BrewDog: For the Love of Beer, Brewing, and Breakthroughs!
There are over 19,000 active craft beer breweries spread across 209 countries worldwide. Considering the abundant selection of specialized flavors and types available today, the beer industry is oversaturated with options, and standing out from the competition can only be achieved if something never seen before is brought to the table.
Fulfilling the demand for newness are James Watt and Martin Dickie, two Scotsmen and lifelong friends, whose passion for quality beverages inspired them to create a unique brand that perfectly combines traditional and contemporary brewing.
BrewDog is not your everyday brewery. It offers a rich palette of high-quality beers - over 82 types and flavors to be exact- along with a sublime selection of homebrewed liquor, and over 78 branded bars - yes, bars - across the globe.
Being different on the brewery market came with a handful of challenges, but in James and Martin’s success journey - to beer or not to beer was never a question to ponder!
James Watt was born in 1982, in a small fishing town called Fraserburgh, and grew up in a modest, middle-class family. James' father was a fisherman, and his mother was a humble teacher. His parents were committed to raising their son to be considerate, ambitious, and open-minded, and helped him build a strong character that would, later on, provide as useful, business-wise.
During his boyhood, James spent most of his time with his father, fishing in open seas and learning everything he could on the craft. Fishing became James’ first passion in life and he even dreamt of becoming his own ship captain. In elementary school, James was a pure rebel and often told his teachers that their educational ways were nothing short of boring and uninspiring.
Martin Dickie, on the other hand, was also born in 1982, in Aberdeenshire, but grew up a tad differently than James. As a kid, Martin’s parents tried to teach him the basic principles of success and ambition and wanted their son to be able to use his voice when needed, build a strong character, and always aim higher in everything he did. Unlike James’ fishing practices, Martin spent most of his childhood days at his family’s tiny brewery, managed by his father, and was always impressed by the complex process of brewing quality beer.
During his high school years, James slowly abandoned his love for fishing and instead spent more and more time in his father’s garage, where he had stored homemade beer brewing equipment. From the moment James was introduced to brewing, he fell for the craft and wanted to learn more about how simple ingredients can result in top-quality and versatile beer flavors. As they had a variety of US beer brands at home, James even tried to copy their brewing process and create his very own beer from scratch.
Meanwhile, Martin was an adventurous spirit who enjoyed a good challenge and traveling often, something that led him to try a variety of foreign and domestic beers.
Already fascinated with the process of crafting beer, Martin tried to recognize the ingredients used in every beer he tried, and then replicate them at home.
Takes One to Know One
James and Martin first crossed paths at college. To please his parents James went to Edinburgh University to study economics and law, whilst Martin got the support from his parents to continue his passion and enroll at the Heriot-Watt University for distilling and brewing.
Although attending different studies, James and Martin didn’t need much time to click. From 2000 to 2004, they were roommates and as such, discovered a shared passion for brewing, beer, and beverages. Bored with the same-old beer brewing and lack of innovation on the market, James and Martin felt sufficiently equipped and skilled to start thinking about establishing their very own brewery that would be nothing like any other brand.
Even though the idea was there and somewhat defined, neither James nor Martin had enough funds to kickstart their venture. As a result of their financial struggle, the duo had no other option but to halt their plans for a bit and get regular jobs to cover the cost of their brewery dream.
James graduated with a Bachelor’s in law, which enabled him to find a job as a trainee solicitor at a local company. However, his job was anything but fulfilling, which caused James to quit just two weeks later.
Instead of pursuing his brewery dream, James went back to his homeland to learn the art of fishing and help his father with the family business. Although he had spent most of his mornings at sea and even became a certified fisherman, James used every free second he got to brew beer in his parents’ garage. Meanwhile, Martin scored a job at Thornbridge Brewery, where he was lucky enough to be able to perfect his brewing skills, and earn some money on the side.
The It Year
In 2007, James and Martin were armed with just enough funds and skills to finally launch their own brewery - BrewDog. Aside from their own investments, the duo was also granted a loan from a bank in Scotland which would help their brand stand on its two feet and kick off its magnificent production.
BrewDog was initially a local company founded out of James’s parents’ garage back in Fraserburgh. In the first months of production, the duo lacked the refined brewing equipment so they had to fill out bottles with beer manually all the while keeping their fingers crossed for brighter, more efficient days ahead.
With only bare necessities under their belts, James and Martin principally struggled to keep their business afloat. Aside from insufficient production, the tandem figured that they also needed to introduce newness and innovation in their crafted beer, and perhaps even expand their brand to liquor production. While contemplating creative beer recipes, James and Martin consulted Michael Jackson, a renowned beer and whiskey expert, and writer.
Doubts and Determination
In the first couple of years of BrewDog's existence, everybody encouraged the duo to make their offering more affordable and give their beers a more traditional taste. However, as James and Martin were not fans of the ordinary, they decided to stick to their own guts and trust their revolutionary brewing vision to capture the right audience.
As it turned out, it was the unique course of action that James and Martin took that made all the difference for BrewDog’s success and earned it a stellar reputation within the industry.
Amid the ongoing doubt, something extraordinary happened, when after submitting their Puni IPA beer to a local contest, the host, Tesco, loved BrewDog’s product and even asked for the beverage to be distributed to over 600 stores nationwide!
Despite this monumental recognition, BrewDog’s most crucial business challenge came when their bank refused to grant them another loan, leaving James and Martin out in the dry and on the search for better alternatives.
Interestingly, the tandem decided to ‘white lie,’ and told a few investors that while the bank deal was concluded, they would terminate it if the angels decided to invest in the business. After a few potential candidates agreed to the new terms, the money started pouring in and BrewDog was back on its feet and in full motion again!
Besides crafting beer, BrewDog also started producing homemade liquor like whiskey and opening designated brand bars across the UK. With a stellar reputation already in the inventors’ pockets, BrewDog soon opened its first bars in the UK. In the years to come, it expanded its locations all over Europe and the US, reaching over 78 bars worldwide.
Today, the company has more than 5,000 employees, and a total funding amount of astonishing $377 million, gained over 15 funding rounds and six investors, with the leading being TSG Consumer Partners. Although having produced over 80 types of beer already, down the line, BrewDog plans on introducing even more unique flavors - beer and liquor-wise - and expanding its services all the way to Australia.
All in all, James and Martin’s journey to building Brewdog from the ground up is the ultimate zero-to-hero success story, proving the beer-drinking culture will always favor authenticity and that quality brewing will never go out of style!