Ethics; the grey areas of BrewDog and Rogue

Here’s an issue.

People say judge a beer by what’s in your glass and all that jazz, but at what point do a company’s values stop me (or you) from drinking a beer?

I sit here typing this on a PC that I assume has been pieced together by slave labour. I’m sure shoes, clothes, the TV… and any number of other products in my house are the same.

I don’t think of myself as a bad guy and I make some what of a conscious effort to support local business. But I’m not buying only locally made or fair trade pants or shoes (actually I did buy some ethical shoes once… they lasted about a week.)

I guess I’ve always justified my consumer habits by just trying to be as aware of the good and the bad in everything and by trying to support more good than bad. That might give me a rating of “just above apathetic” but I’m not sure if that makes me a bad person or not? I don’t think so.

I will say, every time I try and research where my food comes from I tend to find only extreme views of either side and no trustworthy facts. Not that I have anything against publications such as “the Green Left”… ok I do. I have a lot against them. Bias is never a solution from either side.

But as I said, I think I’m a decent guy. I give to charity, my internal debate about giving beggars money is never settled.

I was a wreck in Cambodia. There was a bizarre moment where one night I didn’t give a guy with no legs any money, as I sipped my fucking cocktail by the ocean; then the next day he saw me on the beach and came toward me grinning. Dragging himself up the beach and enthusiastically pointing to where we’d met last night. I was confused. I’m some drunk westerner (for both times I had a drink in my hand) who has functioning arms and legs, and was completely indifferent to the fact that he crawled round the most difficult part of the beach in the hope of a kind stranger, and I just waved him off. Now he’s happy to see me?

So I gave him a dollar and a cigarette and I like to think we became friends for a brief moment as I asked him about his life and he drew a landmine in the sand and we looked out to the ocean, smoking our Marlboro whites.

I’m not telling this story to sound like a cool “down to it” guy. This same scenario played out repeatedly in Cambodia. The guy with no face who I turned from in fright as he approached. The guy with no limbs being wheeled around by a child – we offered him food and he refused and turned away. My first reaction was “fuck you”… but fuck me, dude has no limbs – I guess he is somewhat entitled to not take my leftover “morning glory” or whatever I was eating.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I struggle to see issues in black and white. Giving beggars money doesn’t solve the problem. There are many arguments to say that it actually worsens it. But then if I had no legs and spent my days crawling round a beach,  a cigarette and a dollar might make my day a lot better. So I wrestle with being part of the greater solution, or helping someone have a good day.

This got heavier than expected and now griping about Rogue’s shitty worker’s rights record or BrewDog selling “equity” to their “punks” seems pretty minor.

Lets push on though.

There is a credible argument that the long-term goal for good beer needs brands like Rogue and BrewDog. They have great image, marketing and appeal to a lot of new fans to good beer. Their brashness is responsible for amplifying the noise around good beer which is a great thing for the industry as a whole… but what they do is pretty shitty.

Rogue for being famously bad employers – in an industry where most workers are treated famously well (Google “Rogue brewery worker treatment” for details). BrewDog for selling an image to their fans then outright lying to them and ripping them off.

I asked a while back that maybe a good measure for beer is “Would this beer be willing to stage dive at a Footscray Youth Centre”. 

The more I look at both brands, the more I think; Rogue would put a picture of it on their label in some retro communist design and not pay their merch guys.

While BrewDog probably would, but then go out the back to give a record label exec a handjob.

I should probably elaborate on the BrewDog issue a little.

So their shtick is “oh we are so revolutionary and punk rock and hate the man and smash commercial lager in public” which is oh so tired. But hey, it’s good marketing and people respond. Their beers are solid so why should I take issue with that?

Why? Well I will offer two main arguments as to why.

Firstly they have recently taken up a distribution deal with “Independent Breweries” In NZ. A company owned by and responsible for brewing and distributing the very brands that they claim to want to tear down. Read about it here: http://philcook.net/beerdiary/2013/07/02/brewdog-boundary-road-and-becoming-the-villain/

Now if you are the kind of company that gloats on your website, and posts video evidence of “destroying industrially brewed beers made by the faceless multinational corporate giants.” (direct quote ) then why get into bed with them? Why strike a deal?

Secondly; their equity for punks. They are currently selling shares to their fans for 95 pounds. One share, 95 pounds. Ok fine, it’s a fun way to raise money while giving their fans a discount on online purchases, albeit while being vague on actual dividends and resale opportunity.

It’s more a novelty “fan club” than a share offer. I can accept that. But read this quote…

No fat cats (or dogs). No
pretentious investment
bankers. No venture
capitalists. No overbearing
parent company. Just loads of
people who care passionately
about great beer.  – http://www.brewdog.com/media/efp/EFPIII.pdf?v=2

… and tell me how it gels with them selling shares to Griffin Group LLC (A “boutique merchant and investment bank“) and incredibly wealthy businessman Philip Bowman.

And not only selling them shares… but at a fraction of the cost. A very small fraction. For a much better breakdown read here: http://allgatesbrewery.com/allgates-brewery-blog/2013/06/brewdog-fill-your-boots/

At what point does marketing become just ripping off your loyal fans? At what point do you become a fraud and a liar of a company? At what point are they actually going to give the fans a return on their investment? Because I guarantee the fans aren’t going to be the ones getting the fat payout if their business succeeds. I’m sure the “pretentious investment bankers” will do nicely though.

So where does that leave the internal struggle between good and bad? Between being fine with being told about ideals and punk values, knowing that there are handjobs for fat cats in the back room.

Or knowing that dollar I give to a beggar is actually worsening the problem? Or not giving a dollar is worsening his day?

To be honest; I don’t know. I have at least two, rather expensive, BrewDog beers in my house. I enjoyed some Rogue beer on the weekend.

Am I now a hypocrite? Probably.

But with Rogue can I trust what I read on the internet? And with BrewDog can I separate business from marketing gimmicks? Knowing they are a fraud but at least the product is pretty good? Can I recommend them to a friend if I know it might get them into good beer.

Well at least in the meantime I won’t be purchasing products from either company. Will  that always be the case? Probably not.

Sometimes I’ll give a beggar a few coins, sometimes I’ll lie and say I have none (no more smokes though, I quit. Let me at least feel smug about that)

And if you sit back and judge me for any of that, just think about where your computer came from, or where those shoes were made, or if you are always conscious of who made your beer.

If you are able to answer with all honesty that they are made by well compensated and fairly treated workers then fair play – but if you can’t, then we’re all probably just as guilty as each other.

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No Responses

  1. It doesn’t make you a hypocrite to enjoy their beers occasionally. I’ve felt it’s impossible to live in the first world without using some consumer product that has been made on the backs of those less fortunate. Even those holier than thou types who might give you a hard time.
    As for craft breweries acting in a less than ideal fashion, that doesn’t surprise me much. I figure that, once a craft brewery gets to a certain level, they’ll start acting In a way we might think a “craft beer brewery” shouldn’t. Whether that be exploiting workers or deciding to lock up taps in pubs.
    They’ll act like a big brewery – which they are.
    N

  2. It doesn’t make you a hypocrite to enjoy their beers occasionally. I’ve felt it’s impossible to live in the first world without using some consumer product that has been made on the backs of those less fortunate. Even those holier than thou types who might give you a hard time.
    As for craft breweries acting in a less than ideal fashion, that doesn’t surprise me much. I figure that, once a craft brewery gets to a certain level, they’ll start acting In a way we might think a “craft beer brewery” shouldn’t. Whether that be exploiting workers or deciding to lock up taps in pubs.
    They’ll act like a big brewery – which they are.
    N

  3. Ed says:

    I don’t buy Rogue or Brewdog either. Who knows if this will last forever but there are plenty of other breweries out there.

  4. Ed says:

    I don’t buy Rogue or Brewdog either. Who knows if this will last forever but there are plenty of other breweries out there.

  5. Judy Olsen says:

    Stuffed squirrel anyone? I really can’t stand Brewdog.

  6. Judy Olsen says:

    Stuffed squirrel anyone? I really can’t stand Brewdog.

  7. james says:

    Global business. That’s all it is. Don’t try and compare it to little local indie locals (…I’m not saying you did, just that if you want to enjoy the products of the big boys, understand that it is a scale game, so make your own call on whether you want international products or not.)

    No company can get big enough for global distribution and recognition without dealing with the evils and compromises of the incredibly wealthy and powerful.

    The only way any global scale products get to us legitimately is through the channels put in place by those taking advantage of their money and power.

    The is the nature of the modern economic beast, globalisation and capitalism.

    If you want to be sure you’re “doing good”, buy local…where you can interact with and understand the business, because the business starts and ends with a passionate few.

    You still get bad businesses in that category, but that nature will be much more obvious.

    In the end, as I believe with all things beer, it’s each to their own.

    Do what you believe it right in the time/place/perspective of your circumstance. Listen to yourself when you seek enjoyment.

    If you believe something more should be done because change is necessary…then go do it.

    All in all, it’s another good advertisement for our local microbreweries – drink fresh, drink local.

  8. james says:

    Global business. That’s all it is. Don’t try and compare it to little local indie locals (…I’m not saying you did, just that if you want to enjoy the products of the big boys, understand that it is a scale game, so make your own call on whether you want international products or not.)

    No company can get big enough for global distribution and recognition without dealing with the evils and compromises of the incredibly wealthy and powerful.

    The only way any global scale products get to us legitimately is through the channels put in place by those taking advantage of their money and power.

    The is the nature of the modern economic beast, globalisation and capitalism.

    If you want to be sure you’re “doing good”, buy local…where you can interact with and understand the business, because the business starts and ends with a passionate few.

    You still get bad businesses in that category, but that nature will be much more obvious.

    In the end, as I believe with all things beer, it’s each to their own.

    Do what you believe it right in the time/place/perspective of your circumstance. Listen to yourself when you seek enjoyment.

    If you believe something more should be done because change is necessary…then go do it.

    All in all, it’s another good advertisement for our local microbreweries – drink fresh, drink local.

  9. Steve Smith says:

    Concerning BrewDog, have to disagree with you on two points: firstly, that their beer is any good. In fact their beer is at best lame these days, at worst quite rank. Next to a genuinely class brewery like Beavertown or The Kernel, BrewDog are an embarrassment.

    Secondly, the marketing. I honestly don’t think their noise is good for the industry, as it simply reinforces the stereotype of the beer drinker as an uncouth loudmouth, vomiting in the street. Not good.

    Worse, it’s actually harmful if that noise leads your mainstream lager drinker to pick up a Punk IPA – a truly dreadful beer – and think “really, this is as good as craft beer gets?” Back to the Carling.

    The marketing may work for them (to be fair, they’re a successful marketing company who happen to use beer labels as their medium, rather than a genuine craft brewery) but again, it just embarrasses the industry.

    • Both of your points relate to taste though right? Which is purely subjective. Admittedly it’s been a long time since I’ve tried one of their beers but that’s more down to the array of choice rather than a conscious decision, but from memory they are decent to great. Tokyo* was definitely a beer that hooked me into good beer and it was definitely the beer that won my brother over.

      They have a lot of fans and through their collabs and bars, it’s hard to deny that they push other breweries in the process.

  10. Steve Smith says:

    Concerning BrewDog, have to disagree with you on two points: firstly, that their beer is any good. In fact their beer is at best lame these days, at worst quite rank. Next to a genuinely class brewery like Beavertown or The Kernel, BrewDog are an embarrassment.

    Secondly, the marketing. I honestly don’t think their noise is good for the industry, as it simply reinforces the stereotype of the beer drinker as an uncouth loudmouth, vomiting in the street. Not good.

    Worse, it’s actually harmful if that noise leads your mainstream lager drinker to pick up a Punk IPA – a truly dreadful beer – and think “really, this is as good as craft beer gets?” Back to the Carling.

    The marketing may work for them (to be fair, they’re a successful marketing company who happen to use beer labels as their medium, rather than a genuine craft brewery) but again, it just embarrasses the industry.

    • Both of your points relate to taste though right? Which is purely subjective. Admittedly it’s been a long time since I’ve tried one of their beers but that’s more down to the array of choice rather than a conscious decision, but from memory they are decent to great. Tokyo* was definitely a beer that hooked me into good beer and it was definitely the beer that won my brother over.

      They have a lot of fans and through their collabs and bars, it’s hard to deny that they push other breweries in the process.

  11. circuit ben says:

    Have you seem the publicity shots that brewdog did, with half-naked ‘punk’ style models stood fawning around them, while they are sat down, fully clothed like the kids from weird science? All they do is stir up fake controversy, they readily admit it themselves. I’d rather stand on my head and piss in my own mouth.

  12. circuit ben says:

    Have you seem the publicity shots that brewdog did, with half-naked ‘punk’ style models stood fawning around them, while they are sat down, fully clothed like the kids from weird science? All they do is stir up fake controversy, they readily admit it themselves. I’d rather stand on my head and piss in my own mouth.

  1. February 22, 2014

    […] complex … their beer is total shite.”; “shallow, arrogant hyperbolic fuckwits”; “Next to a genuinely class brewery like Beavertown or The Kernel, BrewDog are an embarrassmen… – you’re getting the […]

  2. February 22, 2014

    […] complex … their beer is total shite.”; “shallow, arrogant hyperbolic fuckwits”; “Next to a genuinely class brewery like Beavertown or The Kernel, BrewDog are an embarrassmen… – you’re getting the […]

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