Monday, 12 May 2014

Brewmeister: crooks or just sad wannabes?

If you are going to tell a lie, said Hitler, make it a big lie. A big lie has a certain credibility just by virtue of its audacity. People will assume it is the truth because they have difficulty believing anyone would dare make such outrageous claims otherwise.

If you haven’t yet read Rich’s post at the Beer Cast, you should. Rich has been on the trail of Keith-based brewery Brewmeister for the best part of a year, since they announced they had produced “the strongest beer in the world”. He’s now posted the story of an encounter with the company at which they freely admitted the beer, claimed to be 65%, was nowhere near that strength, and in fact they had had no idea how strong it was.

I wasn’t at this event, but I trust Rich’s account and I don’t trust Brewmeister in the slightest.

Reading Rich’s post strengthens everyone’s suspicions about why Brewmeister were always so evasive when asked to supply evidence about the strength of the product. In March I asked them on Twitter if there was a lab analysis proving that their beers are as strong as they claimed to be.

But two months later, we’re still waiting to see this analysis.

After Rich’s post, Brewmeister announced more bottles had been sent for testing. The results “will speak for themselves”, we are told. What happened to the original analysis spoken of above? Did it ever exist? If the currently promised analysis ever actually appears, will it be reliable?

Of course, Brewmeister are not the only cynical chancers in Scottish brewing.

It’s really weird to see – in the same week – all and sundry condemning Brewmeister, and at the same time cheering on Brewdog’s latest infantile publicity stunt, as if we were all seven years of age and one of the class had sworn at the teacher in an act of MARKETING GENIUS.

But Brewdog did their shtick first, and they did it competently. They are still doing it because, puerile and childish as it is, it is effective. That’s also why it’s still being copied, most recently by London’s Beavertown, who called a beer Barley Champagne and then pretended to be surprised when the Comité Champagne told them to stop it.

Brewmeister, on the other hand, are johnny-come-latelies and try to do the same thing without any of the skill, and as a result they look like sad wannabes.

If Brewdog were al-Qaeda, Brewmeister would be the bungling fools who tried to attack Glasgow Airport, but instead set themselves on fire and got their arses kicked by a baggage handler.

Beer geeks and beer writers need to face up to the reality that we have created the ground for Brewmeister to exist. We have rewarded Brewdog’s obnoxious behaviour by continuing to buy their beer and making them inordinately successful.

It was utterly inevitable that others would see this and learn the Brewdog Rules: the road to success is to manufacture cynically staged controversy; there is no such thing as bad publicity; it is fine to bottle and sell your mistakes; if you get critical comments on your blog, just delete them; making “the world’s strongest beer” will get you much, much more coverage than anything else you might do, however interesting. And if people call you out on your bullshit, do a quick reverse ferret and play it humble for a day or two: we are only a young company, still learning, and we will do things differently in the future – never mind that this vitiates all previous claims to be the saviours of brewing.

Brewdog, though, had the advantage that their beer was very good, which is the reason people put up with their ridiculous antics in the first place. On the other hand, I have only tasted one of Brewmeister’s beers myself: the “bock” called 10, which had inappropriate berry-fruit notes and an off-putting aroma of cheap vodka; the opinions of others about their other beers have also been decidedly mixed.

One last point. Brewdog have been careful only to pick fights with organisations that can’t do them any significant damage in return. The Portman Group might get one of their beers delisted in Tesco (we don’t know, for example, whether Tesco were delisting it anyway, or whether Brewdog were planning to keep it in their core range), but it won’t affect specialist stores. And it takes no political courage whatsoever to have a joke at the expense of a foreign head of state, on a topic that is uncontroversial among your target market, in a country where you don’t sell any beer. On the other hand, I don’t recall Brewdog having anything to say about the bedroom tax or library closures.

Brewmeister are not quite so clever. Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue have very sharp teeth and they don’t take kindly to people trying to take the piss. Hopefully Brewmeister will soon discover that. 

You might innocently think, “How can Brewmeister be so stupid? How did they imagine they could get away with this, and even be so brazen as to admit it to a blogger?”

The answer is: refer to Hitler’s advice above. The other answer is: they still are getting away with it. They have not yet been prosecuted, and they still have the money that they obtained from customers for the beers in question.

For Brewmeister are not quite as stupid as they seem. They know that hardly anyone reads beer blogs, and far more people read the uncritical hype in news media. There’s a secondary scandal here: it’s the fact that supposedly serious news media, staffed by professional, paid journalists, unquestioningly parroted Brewmeister’s press releases: in the Record and the Scotsman and the Metro and the Mail and on STV. Not one asked for evidence or doubted the company’s claims. And that’s not to mention the host of content-farming websites repeating the tale.

If there is one positive aspect to this whole sorry story, it is in the comments on Rich’s blog post. Possibly America’s highest-profile brewer, Garrett Oliver himself, weighed in in the frankest terms to condemn the appearance of what he calls “clown breweries”, who put the brand before the beer.

Perhaps the real division in the near future will be, not so much “craft vs. crafty”, but brewers vs. clowns.


  1. Stories such as these really humble me as a fellow craft beer blogger. Not that many people are paying attention to us, which then enables such shenanigans as these.

  2. Wasn't it Josef Goebbels that said the lie thingy?

  3. HMRC won't care as long as they get there money on the declared alcohol content. Someone needs to report them to trading standards if they are miss-selling a product.

    1. Well, they might if it's not being declared properly (eg declaring what is a spirit product as "beer") - though the gross over-statement of ABV may actually outdo any difference.

  4. Really interesting. It does seem that marketing is king, if a company can make mediocre or even poor beers and still expand so quickly. I don't find Brewdog's publicity offensive and I like most of their beers, which are excellent, if overpriced. I love their Punk IPA, but £2 for a small bottle? Come on. I found this blog today because I was searching for news about Brewmiester's fake ABV claims. I heard that they were in the news yesterday over this.

  5. Brewmeister are under new ownership and management now. Mr Shand or his brewer are no longer there in any shape or form. I think that they make some really good beers. Particularly their "10"