BrewDog birra beer punk james watt martin dickie
Via Fortune ©

Is BrewDog facing the end of its own punk beer movement?

Words by Francesco Pattacini

The history of BrewDog punk beer movement, from its foundation to today, is without a doubt one of the most incredible adventures of craft beer and beyond. Started as beer makers in a garage, James Watt and Martin Dickie in just over ten years have created a global colossus with production sites, brewpubs and sales all over the world, directly contributing to the artisanal revolution not only in the UK and in Europe. Punk IPA is for many reasons still today one of the most famous and important beers (for diffusion, taste, iconicity) that we know and that we continue to drink but which, at the time, was truly a tsunami of epic dimensions, capable of subverting an entire system with its own alternate charge.

What distinguished BrewDog and its beer from all the others was certainly a different approach to making and communicating beer which, to tradition and to the tastes of industrial beer, has always opposed an alternative vision of a declared punk attitude. This is to be understood above all in his version of do it yourself ethics, which sees people, communities and their empowerment as the starting point and the very end of their actions. An ethic that, for over ten years, Watt & Dickie have pursued by rejecting compromises and using unorthodox methods to communicate it. The goal has always been to show one’s difference in a clear and determined way by setting limits between punks and ‘others’. Almost fifteen years after its foundation, however, the enormous expansion and some choices have shown how certain positions do not seem to be as strong and central as they claimed to be, probably going so far as to redefine the identity of Fraserbrurgh’s punks and the original idea from they had left.

Completely inspired by everything punk, we set out to offer a modern-day rebellion against tasteless mass-market beers as well as a hard-core revolt against brands which are so bland they melt into oblivion. We took an anarchic, DIY, decidedly reckless approach as we tore up the business rule book and did things on our own terms. The results have been electrifying. (From Business for Punks)

James Watt and Martin Dickie have made a flag of their own diversity and independence from the start and, as it has been a key to their success, it is also a necessary term by which to look at the recent evolutions of BrewDog and its beer. The results of the crowdfunding campaigns, the sale to the American fund up to the recent letter from Punks with Purpose cast more than one doubt on BrewDog’s philosophy and real values, especially the way it has evolved over the years. We therefore analyzed the evolution path, both from an economic and cultural point of view, to understand if their dream of having a more punk, better and more inclusive world is still alive.

BrewDog punk
Via BrewDog ©

The Equity for Punks ten years later

A fundamental moment in BrewDog’s history was certainly the launch, in 2009 of Equity for Punks, the first popular funding campaign with which the brewery born in Fraserbrurgh, against everything and everyone, brought the drinking community to the center of its development. It was a revolutionary campaign in many ways, managing to raise the funds necessary to lead the expansion of the facilities without having to sell out to larger groups. It was an impressive style lesson (raising, in the first edition, 700 thousand pounds through 1,330 investors) that over the years has been revived to involve over 120 thousand investors and to raise a total of almost 73 million pounds according to the estimates of the Morning Advertiser. Launched at the beginning of the year, Equity for Punks Tomorrow was the last (probably) type of crowdfunding campaign, born to support the ecological transition program and the move to a Carbon Negative company which has raised over £ 27 million to date.

The achievement of the B-Corp  certification in 2021 made BrewDog the first carbon negative brewery in the world, showing together with the creation of the immense Lost Forest to repopulate over three thousand hectares of trees today uninhabited, the commitment of Watt and Dickie for a more sustainable and eco-friendly. The result of Equity for Punks Tomorrow, and of all the other crowdfunding campaigns, born on the one hand as a necessity to support the expansion (especially at the beginning), must however be looked at with different eyes, especially in relation to the structural evolution put in place and acted by BrewDog in recent years.

Since 2017, in fact, BrewDog is no longer a completely independent company, having sold 22.7% of the company to a holding company in San Francisco for 264 million dollars to strengthen its presence in the United States. A choice that has proved successful and that has allowed BrewDog to triple its productions on the American continent in just one year. At the time of the acquisition, following what Forbes USA declares, Watt and Dickie gave investors the opportunity to sell their shares but only 2% would have accepted the offer. The sale of TSG Consumer Partners is a first step of our research, which goes directly against the idea for which Equity for Punks was born and, in fact, sinks it. According to a research by the Financial Times, the fund «is guaranteed an annual return of 18% on its 22%, with priority over the others, which means that investors risk not gaining anything or losing money even if the value of the company should get up». Basically, after the agreement, BrewDog’s historical lenders risk not having that profit expected at the beginning and no longer having that possibility to act directly on the brewery’s choices.

This reality finds even more confirmation in the case of the latest crowdfunding campaign, as also explained by Myrto Lalacos, Investment Executive of Praetura Venture, who analyzed the economic prospectus (downloadable here) provided by BrewDog. The risk for new investors (understood as those who invest thousands of pounds) is not to be able to create a profit because the target envisaged by BrewDog is so high (around two billion pounds) that the gain will be practically impossible: «Investors in the latest crowdfunding UK Equity for Punks they would get their money back alone if the company sells for [approximately] £ 2.2 billion in 2024». All this considering that BrewDog, in 2020 alone, lost almost 7 million pounds due to the pandemic.

For those who believed in BrewDog and its beer it has never been a question only related to money. The investors who made history in 2009 had not focused only on that but on a certain style, and certain dynamics, heralded by Watt and Dickie in every moment of their careers. That Live Craft, Die Punk that was supposed to bring a total revolution in the world of beer and, in some way, in the whole business.

BrewDog james watt martin dickie
Via BrewDog ©

Go fast or Go Home, BrewDog and the myth of speed in beer movement

Some folks think slow is good. We believe fast is better. Speed changes everything. Fast-forward to tomorrow and there will be two types of business: the fast and the dead. (From Business for Punks)


James Watt speaks in his inspirational memoir Business for Punks about speed as a requisite for success. Go Fast or Go Home, after all, is the title of this chapter which tells of the need to always push to the maximum in order to continue growing, not only from the point of view of production (as happened for them, which reached 195 million liters in 2019) but also for the community and its workers. Leaving a positive trace in society, in the same way that Equity for Punk Tomorrow says it is for the environment. If the financial question can already show a clear expression of how the race for earnings often forces you to leave a part of ideals, the reality told by the open letter signed by a series of former employees with different levels, histories and duties falls even further into the deep.

The testimonies of Punks with Purpose give light, as never before, to the reality of BrewDog, made of a real obsession linked to growth that has endorsed the affirmation of a toxic and fear-based culture and then became the shadow of itself in every aspect. Punks with Puropose speak of rottenness and an extreme personality cult that ended up representing the same enemy these punks had moved for, confirming all the suspicions around the latest campaigns (see the Pink IPA, confirmed by James Watt himself in My 10 Biggest Mistakes As BrewDog’s CEO) and the philosophy of the brewery itself.

«In a post-truth world», wrote Punks with Purpose, «you have allowed the ends to justify the means, time and time again. Lies, hypocrisy and deceit can be useful tools; PR campaigns repeated over and over on LinkedIn – until you actually believe them yourselves – is good for driving awareness, and if anyone questions the validity of your claims, you can simply move on to the next campaign. How many more times will we see the stories about sending protest beer to Russia (you didn’t), James and Martin changing their names to Elvis (they didn’t), awarding an Employee of the Month over a sweary can (which was not an accident and was actually approved for print by James), or offering Pawternity leave (which many staff are simply never permitted to take)? Worse, by placing personalities at the centre of your messaging, you have inflated egos and fostered a culture within craft beer that deifies founders, and gives weight to sexist and misogynistic brewers who claim to be standing up for free speech. You have become a lightning rod for some of the worst attitudes present on both the internet, and in real life.»


It is with you [James Watt, NdR] that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies. Your attitude and actions are at the heart of the way BrewDog is perceived, from both inside and out. By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams. […] The true culture of BrewDog is, and seemingly always has been, fear. You go on LinkedIn and claim the buck stops with you, but do you have the guts to look at the team you have built around you and admit that the overwhelming majority of them are quietly afraid that their next mistake could be their last at BrewDog? In the last few weeks, the silence has been deafening – this is not the time to try and quietly wait things out.

This letter goes straight to BrewDog’s nerve center and forces a reflection not only on the brewery but on how this type of practice can truly be limited in the environment. To the letter from Punks with Purpose, James Watt decided to respond almost immediately. In a long statement, Watt opens to his faults, apologizing for what has happened and immediately relaunching a complete review program, with evaluations related to staff, managers, those who have left their jobs and promising a new salary program , benefits and an internal union.

All important ideas that come, perhaps, too late to save that punk dream that should have actually brought about a change in the world and, perhaps, ended too soon to resemble the ones it had always been against.

Update January 26, 2022

Despite yet another act of self-accusation by James Watt about his mistakes as BrewDog CEO, new allegations have arisen against him in the last few hours. As reported by the Guardian, in fact, the founder of BrewDog was accused of having threatened to make public the identities of some former employees, in new posts on the “Equity for Punks” forum, which appeared anonymously in the documentary Disclosure: The Truth About BrewDog, dedicated to recent internal scandals aired on the BBC (and available at this link). Watt said: «We know that the BBC has been given false information, which if broadcast would be highly defamatory. BrewDog fully supports transparency and investigative journalism. However, he must also protect himself from defamatory accusations and he will not hesitate to do so ».

More English content are available in our World of beer section