Overall ranking: 88 (new entry)
Pub and bar operator: 16 (new entry)
James Watt and Martin Dickie really haven’t done badly for a couple of punk brewers who set up shop in Dickie’s mum’s garage just a decade ago. BrewDog, started by Watt and Dickie when they were 24, originally sold small-batch, hand-bottled beer from the back of a van. With a £7m pre-tax profit on a turnover of £71.9m in 2016, up 61% year-on-year, the business now operates more than 30 bars in the UK, and almost 20 more worldwide. It also has an ambitious craft-beer hotel in the pipeline for Aberdeen, following on from the launch of its first hotel in Ohio in the US later this year. Having funded growth mainly through the innovative Equity for Punks crowdfunding scheme, a private equity cash injection in April 2017 valued the business at £1b.
What we think
Watt and Dickie have plenty of friends, not least the 50,000 investors in the Equity for Punks scheme who have put their money where their craft-beer-loving mouths are to fund BrewDog’s growth.
Less cordial are relations with bodies such as drinks industry watchdog the Portman Group, with which BrewDog has locked horns over beers such as Dead Pony Club – BrewDog issued a formal apology for “not giving a shit” about the Portman’s rulings – and the “deluded” Aberdeenshire Council, which BrewDog says has blocked its plan for a hotel, restaurant, conference centre and distillery development by trying to overcharge for land adjacent to the BrewDog brewery in Ellon, north of Aberdeen. However, the group has announced plans for a craft beer hotel called the DogHouse as part of its expansion for its headquarters in Aberdeenshire.
Falling out with the establishment is par for the course for a business that wears its punk credentials proudly and which has a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory. While some of the early Equity for Punks investors, as well as some of BrewDog’s 800 employees, might have raised an eyebrow at the £213m deal that saw San Francisco-based venture capitalist TSG Consumer Partners acquire 22% of the business, it’s undoubtedly a game-changer for BrewDog.
As well as funding more bars in the UK and beyond – 18 openings are planned in 2018 alone – the cash will finance the DogHouse Columbus, BrewDog’s first craft-beer hotel, which will be adjacent to the brewery and taproom opened in Columbus, Ohio, in August 2017. Watt has contrasted BrewDog’s welcome in the US with the council’s stance in Aberdeen, saying: “The people of Ohio have absolutely bowled us over with enthusiasm, passion for beer and warm welcome.”
The company’s ambitious expansion plans have also seen it acquire craft cider company Hawkes and the 14-strong Draft House pub group this year.
In an interview with The Times in November 2017, Watt defended the private equity deal, saying he and Dickie had spoken to at least 15 other potential investors before going into partnership with TSR. The pair are said to have made £100m personally from the deal, and have been critical in the past of other craft brewers selling out to the big players. Watt said: “TSG have come along for the ride and they can help, but we still make all the decisions. We still have control of the company … The big beer companies are responsible for the bastardisation and commoditisation of beer.” The BrewDog punks are still snarling.