You’re The Man Now, BrewDog

Beer Culture Is Fucked Up

Let’s start with an assumption: if you know what BrewDog is, you probably hate BrewDog. If not for their truly tasteless response to the backlash they received for a truly tasteless ad (which I think probably covers 100% of our readership), then because they make a terrible product with a generous dollop of self-unaware faux-anticapitalism, a sort of Bernie Sanders ethos that disparages anyone to the left of Ronald Wilson Reagan. For those who have not already heard the news, BrewDog, as part of their corporate “Equity for Punks” campaign, (i.e. ride your dad’s trust fund while drinking abysmal swill and pretending you’re rebelling against I don’t know what, but definitely not capitalism) managed to piss off the trans community as a whole (and trans women who are sex workers in particular) and as an apology gave us “No Label,” a “nonbinary, transgender beer.” Before delving into the monumentally loathsome entity that is BrewDog and the trash that they sell, let us look over the enterprise of modern brewing.

It’s not even a secret at this point that microbrewing is mainstream (and “microbrewing” itself is pretty fucking vague as far as terms go). I live in an obscure corner of Maryland and can reliably purchase beers from Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Chesapeake Brewery, Calvert Brewery, Mully’s, Stillwater Artisanal, Sweetwater,  Shiner, Flying Dog, Burley Oak, Brewer’s Art, Terrapin, DuClaw, Stone, Brooklyn, and dozens more. Some of these are perfectly good breweries, some employ total shitbags, and some churn out a wretched product—but let’s not lie to ourselves: microbrewing is pretty ubiquitous at this point. In the mid-90s, when only a few companies were microbrewing (notable names from from my own coast include Dogfish Head and Frederick Brewing, which was later absorbed into Flying Dog), the 3 biggest macrobreweries tried desperately to shut them down through what can only be called legal chicanery. Yet by the time Beer Wars (a documentary about the stacked-deck nature of beer distribution) was released, it was already unclear what constituted a small brewery (the documentary maker was a former employee of Mike’s Hard Lemonade—certainly not a small artisanal group just trying to make what they love, and in fact more like a corporate monolith producing a niche product to get you embarrassingly drunk on your back porch). Of course (no ethical consumption under capitalism!) there is nothing inherently revolutionary about starting a brewery, and almost every brewery is the product of someone gambling their life savings (unless it is a subsidiary of a major corporation or backed by significant financing).

In this sense, it’s not particularly interesting that the co-founders of BrewDog gambled their savings on their business. It also isn’t particularly interesting that they were successful enough to take out a second series of loans to expand said business, although their tendency to live the adage that “all publicity is good publicity” led them to claim their high-alcohol beer was a cure for binge drinking and manage to piss off a lot of sanctimonious scolds (PUNK ROCK)—which was when they stumbled onto the idea of totally corporate punk. That is, BrewDog (with their anti-business business model™) ostensibly sells stock, only not. I am (1) not a CPA and (2) definitely do not understand complex finances particularly well. However, I can distill the PDF available on their website well enough. BrewDog occasionally determines that they would like money, and that if they take money from a bank they have to pay interest. Instead of paying interest, they allow people to purchase shares and become shareholders. You must (to qualify) purchase 2 shares for 95 British pounds, and your shares allow you to purchase discounted BrewDog products (discount dependent on the number of shares you hold), go to some meetings, and get some free stuff. If this sounds like Kickstarter, it sort of is—the primary difference being that you can sell your shares back to the company for profit (BrewDog posted a 200% increase in profits for 2 straight years, although they also massively expanded their business, so that isn’t an indication of how much their actual stock increased in value. They also have no real reason to buy back this stock) but, most importantly, if BrewDog goes out of business, you lose the money you invested. In order to raise awareness of this opportunity (and to showcase that they are very much punk rock, because BrewDog is very insistent on this point*) BrewDog will often perform an unholy fusion of sketch comedy, beer brewing, and the sort of content that YouTubers hoping to be the next Jackass! produce. This includes making terrible beer (and setting records that are absolutely meaningless) at the bottom of the ocean, stuffing it in dead animals, serving it out of said dead animals and making the highest proof beer in the world.** It also includes (before begging for 25 million British pounds) mocking the homeless and trans sex workers.

*BrewDog is not the name of the people who own the company. They have names. I cannot be bothered to learn their names.

**Their eponymous reality TV show is so unlikeable even Jezebel can make fun of it; also, legally speaking, most of their absurdly high-proof “beers” are not, strictly speaking, beer, on the grounds that they distill it. Essentially, they turned beer into a singularly gross whiskey served from a dead squirrel and threw a temper tantrum when anyone questioned the soundness of that idea.

The video in question (proving that BrewDog is so punk, they will do anything for a substantial amount of money, but some things are truly extreme) involves them performing a crude mimicry of panhandling and (because the money is being used to open a new location in SoHo, formerly a red light district) putting on lingerie and standing in a red light window. Plenty of people found it tasteless (which is in the spirit of their beer) and while refusing to take down the video (as I am writing this, it is still up on their website), BrewDog has reached out to the trans community with their latest mediocre hopspawn: No Label. BrewDog is shrilly insistent that this is not a response to the criticism they have received over the video, but was something they were already working on. Especially important, in their estimation, for BrewDog’s tarnished image is their previous outreach to The GLBT Community: Hello My Name is Vladimir. While the beer raised money for charity (although their press does not specify which charities), the core point of the endeavor was to call Vladimir Putin a impotent fag. Here is their actual promotional copy:

I am a beer for uber hetero men who ride horses while topless and carrying knives. I am a beer to mark the 2014 Winter Olympics. But I am not for gays. Love wrestling burly men on the Judo mat or fishing in your Speedos? Then this is the beer for you! … This beer is a double IPA brewed with Limonnik berries. We heard they’re great for improving sexual performance, so we’ve sent a case to the Kremlin as we suspect there is someone there who would appreciate a little helping hand.

Basically, BrewDog gets to be the scrappy homophobic nerd to Putin’s homophobic jock. While, charitably, we could say this is a misguided but ultimately harmless bit of PR from two men desperate for attention and prone to enjoying terrible choices while in costume, it is par for the course for an industry that legitimately has funded extreme right anti-queer causes du jour while attempting to court queer dollars by sponsoring Pride parades (most notably exemplified by Coors). BrewDog has moved from homophobia to transphobia (in line with the beard-bro, performatively hardcore, Can You Handle All These Fucking Hops My Guy? culture of craft beer, and syncing perfectly with their general misogyny) and would also like your money.

Although Queerest of the Queer (THIS WEB DESIGN IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE IN ITS BADNESS) signed off on this charitable donation with platitudes such as “Queerest of the Queer aren’t the people you call when you want to pink wash—we don’t give you easy credits on your corporate social responsibility—we’re a collection of politically minded queers into performance and creating queer spaces,” they are apparently so easy at giving credit that BrewDog can launch a beer that is almost universally reviled by trans people, not even bother to take down the offending video, and act as the holder of the charity funds and solemnly promise to give them where they are most needed (despite not being a charitable organization and showing only the barest capacity for sentience). Honest question: would you trust a queer performing arts organization that signed off on this statement: “No Label is a postmodern, postgender non-binary brew; the world’s first beer made with transgender hops;” to handle money? Because I, personally, would not trust them to not fuck up a glass of water. As the Mary Sue points out, “We don’t live in a postgender world. Holy crap. Gender and our relationship to it is still being discussed and fought over—with some transgender people paying for the struggle with their lives.”

Raise your hand if you are surprised that a tone-deaf response to anti-trans bigotry tries to buy off the community with charitable donations that are not even being given to trans-specific charities by an organization that co-opts radical rhetoric to basically promote queer visibility and also shows a tone-deaf understanding of how to help? Because I hope none of you are the sort of suckers who will actually be surprised by this. I like to think our readers are not the gullible type.

Last week, low-rung shoegaze band Whirr made the mistake of trying to raise their profile by picking a fight with G.L.O.S.S. (in the most transmisogynist way possible), and after being thoroughly dunked on by the Internet at large and dropped from their record label, came up with the least believable defense: their friend was running their Twitter account. BrewDog, with that chapter in the long history of transphobia to reflect on (and realizing that they were in the video in question and thus probably couldn’t plausibly deny making it) went with option two: buy off the community and hope everyone forgets, while talking about how punk is about tweaking people’s noses and pushing boundaries, MAN. Like Whirr, BrewDog One is a pretty defensive dude, arguing previously that haters are misguided, and according to this quote, asking:

How many of the haters are stuck in a job they hate, working for a company that sucks, sitting on their ale-soaked arses with nothing better to do than to become uber self-righteous in a bid to justify their own existence?

Which I guess is maybe a good question. I hate my job as a clerk but I am blessed to have never sold a single human being anything by BrewDog. For clarification, I once purchased a bottle of their Hardcore Punk IPA for $3.99.* At $3.99 it was overpriced, had a taste that was akin to “rotten varnish,” and I attempted repeatedly to trade it for actual (and terrible) punk brews such as Wild Irish Rose, 4Loko, and Bud Light, as every single one of those things is better than a flagship product from this brewery. I would proudly say I have never made something as repulsive and shitty as the beer that comes out of BrewDog, a company that trades on (mediocre) style because there is no substance. I’m self-righteous because the schtick of Jeff Dunham (now in bottle form!) is not only pandering to the lowest common denominator in beer culture, it is lowering the floor on quality, and on what can be meaningfully be called punk.

*When I was looking at the discount rack, the dude at the counter described it as “asshole beer for asshole people,” which I thought was appropriate as I was on my way to an all-ages punk show. I deeply regret not listening to this dude and, instead, buying a bottle of Cisco, a vaguely wine-like product which comes in the flavors red, blue and orange, is 18% ABV and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than absolute garbage.

In a case of trying to have their cake and eat it too, BrewDog trades on what has most recently been Stone’s shtick (which predates their usage) to claim that most people just can’t appreciate how great their beer is; yet BrewDog does this while simultaneously pointing to their sales figures to prove that their beer is good. A quick lesson in marketing that they will never read: Pete’s Wicked Ale, a better brewery that gleefully claimed that 9 out of 10 people hated their beer and they were happy about it, started this tendency in 1986 and was purchased by a holding company in 1998, which ran it into the ground trying to popularize something meant to be enjoyed by the small percentage of people (in Pete’s estimation, 10%) that enjoy a Brown American Ale. You cannot do two contradictory things. You cannot brag about tearing up the rules and then gleefully cite that you are sold in grocery stores (unlike those fancy beers for fancy people). You cannot claim, with any shred of truth, to be against the establishment when you are the largest growing brewery in the UK, and simultaneously ask people for 25 million dollars in crowdfunding for gifts that would be laughed out of the room on Kickstarter. Your beer is terrible because it is the microbrew equivalent of Bud Light Platinum—it attempts to serve two masters. You cannot make something that everyone likes and also be an elite taste. Everyone may like Easy Cheese, but no one’s asking their server for their finest aerosol container on a Friday night.

Sadie Switchblade of G.L.O.S.S. made a Twitter account solely to ask Whirr: “r u just sad u missed the boat on punk and play music for people with Macklemore hair who blog about bacon-infused bloodymarys?” And, while writing this article, that quote has been percolating in the base of my brain, because if there’s anyone who deserves beer as punishingly mediocre and from someone as transparently phony as BrewDog, it’s Whirr and their fans. I hope they buy a round of this shit to try to make amends, then keel over and die of natural causes (for complete and total organ failure is the most natural reaction in the world to drinking one of BrewDog’s beers).

Art by Jun Joestar. 

Sascha Vykos

Sascha Vykos

Sascha Vykos is the cofounder of Empire of Loathing, and enjoys reading about the eventual death of the universe, berating voters for wasting their time and energy, berating video games for lacking any meaningful player agency, and berating books for being an artless attempt to increase the amount of atmospheric carbon. Exhausted and angry with a lack of quality original content and armed with a simmering resentment for everydayfeminism and "the discourse," she suggested this blog to Johnny, who graciously shouldered all of the responsibility.

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