When Camden Town Brewery were given a launch pad to turbocharge their mission to make the world as passionate about Hells as they were, I began to question what it meant to be a “craft” brewery. I had lost my access to the Second Circle but I was still an Equity Punk and Brewdog were busy opening Bottle Dogs.
It was on this journey of craft that I started to take a lot more interest in who or what exactly owned the companies that was making my beer. It became clear that a lot of the beers that Brewdog were selling were no longer 100% independent, in fact quite a few were partially owned by Private Equity. This should’ve been a clear warning sign for what was to come. I asked myself if perhaps “craft” wasn’t about ownership but an attitude, a state of mind, maybe even a style of beer, or the ingredients. I didn’t worry about Brewdog stocking private equity brands because they assured me that they would never sell out themselves.
It seems there is always an opportunity to invest in a brewery in some form online. At times campaigns even overlap. Crowdfunding beer seems to be seen as a win-win, no risk bet. It might be a month, or even a year, but it will pay out. The concept is so simple, but how far does the crowdfunding go to help the brewery. Just a glance at WildBeer’s recently closed raise will show that crowdfunding was only a fraction of the funds they needed.
When a new brewery starts, few people question where the money comes from, or if the crowdfunding was enough. For small startups there will inevitably be some form of private finance involved, yet there will be minimal scrutiny of its source. As a business grows, proportionally small funds are harder to come by, as the numbers needed for growth get bigger and bigger, with businesses needing to either approach more investors or find a bigger pot. Inevitably consumers will want to know where the funding is coming from, and those that invested through crowdfunding as craft beer ideologists will be the first to raise their voice.
The allure of craft and being punk hasn’t single handedly got Brewdog to where they are now. It’s tough being at the top, having everyone talk about you, but the loyal fans won’t be the hardest to please. Equity Punks can cash in on some of their shares, but before now Brewdog hasn’t had to worry about paying us any interest, unlike the banks. Debt owed to the supporters of craft is not in the same league as that to money owed to investors and lenders that put their money in what they thought could give them a return with perhaps little interest in what the company stood for.
So; non-craft minded investors are leaping with joy, Equity Punks seem to be on the fence, but what do breweries that consider themselves craft think? Surely they should be using this as a marketing stunt. That’s exactly what Brewdog would’ve done! It seems the industry has reverted to its post United Craft Brewers silence. Whatever happened to the UCB? Could it be that secretly every brewery harnessed the idea of outgrowing the need for one another, but no one wanted to be the first. Has the marching order already begun? It seems also the Rainbow Project has a new Panhead too.
Brewdog have taken crowdfunding to the extreme. Have they set the bar though for how much a business can rely on it as a source of investment? In the UK craft beer is still relatively small compared to America where several businesses have decided that private equity or even a complete sale has been the next logical step in growth. Brewdog have used some of these as if to say they themselves have hit the ceiling and need to take the next step too. Is this to say that progression beyond their current level is not possible without these moves? It’s easy to pass comment, but up to now they have been the UK’s benchmark for craft beer. The level of funding they require seems beyond the means of crowdfunding or bond offerings.
In Taiwan, craft beer is picking up momentum, but I can see that some businesses don’t want to grow organically, and just like Brewdog, can’t wait to expand, because if they don’t, a bigger player will muscle in. There are some breweries that seem to have access to exhaustive funds. No one seems to be asking where the money is coming from though, or how “craft” these emerging breweries are. Maybe they just aren’t big enough yet, or is it that investors weren’t sold on the same idea of craft as us.
There’s talk of a new Brewdog brewery in Asia too, possibly South Korea or the much more vague and vast China. Will there be an Equity for Punks Asia? I sure hope so! Crowdfunding hasn’t seen the same popularity there, and it would be completely new ground. I want to see them succeed with EFP Asia to pave the way for future crowdfunded breweries in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. I sincerely hope that ambitions to enter Asia aren’t purely for Global domination and that Brewdog commit to building their army of punks throughout the region.
Even if they were to go and completely sell out, the groundwork they have done in establishing the potential of crowdfunded breweries and preaching craft beer; whatever your definition of it may be, has served a generation of breweries in their wake. Those of us that believed in their success will be rewarded, and if we want, we can choose to support the new emerging talent. All thanks to crowdfunding.