I’M a late-come beer drinker. For most of my life of intoxication, I’ve turned to spirits and wine for my escape routes.

But recently, I’ve realised that the rabbit holes they open up are both too speedy, and too deep. The desired fuzziness can tip over towards either extreme – happy madness or sour despair.

My turn to beer is partly because it’s weaker in strength, and greater in volume: it both calms me down, and loads me up. Meaning one is usually enough.

There’s also something about a beer in a quiet urban pub which suits me, socially and psychologically, these days.

It grants me a deep permission to be on my own, contemplatively, but in public. There’s much to contemplate, inside and outside.

But what kind of beer? I’m a highly reluctant food-and-drink connoisseur in general (the nearest I’ve gotten is a knowledge of Islay malts, and a preference among them).

As for beer, I’m mostly uneducated. I have enough west-of-Scotland teenage memories to recoil from the idea of a pint of Tennent’s. And enough cultural capital from student days to automatically reach for anything Italian or Czech.

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So I am probably a sucker (OK, a sipper) for the seemingly relentless marketing drive of one of Scotland’s current business success stories, BrewDog. And not just it, but the sector of beer it champions, “craft beer”.

Poke at that concept for a bit and the barley of late capitalism – the struggle for authenticity, local-versus-global, niche consumption – comes spilling out of the sack. More than enough to muse on over an opened bag of cheddar crisps.

The Scottish food and drink podcast Scran put out a useful interview a few days ago, with the BrewDog co-founder, Martin Dickie. It’s a fascinating account of the company’s rise, and what the “craft” in craft beer means.

For BrewDog, these days, “craft” certainly doesn’t mean amateur. In 2018, it recorded £175 million of beer sales, had 1247 employees, was running hotels in Columbus and Aberdeen, Ohio, and was aiming to expand its 82 bars into Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

But like many craft beer entrepreneurs, Dickie tells of making beer from kits since he was 12, at his Fraserburgh family home. Experimenting with taste was his consistent interest, to the extent of taking a brewing degree at Heriot-Watt University.

Yet every entrepreneur needs a context, to either fit into or kick against. And Dickie makes clear in the interview the two main trends which shaped his business.

One was the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), which kicked off at the peak of the counterculture in 1971. The second was the rise of microbreweries on the US west coast (kicked off by homebrewing being decriminalised around the late seventies), which ripened in the 1990s with craft brewers such as Pizza Port, Stone and Alesmith.

In retrospect, the opportunity was obvious for BrewDog’s founders (James Watt, a former fisherman, is Dickie’s partner). Craft beers were often marketed in a misty cloud of hippy medievalism.

The National:

This may have communicated that this was “real ale”, produced by caring, tradition-oriented enthusiasts. But it was a turn-off for consumers who didn’t want to grow the beard (and certainly not the belly).

BrewDog’s embrace of a “punk” identity – its first-ever beer in 2007 was called Punk IPA, its latest non-alcoholic drink is titled Punk AF – was hardly plugging into the zeitgeist of the time (where is the chemical generation’s drink of choice?). But business-wise, punk culture is a perfectly appropriate way to give craft beer a new commercial edge. The punk ethos is notoriously do-it-yourself – indeed BrewDog publishes all its recipes, open-source and online – but it’s also gleefully capitalist (remember Malcolm McLaren’s “cash from chaos” mantra).

So BrewDog has consciously courted controversy – rolling tanks down London streets, brewing Royal Virility Performance beers for William and Kate, or 32% proof beers called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, etc, etc.

But it has also rather brilliantly managed its community with its Equity for Punks crowd-funding scheme, in which purchase of shares gets you access to perks and events (including a 10,000-strong AGM).

This has brought £75m of investment from more than 130,000 investors – although it’s still less than 10% of the total equity in the company. BrewDog took £213m from private investors TSG in 2017, representing a 22% stake – and apparently, in any liquidation or sell-out, TSG gets paid first. Is this still punk? Depends on the particular svengali’s point-of-view … How far is the flashy expansionism of BrewDog still connected to the communitarian spirit of “craft beer”? This week’s news items shows the company at least displaying its sustainable credentials.

It has announced various carbon-lite measures under the title “Let’s Make Sure We Have A Planet To Brew Beer On” – while also announcing its Airbnb-style “Kennel” units in the US, serving globe-straddling city enthusiasts.

It’s not exactly a fit.

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Overall, BrewDog’s levels of investment and debt require high commercial growth. It’s hard to see how “artisanal” it can remain.

Nevertheless, the craft beer microbrewery remains something of a sweet spot for community empowerment – an act of pleasure and skill that is also an act of communal sovereignty. The founder of the Transition Towns movement Rob Hopkins has written eloquently about craft breweries in this regard.

“Here we have a shift already under way towards a more small scale, local, independent, high-quality, more flavourful, lower-carbon, more delicious way of doing things”, writes Hopkins. “It’s driven not by a political campaign, but by simply being better at what it does, and doing it with such passion and creativity.”

Aren’t there equal potentials, he asks, to build community businesses of the same kind around bread, vegetables, meat, finance and investment, housing, energy generation? To be fair, BrewDog has announced a £1m “tomorrow” fund that will aim to invest in beer projects with a social angle (the company is already pursuing issues around the ethnic diversity of craft beer culture in the US). But Hopkins makes a sharp point. This is an age when we might have to rethink world-straddling “growth” strategies, as our planetary carbon budgets start to constrain our ambitions.

In this urgent environmental context, what size should an enterprise rooted in “craft” values and practices seek to ultimately become?

Might it be enough to be small, beautiful and tasty, beloved by one’s own or nearby communities, part of a rich society of diverse local produce? Which, if it does sell abroad, does so at a high premium for high quality?

This means both deprogramming our minds from the idea that a successful Scottish business implies “globally expand or die”. And it might also require new Scottish institutions, such as Common Weal’s recent proposal for a national distribution and export company.

This could aim to help specialist and craft traders get their goods nationally and internationally distributed, in a way that doesn’t rely on corporate retailers to give them access (and which had carbon targets integrated into their operations).

More in that foamy swirl at the bottom of the glass than you imagined – an entire post-carbon economic model, no less.

And a happier contemplation for me, in my calm and forgiving snug of choice.