Brewdog's James Watt on The United Craft Brewers, Equity For Punks and Building a Brewery in America

Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis

I recently travelled to Ellon, near Aberdeen to brew a beer at Brewdog with fellow beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones, plus Jonny Garrett and Brad Evans of The Craft Beer Channel. The resulting beer, named Peach Therapy, is a Belgian inspired Tripel, infused with peach and apricot puree and balanced with a subtle tartness from the addition of acidulated malt. The beer will be ready in a few weeks and I'll tell you all about its creation soon. What the trip to Brewdog also allowed me to do was to witness the speed at which Brewdog are expanding and the scale their operation has now reached. I was also able to sit down with Co-Founder and Managing Director, James Watt and ask him a few questions about their recent announcements and on their plans for the future. 

So tell me about the United Craft Brewers.

It’s something that we’ve been working on for a few months. There have been initial meetings between myself, Jasper (Cuppaidge) from Camden Town Brewery, Logan (Plant) from Beavertown, Rich (Burhouse) from Magic Rock and James from James Clay. We just felt that the UK beer scene had changed so much in the last couple of years. There’s now so many amazing Craft Brewers on the go and no organisation that will really look after and protect their interests specifically.

You’ve got CAMRA who do their own thing and SIBA who frustrated me massively in my dealings with them. We want to create something that will be akin to the Brewers Association of America (BA), something that can protect, promote and enhance the interests of UK Craft Brewers both at home and overseas.

What specifically do you hope to achieve with your members that SIBA and CAMRA aren’t currently doing?

We want to promote the interests of UK craft brewers who have customers both in the UK and overseas, that’s the commercial aspect. There’s a huge focus on the sharing of information, knowledge and best practice, that’s something that the Brewers Association do so well. I think the UK has just started its Craft Beer journey and the more information and knowledge we can share amongst ourselves the better we can make our beer. Things like best practice when it comes to minimising oxygen, best practice when it comes to dry hopping, storing your hops and choosing your malt supplier. We want to get the standard of British Craft Beer even higher, which is ultimately better for the people making it and for the customers drinking it. We can also act as a shared resource when it comes to getting the best deals collectively on supplies we need like malt, hops, bottles, bottle caps, keykegs, those type of things.

"We want to create something that can protect, promote and enhance the interests of UK Craft Brewers both at home and overseas."

We also want to protect the Craft Beer category. If you look at what’s happened in the US, the BA has done a decent job of protecting it but it’s a category that’s becoming more and more attractive to the big players, and they’re going to try and take advantage of what we as a Craft Beer community have tried to build. We want to try and protect it by having an official definition for Craft Beer, which we would propose and then accept as an industry. This would help stop companies who are not craft breweries trying to take advantage of the Craft Beer movement.

You’ve recently launched Equity For Punks (EFP) IV – a fourth round of crowdfunding. How do you think existing shareholders feel about this?

It annoys me that if you go back to our previous EFP campaigns that people were bitching about the valuation and saying people would never get their return but people have so far got an amazing return as well as a whole host of benefits that they’ve gotten from being investors.

Do you think that people investing in EFP IV will, in two or three years, see the same benefits as previous investors?

Because this is a public share offering I am not allowed to speculate on the future value of shares. What I can say is that shares can go up or down in value and if people are interested they should consult the prospectus. I’ve obviously got a very strong opinion of what I think the shares of going to do, you can see what we’re doing as a team, you can see the performance from the past but all I can say is that people should look at the offering and decide for themselves.

Are you happy to see other breweries such as Camden Town taking a lead from EFP with their own crowd funding campaigns?

Oh yeah! What we wanted to do from the start of the business in 2007 is to get other people as passionate about Craft Beer as we are. If that’s Brewdog beer or Camden or whether it’s Lovibonds, The Kernel, Magic Rock, Brew By Numbers, anyone, then that’s great. We’re such a small percentage of the beer industry, so for me the more people that are selling Craft Beer and the more people that are drinking Craft Beer, the better everyone is going to do out of it. I think if anything, the American Craft Beer industry has done well because of that community and collective spirit and it’s what we want to work towards in the UK. The better anyone else in our industry does, the better our industry does, be it Camden or anyone else. I think Camden did great with their crowdfunding and I’m sure they’re going to build an awesome new brewery.

You’ve got a lot of big plans but the one thing that interests me the most is your plan to open a brewery in the United States, why Columbus, Ohio?

There are two locations on the shortlist, one in Columbus, Ohio and another in Charleston, South Carolina. Columbus is one option, probably the preferred option at the moment but we haven’t completely finalised that. Within 500 miles of Columbus you’ve got half the American population, so distribution wise it makes a lot of sense.

"In terms of availability, appreciation and understanding of Craft Beer we are a long way behind."

We wanted to go East Cost because it’s easier for our staff to get to from Scotland and it’s slightly less saturated with the type of beers that we make. It’s an area that’s also going through a good period of regeneration, it was a big automotive hub and it lost that industry, so they’re really keen to attract new companies and for them to come and make it their home. It’s also got a fantastic beer scene so for us it makes sense. The only bad thing is that the weather sucks as much as it does here in Aberdeen. It would be nice if I could rock up every day in shorts and flip-flops but… no. 

Do you still think the UK beer scene is about ten years behind the US and what do you think UK breweries should be doing to try and catch up?

Oh yes, we’re light years behind, we are so, so far behind. Timing is everything, there’s been a great Craft Beer scene in America for years and the UK is just at the very start of its journey. In terms of availability, appreciation and understanding of Craft Beer we are a long way behind and anyone that says we’re not hasn’t got a clue what they’re talking about. Take Portland, Oregon for instance, 50% of the beer consumed in Portland is Craft Beer. Last year all Craft Beer in the UK combined sold less than half of what Peroni sold alone.

It just takes time though and the market’s changing so quickly. The availability of craft beer in the UK now compared to two or four years ago is so, so different. Things are changing, consumer’s perceptions are changing and ultimately the stakes for beer are being elevated. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing, I’m sure we can catch up but we’ve got a good bit of catching up to do.

Finally, wheres your favourite place to drink and what are you drinking?

I would be right here in Dogtap and right now I’d be drinking our new prototype beer, a deconstructed Whisky Sour!