Punk brewing duo aim to be top dogs

THE two beer enthusiasts who run the curiously named BrewDog brewery are nothing if not ambitious. In just two years since setting up the business in Fraserburgh they have created a worldwide fan club for their quirky range of ales which now sell in 11 countries, and co-founder Martin Dickie, director and head brewer, has revealed loftier aims: to be Scotland's biggest brewer.

"What is holding us back?" he asks. "We have expanded 900% in 12 months, we're getting finance and we are in negotiations to sell to other countries."

Whether or not it is a realistic objective, Dickie and partner James Watt are deadly serious about their fledgling project and are targeting 2015 as the year when they will overtake the InBev-owned Tennent's, which accounts for one in four pints sold in Scotland.

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At least the new boys on the brewing block can claim to be making progress, as BrewDog became the biggest independent in Scotland in July when it overtook Harviestoun and is now producing 200,000 bottles a month.

Old school friends Dickie and Watt, still only in their 20s, have come a long way in a short time. They developed a taste for good beer and a shared disappointment in what was on offer locally. It prompted Dickie to study brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University while his friend read law and economics at Edinburgh.

But while Dickie indulged his passion by getting work at a microbrewery in Derbyshire for two years, his pal lasted just two days at his law firm and took a job working on his father's fishing boat.

"We sat together one night and just decided Scotland needed some better beers and that we should start our own brewery," said Dickie, who was at London's Dorchester Hotel last week with Watt and some of the 12 staff at the finals of the HSBC start-up awards.

BrewDog emerged from a list of names drawn up on a scrap of paper. They wanted something edgy, non-traditional and placeless that would get them noticed. A trip to an exhibition in Nuremburg yielded some brewing equipment, essentially the fermenting vessels to get the business under way. They paid a deposit, raising 45,000 from the Business Gateway, the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust and HBOS, and leased an industrial unit in Fraserburgh.

Dickie drew on his studies to develop the recipe, but their first efforts were not popular with landlords. "I have seen more excitement at a funeral," he admitted.

The breakthrough came via the internet as word spread among beer fanatics who developed a taste for the new beers with their rebellious brand names such as Punk IPA and Hop Rocker. The website's boast that BrewDog would be "a beacon of non-conformity in an increasingly monotone corporate desert" was clearly making an impression.

"We were getting fantastic feedback," said Dickie, and they were soon sending cases overseas and signing deals with Tesco and Asda. A couple of weeks ago he and Watt were in California, a hot spot for new beers, to talk to distributors. They went on to Portland, Oregon, where their hosts had made up T-shirts to mark their visit. "To get a reception like that was unbelievable," said Dickie.

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The beer is now getting wider recognition at home. A BrewDog tasting at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society sold out and, with turnover in excess of 1m, Dickie is hoping growth can be sustained against a backdrop of falling beer sales.

Who knows? He might even achieve that target of becoming Scotland's biggest brewer.