Brewdog likes to portray itself as a company that does things differently.
In a little over 10 years its gone from a brewing operation created and manned by two people and a dog to one employing more than 1,000 with 90,000 shareholders following its latest Equity For Punks crowdfunding round last month.
In 2017 it pumped out 343,253 hectare litres of beer – rising from 1050hl in 2007.
A decade on, it still only lists one dog as an official employee.
What it has just added is a bar in Canary Wharf and the ability for customers there to pay for their drinks in cryptocurrency.
Opening in the unit formerly known as Jamie’s Italian at Churchill Place, the bar is cashless, packed with neon, bar games and craft beer and accepts Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash alongside traditional plastic.
Where better to dip a toe in the digital money stream than London’s capital of fintech where Level39 is packed with blockchain wranglers and exchange creators?
That’s more or less the view of Brewdog’s vice president of innovation Martin Dempster who spoke to me after the bar’s opening on October 19.
“I think we’ve sold around 300 or 400 pints over the first weekend in Bitcoin,” he said.
“Fundamentally we’re quite an innovative company in terms of our beer and business model.
“This was just another way to offer people a different way to pay.
“It’s still very early in the cycle for this sort of disruptive technology but we’re interested in it and its ability to change the way certain parts of the financial marketplace work.
“It’s quite powerful and it’s just quite an interesting experiment to see how it works.
“We’re pleased with the initial uptake and, if it is successful, it’s something we’d look to roll out to other London sites.”
Canary Wharf is the brand’s 70th bar worldwide and its 10th in the capital.
That’s potentially a lot of pints to process, should enthusiasm for crypto ramp up, but Martin’s not concerned.
“You’d be surprised how easy it is to set up in terms of the technology,” said the 36-year-old who has a background in computer science.
“All that’s really required is a cheap tablet device, you download an application and then really you’re set to accept the payments.
Brewdog vice president of innovation Martin Dempster
“In some ways the tech is quicker and easier to deploy than the incumbent technology in terms of card payments.
“Clearly the consumer uptake isn’t at the same level but the deployment is easy.
“I think it’s just about giving our customers more choice about how they pay and trying something a little bit different.
“Regardless of your position on how these technologies will work in the long term, it’s interesting to try and put this into people’s hands and see how it works.
“I think a lot of people have heard of Bitcoin but giving them a way to use it is the best way to form an opinion on that.
“When we process the order, it’s all done in standard currency.
“Everything is priced in pounds.
“We would ring through the order and that will come to a total.
“At the point of sale you type in that amount in pounds, it’s converted to an amount of Bitcoin and at that point it’ll look for a live exchange rate.
“We lock that in for 15 minutes and it gives a total in pounds and in the cryptocurrency.
“We take the payment, which takes the Bitcoin out of their wallet and transfers it to ours.
“We don’t have to re-price anything.
“It’s fair to say the risk is on the consumer’s side, but I think if someone is holding the currency anyway, they’re in tune with the risks of doing so.
It is fully transparent.”
Risk is not something Brewdog itself is looking to become “overly exposed to” given the historic volatility of cryptocurrencies. Its model is to convert back to Sterling rapidly.
“Different retailers will have different approaches to this based on their risk tolerance,” said Martin.
“Our choice has been to convert it into Sterling and that makes the accounting process much simpler for us.
“Also, in terms of that volatility it’s not something we’d look to become overly exposed to because that’s not our core business – making and selling beer to people.
“We’ve worked hard to engineer all of the volatility out of the solution we’ve implemented
“If adoption of the technology increases over time, the rate at which the currency is circulating round the economy increases and that should lead to more stable prices.
“Without adoption we’ll see volatility – if we do see more, we’re likely to see less.”
Martin, who joined Brewdog after spending time working in the USA and seeing craft beer boom across the pond, said the company’s structure had allowed it to create a community around its operation with a clear focus on growth now and as it rose to become a global business.
“We’ve just completed our fifth crowdfunding round – the first was in 2011,” said Martin.
“That was in the aftermath of the credit crunch, the banks weren’t lending so we went out to the public.
“We raised enough to begin to invest in our brewing facilities and tanks so that allowed us to expand and we opened our first bar up in Aberdeen.
“Ever since then we’ve used crowd funding as a way to get investment into the business.
“It’s also allowed us to create a community around the company (a preview event was held for shareholders before the opening of the Canary Wharf bar).
“I often talk about the broader market demographics which are sort of counter to craft beer.
“Overall, beer sales are flat or in slight decline.
You’ll often see statistics about the number of pubs that are closing and there’s a challenge around casual dining as well.
“For us, people are overall drinking a little bit less but they’re really keyed into the quality of what’s in their glass.
That’s what we’re all about.
Our mission as a company is really to make people as passionate about great craft beer as we are.
“We take that seriously.
“What was interesting for the public opening of Canary Wharf was that there were a lot of people approaching the bar in the days prior.
“As soon as we opened the doors there was a big queue outside.
That was really exciting to see.
“When I first started with the company the craft beer landscape was very, very different.
“If you look at it now, it’s been a complete revolution.
“London has a great beer history and an unbelievable beer culture.
“There must be more than 100 craft breweries in the capital and we’re really excited to play a small part in that.”
Just as craft beer has helped change the drinking habits of a generation, perhaps Brewdog’s foot in the cryptocurrency door is a bellwether for retailers in the capital.
It’s certainly a bit meatier than a crypto cash point in Shoreditch.
Go to brewdog.com for more information
Elsewhere for Craft Beer...
This street food venue atop the Crossrail station boasts a pretty extensive multi-tap craft beer bar with even more varieties in cans crammed into fridges.
Peanut butter-flavour beer anyone?
Go to streetfeast.com
This unashamedly American bar and live blues venue is all smoking meat and food that ain’t good for you.
It also has a range of Stateside brews on tap and a generous happy hour with two-for-one drinks offers from 4pm-7pm.
Go to bigeasy.co.uk
Rocket By Balls Brothers
Pop next door to Brewdog and you’ll find something altogether more polished and refined.
Akon Has His Own Crypto Currency, Talks New Music, Uplifting New Artists + More
Stay on the lower floor and you’ll find a beer bar with a fine selection of ales.
Go to ballsbrothers.co.uk