To be frank, our time in London was more stressful than we were prepared for. By now halfway through our trip, we were starting to feel the wear and tear of travel; when we really could have used some R&R to catch our breath, we got hit instead with travel complications, difficult metro systems and crowds upon crowds of busy, bustling people. If ever there was a time and place we needed a drink, it was London.
We stumbled upon BrewDog entirely by accident while exploring London’s Tower Hill area. We knew nothing about Brewdog when we walked in, and found ourselves comparing it to something along Minnesota’s own Surly, at least as far as operation — a large-scale brewpub with some level of familiarity and fame to the local craft beer scene. We’d discover later that our impression was only a scratch on the surface of BrewDog’s story.
BrewDog was born in 2007 in response — as craft beer so often is — to “industrial generic beers.” Founders James Watt and Martin Dickie were just 24 when they took out a bank loan, leased a space in Scotland, purchased some stainless steel tanks and began brewing their own craft beer. The first two attempts, they admit in an interview with the Craft Beer Channel, were complete disasters; their first batch of Punk IPA was condemned after a set of keys, a mobile phone and a thermometer all found their way into the tank. The second batch, too, was condemned after the cheap hose they purchased gave the beer a plastic taste. The third batch, though, was “drinkable” enough to sell off at farmer’s markets and “here and there.”
Despite their rough start, it didn’t take long for James and Martin to begin making waves. Shortly after beginning brewing, their beer won 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th places in a national beer competition. In 2008, they made headlines for brewing the world’s strongest beer — Tokyo, a 12% Imperial Stout. Because of its high ABV — unthinkable and unprecedented at the time — The Portman Group (a police group for alcohol in the UK) banned the beer, prohibition bodies freaked out and the media went into a frenzy.
It is utterly irresponsible to bring out a beer which is so strong.’ – Jack Law, Chairman of Alcohol Focus Scotland
In classic punk fashion, James and Martin staged a “liquid protest” by brewing a 0.5% beer named “Nanny State.” When it was all said and done, the two — and Tokyo — survived the onslaught, and by the end of 2008 BrewDog was the largest independent brewery in Scotland.
By 2009 BrewDog had become the fastest-growing alternative beer brand in the UK, further establishing their punk-ness as their Punk IPA became the top-selling IPA in all of Scandinavia. Equity for Punks was launched, which allowed the opportunity for people to purchase shares and co-own BrewDog; over 1,300 people invested that first year. James and Martin again pushed the limits by brewing a record-breaking 32% Uber-Imperial Stout Tactical Nuclear Penguin.
2010 saw BrewDog’s first taproom open in Scotland; another 45 would open in the 8 years to follow. They picked up a Gold Medal for Hardcore IPA at the World Beer Cup and outdid their own Nuclear Penguin with a 55% ABV Blonde Belgian Ale named The End of History, irreverently sewn into roadkill and recognized as the most expensive beer ever (in a blog post, they stated that this would be their last high ABV beer; they had pushed the limits of “extreme brewing” and had reached the “end of beer.”).
The End of History would hardly be the end of BrewDog’s story, however. 2013 found them responsible for several major publicity stunts: after opening a bar in London they celebrated by driving a BrewDog tank down Camden High Street; they made history (again) by becoming the first to brew a beer at the bottom of the ocean; and they “smashed UK perceptions of beer” (seriously, what perceptions could possibly be left by now?!) by pouring a 28% artisanal Golden Belgian Ale from a stag’s head.
In 2014, their Dead Pony Club pale ale (3.8% ABV) was banned by The Portman Group for packaging “in potential breach of the Code for its association with bravado and immoderate consumption,” and for calling consumers to “rip it up down empty streets.” BrewDog shot back with a scathing public letter pointing out that you can’t incite riots in empty streets and otherwise declaring that they didn’t give a s*** what The Portman Group thought.
To date, James, Martin and the BrewDogs team have additionally created three seasons of their own BrewDogs TV series; canned and shipped their beers to 55 countries; set a world record for largest equity crowd-funded business; set another record for the Most Consecutive Years in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 (6); celebrated 10 years; and welcomed 70,000 shareholders.
It would be an understatement to say that BrewDog — led fearlessly, if not at times recklessly, by James and Martin — has done what very few breweries have done; in fact, in most cases, they’ve done what no other brewery has done, ultimately paving an unprecedented way for craft beer and establishing themselves as the punks who can — and will — overcome any and all obstacles along the way, all the while not giving a **** (fill in with your 4-letter word of choice).
Of course, we didn’t know any of this as we sat down, exhausted on a hot Tuesday afternoon, at BrewDog’s Tower Bridge location in London. All we knew was that we were hungry, thirsty and tired from a rapid pace of travel.
For an hour, anyways, BrewDog was just what we needed; the food was filling, the beer refreshing, and the taproom rejuvenating as it crackled with the tireless energy of Londoners stopping to do the same thing we were — appreciate great craft beer.