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Beyond the Pale (Ale)

It’s old news now—Stone Brewing Company suggested Columbus as a location for BrewDog’s North American headquarters, and in relatively short order, the Scottish brewer confirmed that it would have a sprawling operation brewing beer here by the end of 2016. We’re lucky we didn’t blow it, the way we fumbled about the courtship like an overly eager sophomore asking the senior homecoming queen out on a date, but somehow we pulled it off.

In all the excitement, we got caught up in the numbers, but nobody really stopped to learn anything about BrewDog. Yeah, they’re a craft brewery from Scotland, but it’s so much more than that. Much like the way Stone changed the way people thought of American craft beer, BrewDog is an innovative company set on bucking trends and thumbing its nose at tradition. It’s an American attitude in a place where American attitudes aren’t much appreciated. Nevertheless, BrewDog is embracing its punk rock image and changing the culture across the pond. If you want to join them, buckle in and enjoy the ride. Otherwise, piss off.

Founder James Watt is in the midst of shoring up his company to operate on two continents, but Stock & Barrel managed to track him down so he could tell us a little bit about this company that’s stirred up so much fuss.

BrewDog is a Scottish Brewery, but there seems to be a fixation with American craft beer flavor profiles, which would lead one to conclude that BrewDog draws inspiration from the States. What’s the real story behind the thought process going into these beers? That conclusion would be right. BrewDog is inspired by the bold, hoppy flavors of American craft beer. My first home brew was essentially an attempt at replicating Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We wouldn’t be here without the great craft American craft brewers before us.

Beyond the beers, BrewDog seems to have a personality similar to American craft brewers—a brash irreverence that seems to fly in the face of British tradition. There’s little doubt that the culture of craft beer in the States, which is also brash and irreverent, certainly fuels interest and keeps customers engaged. There’s a kinship among craft brewers. Competition is spirited and friendly but the community is extremely inclusive. This seems to be the sort of disposition BrewDog strives to purport in the UK. From the outside, it appears that this is being met with mixed results. BrewDog has some loyal fans who readily buy into the culture, but there are some traditionalists who seem to find this sort of thing objectionable.

What sort of challenges does BrewDog face in the UK, and how do you overcome them? Everything we’ve ever done has been about elevating the position of beer in the UK and across the world, and educating the public on the potential of beer when you add passion and creativity. We do occasionally come up against those who misunderstand our mission, or those who intentionally plan on sabotaging what we’re working towards. For those who misunderstand, we engage with them and hopefully change their opinions on us. For those who have it in for us, we simply continue with our success; that’s usually the best response. Haters gonna hate…

Which brewery do you look at and say, “That’s who we want to be when we grow up”? Grow up? I don’t know if we’re ready for that, but in terms of brewers we have an affinity with, Stone is doing awesome stuff and has really taken a unique approach in the States. We have a super close relationship with those guys, and they have been a huge influence on us. We’ve done some epic collab brews with Stone, and they’re our brothers from other mothers. We manage their distribution in the UK, so you could say we’re tight.

Which brewers have helped you along the way? Lots of them. The fellowship and camaraderie in the U.S. brewing community is unbelievable. I’m happy to count the folks from Stone, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point, Oskar Blues, Flying Dog, Anchor, and many others as friends.

To that end, with regard to the company culture, BrewDog’s expansion in Columbus seems to be a homecoming of sorts. It’s clear that Americans get what you’re doing, and you brew beers that appeal to the American craft consumer, but at the same time the culture of craft beer can be hyper local. When a consumer is in the store looking for a beer to take home, they often reach for the beer that’s brewed around the corner by the guy who talked to them for an hour at a festival. So, how does Brew Dog earn that trust? Opening up a large production/distribution facility is a flattering commercial endeavor, and the investment in our community is certainly appreciated, but what does BrewDog do to distinguish itself from Anheuser-Busch and truly become part of the local community? Great question … and it’s something we believe time, our passion, and pure, straight-up honesty paired with the quality and consistency of our beers would enable. We want those who want to drink our beer to feel a certain ownership of the product, whether that’s an American in Columbus, a Brit in London, a Swede in Stockholm, or a Brazilian in Rio.

Collaborations are a part of craft beer culture. That spirit seems to have influenced Stone to turn BrewDog onto Columbus. As you survey the landscape, can you name any brewers on the local, state, or regional level who stand out as people you’re excited to compete and possibly collaborate with?Seventh Son for sure is doing some awesome stuff. We can’t wait to become part of the region’s awesome bar scene and mix things up!

How much of an influence was Stone’s endorsement of Columbus? Americans love their endorsements don’t they? Stone’s endorsement was akin to the pastor of a megachurch throwing their weight behind a presidential candidate.

As an international brewing company, you have unique resources. In what ways do you see those resources benefiting Columbus, and how does that compare to a brewing company that doesn’t have a foothold in another country? We are definitely going to utilize our position to foster a cross-pollination of ideas and staff. We want our brewing facilities on both sides of the Atlantic to be sharing knowledge and wisdom, to help make better beer all over the world.

Despite the obvious connection to American craft brewing, BrewDog has experimented with European styles and influences as well. Will BrewDog make a concerted effort to merge the two, or does the Columbus operation signal a shift toward the American influence on craft? The Columbus brewery will represent the full gamut of what we do as BrewDog—whether that’s American, European, or from other parts of the world.

Can BrewDog bring a little Scottish flavor to Central Ohio? In what ways do you envision that happening? Weekly bagpipe marches across [the] Main Street Bridge?

Have you guys ever been to a corn roast? Nobody has invited us to one yet 🙁

Have you ever played corn hole? No, but I’m guessing it has something to do with that corn roast?

O-H? Corn?

Brew Dog’s $30.4 million Canal Winchester facility will bring 125 jobs and a bunch more great brew to Central Ohio in 2016. For more, visit brewdog.com.

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