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Meet James Watt, CEO & Founder of BrewDog, World’s Fastest-Growing Craft Beer Brewery

BrewDog, one of the world’s fastest-growing craft beer breweries, started in 2007 with two men and a dog brewing tiny batches of hoppy beers on the rugged coast of northeast Scotland, has grown rapidly and now employs over 2,000 people worldwide, operates over 100 craft beer venues worldwide, as well as three beery hotels, and is committed to being the most sustainable beer business on the planet. The company is built on three pillars: beer, people, and the planet.

“We have so much planned for this year. It is going to be one of the most exciting 12 months in our short existence.” Says James Watt, CEO & Founder at BrewDog. 

In an interview with Brewer World, BrewDog CEO and Co-Founder James Watt talks about his passion for craft beer, goals and objectives for BrewDog this year, outlets in India, sustainability, the evolution of the Indian craft beer market, and more.

James, Can you tell us about your journey in the beer industry? Where did your passion for craft beer come from?

I was working as a deep-sea fisherman at the time, and my cofounder Martin and I were homebrewing tiny batches of beers from his mum’s garage. We had tasted Sierra Nevada pale ale, and it just blew us away. Nothing like it existed in the UK beer market at the time, so we decided to change that. At first, nobody gave us the time of day – they said it was too hoppy, too bitter, too aggressive. But over time, we found people who recognised that craft beer had the potential to be something special, and those people who took a chance on us enabled us to start generating the momentum that would set us on the path to where we are today. We brewed more and more beer, grew our tiny ramshackle operation from nothing, and become a leading business in the craft beer revolution.

What was your original idea behind starting BrewDog?

We wanted to make the beers we wanted to drink. It was as simple as that. We wanted a beer that didn’t exist in the UK, so we made it ourselves, and we believed other people would want to try it too. Our mission from day one has been to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are.

Could you please give our readers a brief overview of your company?

BrewDog is one of the world’s fastest-growing craft beer breweries. We started in 2007 as two men and a dog brewing tiny batches of hoppy beers on the rugged coast of northeast Scotland. We have grown quickly since and now employ over 2,000 people worldwide, we operate more than 100 craft beer venues around the world, as well as 3 beery hotels, and we’re committed to being the most sustainable beer business on the planet. Our business is based on 3 pillars – beer, people, and the planet. Everything we do is determined by our dedication to those 3 fundamental priorities.

Can you take us through your beer range? Are there any upcoming releases?

Our headliners are our year-round beers, led by Punk IPA, which is the #1 craft beer in the UK. It’s our hoppy flagship and is the beer that started the craft beer revolution. Alongside Punk, we have Hazy Jane, Elvis Juice, Lost Lager and Planet Pale Ale, all of which are widely available, firm fan favourites. We then release a wide range of small batch, experimental and seasonal beers throughout the year, and one of the beers I’m most excited for this year is Black Heart – our reimagined 4.1% ink-black dry-Irish style stout. I think it’s going to make a few ears prick up over at St James’ Gate!

What are your goals and objectives for BrewDog this year?

We have so much planned for this year. It is going to be one of the most exciting 12 months in our short existence! We already started by launching BrewDog Las Vegas, an incredible rooftop venue located on the strip in the heart of Nevada, and it’s been doing amazing since we opened the doors. We have huge plans for expansion into India this year too, expanding to 100 craft beer bars across the country over the next decade. We also have some sustainability commitments and ambitions to help reduce our overall impact on planet Earth, including our 9,000-acre plot of land in Aviemore, Scotland, where we are planting an entire forest from scratch, and restoring extensive peatland. All for the good of the planet.

BrewDog is the world’s first Carbon Negative Beer. What do you have to say about this? What sustainable practices are you following or working on currently?

We’re so proud of the work. We’ve done this to remove carbon from our business. We work closely with Professor Mike Berners-Lee and his team to accurately calculate our scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and then remove double the carbon from the atmosphere via high-quality tree planting programmes. Plus, we’ve purchased a stunning 9,000-acre site in Aviemore Scotland, where we are restoring extensive peatland and planting over 1 million trees. At our facility in Ellon, we’ve invested £12 million in our anaerobic digester facility, which turns our waste into gas to power our brewing. We’ve also spent a lot of time and resources improving our efficiency and reducing waste across the business. There is no point in any of us making awesome beers if there won’t be a planet to drink them on, so sustainability and the planet are embedded into our core values.

What do you think about the evolution of the Indian Beer Craft Market? What beer industry trends do you foresee this year?

There is such an eclectic, emerging craft beer scene in India that I am thrilled we can be a part of. The beers being made locally are mind-blowingly good, and especially excited about the BrewDog beers that we’re making in India exclusively for our local community. I visited earlier this year and loved every single one I tried. I cannot wait to come back and explore more of the country’s vibrant craft beer scene.

Can you tell us about your BrewDog Craft Beer Bar Outlets in India? Do you plan to open more outlets in other cities?

Yes! We have plans to open 100 craft beer venues across the country in the next decade. We already have 3 open and performing above expectations, plus we have plans for two more to open in the first few months of 2023, so the momentum is amazing here already! BrewDog bars are places you can go and enjoy a wide selection of awesome craft beers, paired with locally-inspired cuisine designed by our brilliant chefs’ in-house. We see a broad spectrum of customers visiting our venues, from folks on dates to family, solo drinkers and after-work groups! They are all very welcome, and I love the buzz in our BrewDog bars in India.

You are the producer of the Brew Dogs TV series and published author of Business for Punks and BrewDog: Craft Beer for the People. Can you tell us more about it?

Our TV series in the US ran for 3 seasons and saw BrewDog co-founder Martin, and I travel across the world brewing crazy beers with awesome people! It was such a wild ride and was the #1 show on the network. You can see some clips on my YouTube channel if you’re intrigued. My first book, Business for Punks, was all about my first 9 years in business, and the lessons learned along the way. As any entrepreneur will tell you, the best way to learn is the hard way, and doing things wrong and trying (and failing…!) allowed us to understand what would work for our fledgling craft beer brewery. I wanted to share some of those stories and experiences and hopefully encourage other people to make their own mistakes and see their businesses thrive, as a result.

You are one of Europe’s only holders of the title of Master Cicerone. What piece of advice would you like to give to someone looking to pursue Cicerone certification?

You need to love and understand beer – it was a challenging, gruelling exam, and it took a lot of commitment and revision to be knowledgeable enough to pass. I’m so glad I took the exam and even more delighted that others in the business are now attempting it too! We are proud to have hundreds of Certified Beer Servers in our company as well as a lot of Certified Cicerone, too. We fund these exams for our staff so, they are armed with the knowledge to serve our customers better than anyone else!

Lastly, which is your favourite beer style/ craft beer and why?

I have always loved IPAs, and our flagship Punk is a stellar example. It is full of punchy flavour and aroma and armed with a sharp, bitter finish. I also really love stouts – BrewDog is well-known for its barrel-aged beers, utilising the incredible whisky scene on our doorstep in Scotland, and we’ve just released our brand new stout – Black Heart – which is such an easy-drinking dark, delectable example of the Dry Irish Stout.

16 February 2023
Aakriti Rawat