Should vegans boycott BrewDog?

Should vegans boycott BrewDog?

Written by Oliver Coningham on 8 November 2016 in Vegan Beer

Irreverent Scottish brewers BrewDog are no strangers to controversy. Their marketing often relies on provocative and confrontational rhetoric. Whether upsetting the Portman Group, Russian presidents or the transgender community. They thrive on the attention and adhere to the ancient adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Previous experience has told us that this is no longer a sustainable way to market a business, especially with the advent of social media.

BrewDog's latest publicity stunt has not gone down well with the majority of beer loving vegans. Throughout their recent campaign of crowd-funding known as Equity for Punks, investors could share their referral code with friends and family in an attempt to place themselves at the top of the referral leader board. And the prize? Maybe a case of beer, an engraved tankard or a tour of the brewery? No. Instead you receive a bottle of The End of History, a 55% ABV blonde Belgian ale encased in the taxidermy remains of roadkill. 

To be clear, the use of an animal in this way is both inappropriate and unnecessarily gratuitous. The use of the remains of an animal, regardless of whether it was specifically killed for this exercise or not, should not occur in this modern day. Sadly it is a symptom of society's obsession with opulence where items such as fur and ivory are still seen as a symbol of status and wealth.

Rewind back to February of this year where BrewDog announced they had registered the majority of their products with the Vegan Society. Bottles of Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club and others now adorned with the distinctive trademark logo. It was a major coup for veganism to gain another recognised brand that is easily accessible in many supermarkets, pubs and bars.

For this reason, and understandably so, there was a huge outcry after images of dead squirrels with beer bottles thrusting from their throats appeared on BrewDog's social media channels. Many vegans called for The Vegan Society to withdraw their trademark from the brewery. There's even a petition on to remove the Vegan Society trademark from BrewDog's products.

The Vegan Society makes it clear that their trademark applies to individual products and not companies. They believe this encourages companies to improve the labelling of vegan options within their portfolio of products. This, in the case of beer where vegan labelling is particularly scarce, is more than welcome. 

To clarify, it is clearly stated on their website that: "It is important to note that The Vegan Society does not approve, endorse or certify companies producing and distributing registered vegan products. Often, companies will also sell products that contain animal-derived ingredients in their ranges. We encourage all individuals to make informed choices about companies that they wish to support."

BrewDog are not a vegan brewery. They just happen to brew a number of beers that are suitable for vegans. Among their core range are various beers made with animal-derived ingredients; Jet Black Heart is a Milk Stout brewed with lactose, Electric India a seasonal Saison brewed with honey. 

To put this into context, in September, the UK and Irish pub chain JD Wetherspoon unveiled new vegan options on their menu that are registered by The Vegan Society. They also serve ribs, steaks, hot dogs and beef burgers. One of the most well-known manufacturers of dairy alternatives, Alpro, have a full range of products that are suitable for vegans and approved by The Vegan Society as being free from animal ingredients. In July, Alpro's parent company WhiteWave was acquired by Danone; a French multinational food-products corporation based in Paris whose core business includes fresh dairy products. 

Even today as vegans celebrate and congratulate Pret a Manger on their Christmas menu which includes their first ever vegan Christmas baguette, it cannot be ignored that the menu also features many animal-based items from a Ham Hock, Stuffing and Apple Baguette to a French Brie and Cranberry Toastie. The use of animals may not be as obvious as it is in BrewDog's marketing, but there should be no denying their presence here.

BrewDog were publicly mobbed and lynched on Twitter for their grotesquely inappropriate antics. The use of animals for food, entertainment or otherwise is the polar opposite of what every vegan advocates and can in no way be condoned. However, should vegans boycott BrewDog for this mistake and a general lack of understanding of veganism? Should we instead show compassion and engage in a discourse with them? Ultimately the most effective way to manifest change is through education rather than fear.

The Vegan Society is currently in discussion with BrewDog and it will be interesting to see the result of this. Whether they will make any concessions is unlikely, maybe we will see a special vegan release brewed with avocados and nutritional yeast as a way of an apology.

Whatever your viewpoint it is important to remember that this is not a vegan company that campaigns for veganism, merely one that happens to make a number of accredited vegan-friendly products. The issue of labelling within the beer industry is a contentious one with many breweries avoiding any association with the word vegan despite brewing suitable beers. Perhaps for fear of making mistakes such as these and the repercussions that may follow.

Disclaimer: I invested in the recent round of Equity for Punks IV. Despite making a financial investment, I receive no monetary reward, but do get a small discount both online and in their bars. 


Drink less. Drink better.