18 February 2022

BrewDog in crosshairs again after BBC documentary

United Kingdom | BrewDog found itself back at the centre of controversy, after a BBC Disclosure documentary, which was aired on 24 January 2022, and featured former as well as current staff, made fresh allegations over a “toxic culture” and criticised CEO and co-founder James Watt.

Mr Watt has strongly denied the claims made in the documentary, dismissing them as “totally false”, and warned that he would take legal action against the broadcaster.

BrewDog’s marketing BS

The documentary alleged that BrewDog had lied about its high-altitude beer (it was not brewed on a plane) and that the founders’ change of first names to Elvis, in a trademark dispute with the estate of Elvis Presley over BrewDog’s Elvis Juice in 2016, was never effectuated.

Per the BBC, BrewDog was also economical with the truth when it applied for a government grant to pay for trees to repopulate a forest in Scotland, although the brewer had implied that customers purchasing a can of its Lost Lager would thus contribute to the planting of a tree.

Cynics will probably wave off these claims as BrewDog’s usual marketing b*** s***.

Details of TSG deal revealed

More serious are the allegations that Mr Watt, in 2017, spent GBP 500 000 (USD 680 000) to buy Heineken shares (legal – but very un-PC for a punk brewer), and contractually guaranteed private equity firm TSG (it bought a 23 percent stake in BrewDog in 2017 for USD 125 million) an 18 percent return per year.

This means that BrewDog’s 200 000 investors under its Equity for Punks scheme could see their returns reduced if BrewDog floats for less than GBP 2 billion (USD 2.7 billion).

Breaching US law

Worse still, the BBC accused BrewDog of putting employees under pressure to get beer from the Ellon, Scotland-based brewery to the US quickly, when the Columbus, Ohio brewery was not up and running for the official opening in August 2017.

BrewDog compelled them to provide falsified information to its US importer, Shelton Brothers, and ultimately the US Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Following the BBC documentary, BrewDog self-reported to the TTB for having taken “short cuts”, which were in breach of US law. But since the TTB statute of limitations is only three years, the TTB stated no further action will be taken.

BrewDog’s toxic workplace culture

Also, in the documentary, more than a dozen former staff accused Mr Watt of inappropriate behaviour – think wandering eyes and roaming hands – towards female staff. In fact, his behaviour sems to have been widely known. An ex-worker at a BrewDog bar in Ohio said she actually warned new female staff against catching Mr Watt’s attention when he appeared in the bar.

Craft brands distance themselves from BrewDog

Mr Watt claimed the allegation to be false via his Twitter account. But even before the documentary was aired, craft brewer Cloudwater from Manchester, England, announced it has terminated its contract brewing arrangements with BrewDog, signed in 2021, which had enabled it to get its beers into Tesco’s supermarkets.

Cloudwater later added on Twitter: “We simply were not aware of the extent of the problem and, as a human-centred employer that prioritises the wellbeing of its team above typical commercial goals, we stand in solidarity with people in the industry collectively striving for the best possible working conditions.”

Meanwhile, the cider producer Ascension from Polegate, Sussex, announced it has asked its distributors not to sell its products to BrewDog’s bars.

The disappearance of Mr Dickie

With all the accusations centring on Mr Watt, many wonder: Where is BrewDog’s co-founder Martin Dickie? He has not said a word about the allegations and has not been seen for some time.

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