BrewDog isn’t necessarily known for playing by the rules. The Scottish punk rock craft brewery has made its name on a wide spectrum of mad scientist creations, from the hyper-high strength Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck (a blistering 32 percent and 41 percent ABV) to the 1 percent ABV Nanny State (a cheeky response to criticism over their stronger brews) and all the crazy ghost pepper/wasabi/cranberry-infused stouts and porters in between. But it does play by the rules when it counts – unfortunately, that’s more than we can say for some bigger breweries. After learning that BrewDog was slated to receive the Bar Operator of the Year award at the British Institute of Innkeeping’s Scotland Awards last week, billion-dollar global beer and spirits behemoth Diageo pressured the trade organization into giving the prize to them instead. Classy!
The BrewDog blog details the events that took place that night when, in a surprise twist, the trophy meant for them was instead offered to Falkirk bar Behind the Wall:
We had heard that BrewDog were expected to do quite well in the ‘Bar Operator of the Year’ category and the members of the bar team were suitable excited to see if our hard work would be recognised by this most prestigious and illustrious award.
However we were not announced as winners of the award. This disappointment was further compounded when one of the judges (seated at our table) told us in disbelief ‘this simply cannot be, the independent judging panel voted for BrewDog as clear winners of the award’.
Events took a further twist when the people who got given the award refused to accept it as it clearly had ‘BrewDog’ engraved on the trophy as winners.
If they had just heard that they should have been the winners, it would have been a bummer – but one still left open to doubt. But the fact that the award given to Diageo already had BrewDog engraved upon it? That’s a situation that needs explaining, and fast. A few days later, BII Scotland Chairman Kenny Mitchell contacted BrewDog co-founder James Watt to do just that. BrewDog’s blog also features Mitchell’s quote:
‘We are all ashamed and embarrassed about what happened. The awards have to be an independent process and BrewDog were the clear winner’
‘Diageo (the main sponsor) approached us at the start of the meal and said under no circumstances could the award be given to BrewDog. They said if this happened they would pull their sponsorship from all future BII events and their representatives would not present any of the awards on the evening.’
We were as gobsmacked as you by Diageo’s behaviour. We made the wrong decision under extreme pressure. We should have stuck to our guns and gave the award to BrewDog.‘
Gobsmacked would be an understatement. That’s pretty horrifying. But hey, after general outrage reached international levels and became a trending topic on Twitter Diageo offered up a sort of apology:
“There was a serious misjudgement by Diageo staff at the awards dinner on Sunday evening in relation to the Bar Operator of the Year Award, which does not reflect in any way Diageo’s corporate values and behaviour.
“We would like to apologise unreservedly to BrewDog and to the British Institute of Innkeeping for this error of judgement and we will be contacting both organisations imminently to express our regret for this unfortunate incident.'
But Watt isn’t too convinced by that apology until Diageo backs it up with delivery of the award to its rightful owners. He also counters that, while Diageo claims that the actions taken by its staff don’t allegedly reflect on the brand’s corporate values and were carried out by some sort of ‘rogue element,’ other sources indicate that the individual bullying BII was a senior executive – someone who should by all rights be a living embodiment of Diageo’s corporate values. But it’s an action he chalks up to the changing landscape of the beer industry:
Although we can but speculate as to the reasons for the behaviour we can only assume that even a company as large as Diageo are scared at just how much the beer market is changing. People are now rejecting industrial, generic beers in favour of hand crafted artisanal beers all over the world. The craft beer revolution of America looks set to hit the UK, and it seems the incumbent players are going to use any means possible, including immoral and dishonest methods to stifle competition and desperately cling to market share.
Of course, changing landscape or not, Diageo’s decision (or its rogue staff member’s decision, depending on who you believe) was an egregious one no matter how you slice it. BrewDog is certainly a brand to watch in the craft beer scene, growing in revenues and fan base every year. But with brands like Smirnoff and Guinness under its belt and over £2 billion net income in 2011 alone, it’s safe to say that Diageo is one of the biggest alcoholic beverage companies in the world. Was losing the award such a devastating prospect that it was worth the ill will and bad press? We can’t imagine any situation in the world which warrants such bullying and bad behavior. If the tides of the beer industry are indeed turning, with consumer interest shifting toward craft brewery upstarts, stunts like this are only going to usher that change in that much quicker.