BrewDog Brings Scottish Craft Beer Revolution to Columbus
“I was captain of a fishing boat,” said James Watt, co-founder and owner of BrewDog, a Scotland-based brewery making waves in the beer industry in the UK and, as of this summer, the U.S. “The North Atlantic in January is a tough place to make a living.”
Those days seem far away now as Watt and his friend and business partner Martin Dickie, have opened bars and breweries worldwide and star in Brew Dogs, the longest-ever-running beer TV show. It all started with their first taste of craft beer.
Watt speaks of it as if it were a religious awakening. After being reborn, there was no turning back to the same old generic, one-dimensional beer. He and Dickie started spreading the good word by selling small, home-brewed batches out of their van. It’s been nine years in the beer industry, and they’ve since broken norms, boundaries and records.
After establishing Equity for Punks — their own business model of benefit-incentivized investors — the two-employee, van-occupied craft beer lab grew into an internationally known brand manifest in 44 bars in dozens of countries and identified best by the revolution it started against Big Beer.
After all this, Watt said the largest venture in BrewDog history happened this summer, with their U.S. headquarters being set up in Canal Winchester and a bar coming to West Town Street in Franklinton.
“We’ve had so much enthusiasm and support from Ohio,” Watt said. “We loved the people. We loved the vibes.”
They also loved the beer culture, he said, which is soaring farther and faster here than in the UK and a lot of other cities in the US. Watt is eager to join a community of craft beer lovers, seeing local breweries like Land-Grant, Seventh Son, Rhinegeist and Fathead’s not as competition, but as fellow competitors against big beer companies.
All were present at BrewDog’s AGM on Saturday, which brought local bands, food trucks and Equity for Punks investors to celebrate the opening of their brand new 42-acre site on Gender Road. Nearing completion, the site will house a 100,000 square foot brewery, a restaurant, taproom, retail space, visitor center and beer garden. They plan on distributing to 5-10 states initially and growing from there.
In the long term the site will support an annual capacity “in excess of 1.5 million barrels.” The brews go from the barrel to the canning line, a process that Watt describes as better for the beer, the brewery and the environment than bottling.
As for the West Town Street location, Watt and Dickie are planning a taproom and restaurant with the possibility of a small beer-making system that would allow them to brew individualized batches on-site. Their award-winning beers like Cocoa Psycho and Punk IPA will be available and (potentially) their record-breaking brews with ABVs of up to 55 percent.
BrewDog broke the record first in 2009 with Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a double cask aged beer stored in intense freezing temperatures to get it to 32 percent ABV. Their 41 percent ABV beer, Sink the Bismarck, was released the following year. End of History, a Belgian blond ale infused with juniper berries and nettles from the Scottish Highlands, broke the record for the last time and was released in roadkill.
“The impact of The End of History is a perfect conceptual marriage between art, taxidermy and craft brewing,” says the BrewDog blog. “The bottles are at once beautiful and disturbing – they disrupt conventions and break taboos, just like the beer they hold within them.”
Thanks to the bill eliminating the 12 percent ABV cap for beer that passed this year, BrewDog can brew these higher ABV beers for Ohioans to sip on like a single malt scotch whiskey. Watt said breaking the records was about more than publicity; it actually allows for a greater depth of flavor that can’t be achieved in lower ABV beers.
“If you think about it in terms of painting a picture, the alcohol content is the base of the beer which is essentially the canvas,” he said. “So the bigger the canvas, the bigger the alcohol content and the more scope that we’ve got to put huge amounts of flavors in there but keep the beer balanced.”
Watt and Dickie’s commitment to craft beer will no doubt fit in with the appreciation exponentially growing for it in the city, the midwest and the United States. Here they join a community of craft breweries that account for nearly 13 percent of the beer market, according to data by the Brewers Association. By 2020, that number will grow to 20 percent.
Watt still identifies as captain, but of a new kind of boat. Together with breweries both local and national, he and Dickie are challenging conceptions around how beer is made and enjoyed and leading a revolution against boring, heartless beer.
“We just went ahead and did our own thing and kind of disregarded conventional wisdom and precedent, and all those things. We’re gonna do it this way, and we’re gonna make it work,” Watt said.
“Otherwise, I’ll be back on a fishing boat.”
For more information, or to become an investor, visit www.brewdog.com.
Photos by Walker Evans.