A comment on reactions to the BrewDog/Diageo fiasco
By Craig Heap
Earlier this week, BrewDog, their supporters and many other drinkers erupted over what is now being referred to variously as #Andthewinnerisnot, BrewDogGate and Brew Ha-Ha. Feted to scoop the top award for ‘bar operator of the year’ at the British Institute of Innkeepers (BII), BrewDog and the independent judges alike were astonished to learn that the award went instead to Behind the Wall. It later transpired that Diageo, the event sponsors, had ordered the BII to reallocate the award elsewhere or risk losing their lucrative sponsorship deal.
The BII caved, though they certainly can’t be condemned for it – they have bills to pay. Diageo’s mistake, however, came from butting heads with BrewDog: self-claimed punk rebel iconoclasts of the brewing world. They soon led a rebellion.
My colleague Chris Hall, a shareholder and fan of BrewDog, was incensed. Like many of BrewDog’s thousands-strong fan base, he immediately took to arms across social media sites. BrewDog quickly had #Andthewinnerisnot trending on Twitter and the story subsequently made it to the mainstream media the following day.
As an editor, it is my personal and professional policy to be as neutral as possible toward organisations. Total objectivity in journalism is a myth, but I believe in limiting bias (for or against) and letting good beer speak for itself. So, I watched events unfold with detached curiosity.
Other observers were as scathing as Chris in their response, though in the other direction, and it was these reactions which interested me the most. There was no shortage of people who, for whatever reason, commented that they didn’t give a damn if Diageo screwed over BrewDog. I acknowledge BrewDog’s strategies can be abrasive and overly-sensationalist to some. Nevertheless, morally absolving a large corporation of bullying simply because you dislike the victim makes you either ignorant or sociopathic.
If we burrow down past the emotions here, we can begin to picture the scene. A Diageo executive is having a good time, enjoying the hospitality his company has paid for and proud to see so many happy people around him. Very soon, it starts to feel like his party and he’s the host. Suddenly his good vibe is ruined when he learns BrewDog (those guys!) have scooped an award. Great, he thinks, as if they needed any more publicity.
So, within seconds, his mind trips into fight-mode and he’s determined to ruin BrewDog’s day. He orders the independent panel of a separate organisation to fudge the award; otherwise there’ll be no more free parties at his expense. There isn’t time to put a sticky label over BrewDog’s name on the trophy before it is presented to someone else.
And to some observers this supremely arrogant, immoral, psychopathic decision is somehow acceptable. It shouldn’t matter who the victim is; whether it’s loud-mouthed BrewDog, the big Brains brewery, or tiny out-of-the-way Cornish Skinners, the point is clear: someone high up at Diageo is convinced this kind of behaviour is acceptable.
Competition is necessary but it should be fair. When brewers and bars lose it shouldn’t be because their rival came into their brewery at night and poured salt in their fermentation tanks, but because the competition made better beer. If you think it is okay to pour salt in other people’s beer then you don’t deserve good beer.