Has Brewdog sold out?
The cry of ‘sell out’ is a familiar one, perhaps particularly to those of us on the left, and it often has some substance. The familiar path trodden from rebel to reliable source of Establishment thought and support is well worn and still finds people on it. Understanding that this can happen is important but also understanding why is too.
The confirmation that Brewdog have accepted an injection of capital from a private equity company has provoked the ‘sell out’ refrain in the context of craft beer. Is it correct? It depends on the questions you were asking in the first place.
Martyn Cornell has provided a decent explanation of what has gone on here:
If Brewdog were a plc the 22% stake taken by the private equity company TSG would be getting on for a controlling interest in day to day matters. Obviously an actual controlling interest in terms of selling the company etc is 50%+1. But once you get to around 30% you’ll want and you’ll have a real say.
Its not really clear this is how Brewdog works. Suffice to say that if a further capital injection turns out to be required, TSG will be well placed should they wish to be (we don’t know).
The wider point is that while Brewdog brew some decent beers and have distinctive bars, they are clearly set on becoming a force on a worldwide scale. I’m not sure this was really the point of the new ‘craft’ breweries that have developed in the last 10 years or so.
Was this not to produce local beers for local people and markets a world away from the mega-breweries that churned out bland beer for ‘every bar’ and ‘every person’?
Of course the logic of capital and economies of scale dictates to a degree the path of successful companies like Brewdog. The move is not surprising, but before long we may expect a new generation of brewing ‘rebels’ rebelling against the relative dominance of Brewdog and the like.
As William Morris noted (in gender specific language):
men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.
Pete Brown has made the point that since Brewdog is now 10 years old and is a substantial business employing 450 people it can hardly be seen as ‘punk’ anymore. He’s right but it underlines the point that there is now room for a new generation of brewing rebels, hopefully a little less, shall we say, gender specific, than Brewdog were.