Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I’ll be honest:  I’ve never really had a taste for beer.  Occasionally I enjoy a few small sips, but the rest often goes to waste.  I’m in London this week teaching the 7 Mindsets, and came across an interesting beer that may begin changing my tastes, as well as inspiring this week’s story…

James was a bit of a rebel in school.  He didn’t simply accept the way things had always been done just because no one had thought to change them. He was also quite bright, and decided to study law and economics at Edinburgh University in Scotland. 

While at school, James shared an apartment with his childhood friend Martin, who was learning the art of beer brewing at another nearby college.  Both young men were bored with the flavorless, industrially-brewed lagers and ales that seemed to dominate the market. Martin graduated with honors, and went to work for a small independent brewery.  It was a perfect way to experiment and improve, since he was able to do so with someone else’s money.

When James graduated, he got a job doing entry-level legal work … and he hated it.  It felt so wrong that he left after just two weeks.  In need of income, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a professional fisherman. 

Obsessed with the lack of any beers being produced in the UK that they wanted to drink, James and Martin would order their favorite inventive craft beers from the USA, and then spend weekends trying to copy the beers themselves at home.  As time passed and they got better, the young men began to think about setting up a brewing business.  They asked a notable beer critic what he thought of their product, and with his encouragement, they decided to take the plunge. 

Using their own savings and a bit of money borrowed from family, James and Martin purchased some second-hand brewing equipment.  However, they couldn’t afford to pay professionals to assemble their brewing system, so they did all the wiring and welding themselves, falling off ladders and weathering electric shocks along the way. 

For the first six months, the pair worked twenty hours a day, making and bottling their beer by hand and trying to sell it around the region.  On an average day, they’d sell four or five cases. 

Growth was slow, and nearly everyone was telling them to make their beer cheaper and milder in order to better compete with the market giants.  But they were committed to the idea of making and selling only beers that they themselves enjoyed.  And they were determined that, if they were going to fail, it would be on their own terms, making the beers they wanted to make.

James sent some samples to a beer competition being held by a national grocery chain.  Amazingly, they finished first, second, third and fourth in the contest, and the chain wanted to put their beers into 600 stores nationwide. James did his best not to let on that the company was just he and his friend filling bottles by hand.  They had four months to figure out how to fill the order. 

Going to the bank, James and Martin explained the huge contract and their need for $150,000 to set up a bottling line.  They had only been in business for six months, though, and the bank representative essentially laughed in their faces.  The answer was no. 

Undeterred, Martin and James walked out and went into a rival bank next door.  With straight faces, they said that their current bank had just offered them an amazing finance deal based on their new grocery contract, but they were willing to switch if this bank could offer better terms.  Amazingly, the new bank liked the idea of getting involved with a young, up and coming company, and agreed to make the loan.  The bottling line was completed two weeks before the grocery order was due, and the first beer was finished just in time to ship.  And with that, their business really took off!

Founded by Martin Dickie and James Watt in 2007 when they were both just 24 years old, BrewDog is Scotland's largest independently-owned brewery, and one of the fastest growing companies in the United Kingdom.  They now export worldwide, and star in their own show about brewing on American TV.  Their mission has always been to make other people as passionate about great beer as they are, and they remain dedicated to doing things their way, no matter what tradition and the rules say.  Now I’ll drink to that!

Until next week...

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