Saturday, 3 May 2014

How the Brewdog/Portman Group Scandal Highlights Changes Needed in the Beer Industry

Photo: Adam Barhan (CCL)

This week, Scottish brewery mavericks Brewdog issued a stunning 'sorry not sorry' letter in response to one of their beers being censored by Portman Group, a UK alcohol industry standards group. Winner of Britain's Best Pub Landlord, Adam Richardson - owner of The White Horse in Welwyn - explains why he thinks this is yet another sign that the UK beer scene needs to wake up, because times - they are a-changing... 

The British brewing and pub industry reminds me of the late Roman Empire; reminiscing of the glory days, ruled by a complacent, greedy elite, and hopelessly powerless to respond to change.

It’s no dispute that pubs have had a hard time through the recession; those who haven’t innovated and adapted have fallen by the wayside, and although some pubs’ demise can be blamed on external factors, the majority have failed because they are stuck in a rut. Changing with your market is crucial in any business. It is not enough anymore to be the same as everyone else.

Customers are looking for three things – quality products, good service and a comfortable atmosphere. Maybe we have all become snobs. But I think it’s more than that. We are spoilt for choice in places to go, everywhere is contending for our money, and that puts the customer in a strong position – they have options. It is not enough to have good service if the beer and food is crap. Pubs must deliver on everything they produce, and the same applies for brewers.

Brewdog bar illustration. Photo: Bernt Rostad (CCL)
I’m a firm believer that you make your own fate, and a competitive marketplace is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. The monopoly we have existed in for so long has rendered brewers complacent and satisfied with mediocrity - something definitely mirrored in the quality of the same products they’ve been creating for 40 years. Consistent, middle of the road beer is no longer good enough. People are demanding more, and they are starting to get it.

Cue brewers like BrewDog. Not the best, but definitely the most well known and widely written about. They’ve turned the industry on its head, reinvented the wheel and been brash and unapologetic about it. Good for them. It was time someone upset the system and catalyzed this craft beer movement we’re seeing in the UK, and although they’ve now been established for 6 years and been making waves for 3, the wider industry still isn’t listening.

Organisations like CAMRA are refusing to take craft brewers seriously. They're still banished from CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival, even though craft brews are the biggest growth market.

What’s more, innovative brewers are facilitating the changing industry and consumers are embracing it. We're talking about and drinking beer like we never have. We’re tasting it, matching it, talking about it, investing in and advocating it like never before.

I believe CAMRA are responsible for the stigma of the pub and brewing industry. They apparently formed because they were ‘disillusioned by the domination of the UK beer market by a handful of companies pushing products of low flavour and overall quality onto the consumer.’ They are STILL disillusioned. Perhaps now more than ever. And they are massive supporters of one of the biggest companies that is often seen as bullying small, independent community pubs – JD Wetherspoons. Talk about double standards.
Photo: Andreas Ivarsson (CCL)

While we’re at it, The Portman Group’s recent embargo on BrewDog’s ‘Dead Pony Club’ is hypocrisy in motion. The Portman Group is funded by the very same big -wig-faceless-brewing-controlling-conglomerates that are responsible for such beers as Coors Light & Carlsberg. No wonder they’re up on BrewDog’s back, they’re probably scared and intimidated by them.

They are such a bunch of stubborn jobsworths that they honestly believe that labelling a beer '3.8% amber session ale' encourages ADULT consumers to drink more because of the connotations of the word 'session'. Surely this is responsible marketing?

Brewdog brew craft beers of strengths generally upwards of 5%; their flagship IPA is a 5.6% hop bomb, and their brews generally range between 6 and 12%. However, you don’t always want to drink a 6% IPA. Sometimes, you just want a couple of beers with dinner or with friends, and ‘Dead Pony Club’ sits perfectly with a curry or a few in front of the telly, and provides bags more flavour and character than a boring 3.6% Greene King IPA.

I’m an advocate for change, I love the way it keeps the industry and my pub fresh, my staff motivated and my customers coming back. I love and embrace exciting new products and ideas, and the sooner the brewing industry and its governors come on board the better for everyone.

Resistance is futile.

You can keep up to date with The White Horse's latest craft beer offerings - and frequent beer and food matching masterclasses - on their Facebook page.


  1. Disappointed that CAMRA aren't on board with the blossoming craft beer industry. It certainly appears to be a case of double standards.

  2. From talking to a couple of guys at CAMRA, it's more they hate the term 'craft beer' because they think people find it synonymous with 'microbrewery beer' which is something they're generally much more behind. Craft beer is technically an American phrase, I'm told, but I still think CAMRA should get more on board with it, or else appear outdated and a little elitist. Which I know they're not - that's what makes it so frustrating!