Yeah, that brush has served me well on sooooo many occasions!

        • May 10, 2012 at 11:13 am #

          Well, I for one have certainly enjoyed it whenever you’ve broken it out…

        • ScottG
          May 10, 2012 at 11:13 am #

          Do they sell those brushes at Home Depot?

        • Don
          May 10, 2012 at 11:20 am #

          I’ve got a huge supply of them. How many do you need?

    • May 10, 2012 at 11:14 am #

      Rumor now has it that the person making the threats was a “very senior” Diageo executive and not just some rogue, lower-level operative.

      I’ve made this point before on here, but I think it bears repeating: BrewDog’s marketing tactics are not directed toward the American Craft Beer drinker, but to the drinking public in the UK that has little to no exposure to American-style craft beer. In that kind of market, they need all the help they can get, especially since CAMRA wants nothing to do with them because their beers are non-traditional.

      I think it’s silly for American beer geeks to be offended by their publicity stunts, especially since BrewDog makes a very solid product to back up their bluster. Plus, they are major advocates for American craft beer in the UK, and serve some of the best beer the US has to offer in their bars.

      • Don
        May 10, 2012 at 11:25 am #

        You are proving my point Alex. Why doesn’t anyone see this was an inevitability, and not a big shocker. I’ve gone on record now as saying this wasn’t right and Diageo’s actions were wrong on every level, but this punch was telegraphed.

  14. May 10, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Any other Americans wonder how Scotland became part of the United Kingdom? CGP Grey has a lightning-fast history lesson.

    The middle finger? I thought the f**k you sign was two fingers in Great Britain (or is it just England?). Sadly, the video doesn’t cover that bit of trivia.

  15. May 11, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Awesome post and my sentiments exactly.

    I live in the United Kingdom and I absolutely bloody love their beers but it’s love smeared with a little bit of hatred due to their attitude.

    I’ve been to their bar in Camden town, London many times and I love it. Awesome draft beer from Brewdog, obviously and craft beer from the rest of the world as well as a massive bottle list. They certainly deserved the award but maybe this Karma, though, after the way they’ve treated other companies and other organisations in the past…

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