Staying At The BrewDog Kennels, A Hotel Dedicated To Drinking Beer
New year, same me.
But before we see if there's a little chocolate on the pillow, a little history.
The remarkable rise of BrewDog has - in business terms - happened in the blink of an eye. The company was founded in 2007 by two pals - Martin Dickie and James Watt - who had a shared love of decent beer, and a belief that they had the tools to do it better.
And it would seem that the public agrees with them.
In the time since their malty genesis, the pair have opened more than 100 bars, own many different breweries (of which, more later) and have found the time to open a spirits distillery and - now - a hotel.
They've also crowdfunded a shed load of cash from their devoted followers.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
After a short, but fairly blustery, flight, me and my travelling companions - much like the few hardy souls chosen to embark on Willy Wonka's chocolate factory tour - set off for the brand's flagship brewery in Ellon, Aberdeenshire.
The chances are, if you've heard of Ellon, it's either because you've worked on an oil rig out in the North Sea, or you're a fan of BrewDog.
It's no slight to say that there ain't a lot going on in Ellon outside of beer-making.
However on that front, they're excelling.
What started as a tiny operation in nearby Fraserburgh has spiralled into something gigantic. The footprint of the BrewDog complex spreads across almost the entirety of a large industrial estate.
Whilst there are other companies nearby, you'd have to imagine that the rate of expansion that has taken place has effectively served them their notice already.
We're first taken on a tour of the brewery, during which the numbers that we're constantly bombarded with grow even more vast.
I'd never heard of a hectolitre before. It's a measure of 100 litres, since you ask. And here, they brew over 100 million hectolitres, as well as packaging and canning their ever-growing range of ales.
The main brewery consists of all the gigantic tubs, vats, and shiny pipes you'd imagine. Everything that gets sold in the UK and Ireland - cans, bottles, kegs - is made here.
It's huge, it's loud, and much of it seems dangerous to the uninitiated.
That's actually a fairly decent metaphor for the company, come to think of it.
Since those humble beginnings (two men, one dog and a garage), the business has expanded to include thousands of shareholders worldwide through their 'Equity for Punks' scheme - not to mention a £213m deal with private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners a few years ago, in return for a 22 percent stake in the business.
Have that, Dragon's Den.
It made millionaires of the founders, and took them from rabble-rousing craft indie to major players overnight.
However, through their Equity For Punks, the company raised a reported £78m in 2017. Not bad, given they started with a £20,000 bank loan.
As for the loud and dangerous, the company has never shied away from controversy.
They've been banned for encouraging 'bravado and immoderate consumption' by The Portman Group, a body set up to encourage responsible drinking.
The company released a statement apologising for "not giving a s***" about that ruling, after they released a beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which weighed in at 32 percent.
They've since released even stronger.
I'd be lying if this 'no publicity is bad publicity' approach hadn't rubbed me up the wrong way in the past, but being there and seeing how it all comes together, you can't help but think it makes a bit of sense.
Brewing beer is, after all, a serious business. If you can have a bit of fun, and create some buzz, then why not?
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Not every campaign has been a hit, but for the most part, the tone is harmless enough.
Most of the grumbling has come from within the craft beer scene, where expansion, success and profit is often mistaken for 'selling out'.
After the main brewery is finished, we take in the distillery. That's a new project that we're told is the result of a drunken night in which the BrewDog boys decided that they'd like to design their own distilling machine on the back of a napkin.
How much of that yarn is apocryphal isn't really important. It looks like something from a steam-punk re-imagining of 'Yellow Submarine'.
When that's over, we're taken for lunch, but not without a stop at the newest part of the complex, the Overworks brewery, dedicated to sour beer.
Interestingly enough, the two breweries are kept completely separate. In fact, staff from one never set foot in the other. That's because if any of the cultures from the sour beer got into the normal batch, they'd have to shut the whole thing down.
Time is money, even if you're a 'punk' brewery.
After lunch, and a decent amount of that aforementioned sour beer, we get to the reason I'm here.
Situated above the BrewDog bar on Castlegate in central Aberdeen is the BrewDog Kennels.
There are only six rooms, all predictably named after BrewDog tipples, and all unique in their own particular BrewDog-approved way.
Described at various points in the PR material as 'a base around which to centre your adventures', and 'a place in which you can pitch up and get the lay of the land', it's the first hotel the company has opened in the UK, following the success of their DogHouse Hotel in Columbus, Ohio.
Plans are already progressing for their first English hotel, in Manchester.
There are some cool features. Obviously, there's a Simba mattress on all the beds, which is lovely, but more interesting is the music set-up.
Each of the rooms has a vinyl record player or, for the more confident (or ignorant) muso, an acoustic guitar to noodle away on.
My room also had a kitchen area, a living room, and an en-suite. However, there wasn't a great deal of time, so - predictably - I had a lengthy two-beer shower.
Seriously, it's not for every day, but sinking a cold beer or two whilst soaking in warm water is a definite recommendation.
If you're planning a visit, rooms start from about £75 - less if you're an Equity Punk - and come with a free half pint of your choice at the bar downstairs.
If you're keen for a drink, but perhaps not feeling that sociable, you can download the Hop Drop app and get your drink delivered to the room.
There's even a fluffy dressing gown for the exhibitionists out there.
Oh, and because it's BrewDog, there are bowls and provisions for any furry friends you might wish to bring along.
So, it's cheap, there's beer, it's comfortable, there's beer, there's a guitar in the room, there's...you get the picture.
But is it worthwhile?
Well, in short, you'd be a fool to bet against them disrupting the hotel market in the same way they've done with beer.
Given the meteoric rise of the company over the past decade and a bit, and the success of their first hotel Stateside, you'd have to say that - much like the dog's arch-nemesis - they'll land on their feet.
Chris Jeffrey, Client Director at hospitality-centric data and insight firm CGA, reckons they could well be on to a winner too.
Jeffrey said: "In general, the hotel market has mirrored the total licensed market (sites that sells alcohol) in relation to oversupply and closures.
"In 2019 we saw a 4.1% decrease in the number of licensed hotels compared to the year before. However, if you look further into the data, the number of managed hotels (operators with more than 1 site) have actually seen growth in the number of sites, +3% over the same time period, which shows opportunity for multi-site expansion.
"Other than the much publicised rise of Airbnb, one of the biggest challenges for hotels is getting guests to eat and drink on site."
He continued: "The BrewDog name, their experience as a brewer and in general hospitality, can work in their favour to utilise other revenue streams beyond rooms - providing a unique USP.
"In a report we produced last year, 26 percent of consumers had stayed in a Pub/Inn and these consumers tended to be younger, male and people who eat and drink out more than average.
"57 percent of consumers visit the bar 'every time' or 'most times' when they stay at a hotel with an on-site bar, so there is clearly a great opportunity to cross sell."
"We've also seen wider leisure facilities, such as Stadiums, Theatres and Cinemas also in growth in the number of sites, showing operators providing a broader and unique experience either side of food and drink can thrive."
So, in short, the brewery tour is fascinating, the charms of the Granite City are bountiful, the market seems to want this and have space to accommodate it.
I think I managed to mention that there's the opportunity to drink beer in the shower, didn't I?
And yes, there was a little chocolate on the pillow too.
Featured Image Credit: BrewDog
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