James Watt

James Watt, CEO, BrewDog 

BrewDog has promised to “listen and learn” after an explosive open letter was released by former staff accusing the craft beer company of presiding over a toxic work culture.

Describing the letter as “upsetting”, BrewDog CEO James Watt said he would not seek to contradict or contest the claims, which former staff say left them feeling “afraid and miserable”.

In the open letter, 61 former employees, plus at least 45 others who did not give their names, made a series of damaging accusations against the brewer and bar operator.

Saying he was “truly sorry”, Watt wrote: “We aren’t going to make excuses, we’re going to take action.”

The letter sets out that BrewDog has been built on a “cult of personality”, which has relentlessly sought publicity “both good and bad” to further its business goals.

It accuses founders James Watt and Martin Dickie of pursuing a “growth at all costs” approach, fuelled by stoking controversy.

Signed by a group calling itself ‘Punks without Purpose’, it claims the company relies on “lies, hypocrisy and deceit” as PR tools.

“By placing personalities at the centre of your messaging, you have inflated egos and fostered a culture within craft beer that deifies founders, and gives weight to sexist and misogynistic brewers who claim to be standing for free speech. You have become a lightning rod for some of the worst attitudes present on both the internet and real life.”

The letter says BrewDog’s claims of being a good employer are laughable: “Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog.”

It calls the company’s claims to be eco-conscious and progressive “insincere”.

“For as long as any one of us can remember, we have never seen anything that has made us feel like BrewDog has lived the values it purports to uphold,” it says.

Staff have been left “burnt out, afraid and miserable”.

“The true culture of BrewDog is, and seemingly always has been, fear,” the former staff write. 

They urge those still working at the company to resist being pressured into doing things they do not want to, for the sake of their own mental health.

Among the specific claims are that staff were pressured to ignore health and safety guidelines, and told to bypass customs when sending beer to America.

“Now is the time for genuine and meaningful change… a genuine apology from anyone and everyone who has worked for BrewDog and treated people like objects; harassing, assaulting, belittling, insulting or gaslighting them,” the letter concludes. “It’s the absolute minimum we should expect from you, and yet we still don’t actually expect to see one. We hope we’re wrong.”

In response to the letter, James Watt wrote that though many staff had positive stories to tell, the letter proved that this was not always the case.

He wrote: “At BrewDog we are focussed on building the best business we can, which is why the open letter we saw on Twitter was so upsetting, but so important. Our focus now is not on contradicting or contesting the details of that letter, but to listen, learn and act.

“As a fast-growing business, we have always tried to do the best by our team - we do have thousands of employees with positive stories to tell as a result.

“The tweet we saw last night proves that on many occasions we haven’t got it right. We are committed to doing better, not just as a reaction to this, but always; and we are going to reach out to our entire team past and sent to learn more.

“But most of all, right now, we are sorry.

“It’s hard to hear those comments, but it must have been even harder to say them. We appreciate that and we will endeavour to honour that effort and courage with the real change it deserves. We aren’t going to make excuses, we’re going to take action. From our commitment to sustainability and our passion for beer, BrewDog has always been defined by taking responsibility and continually improving. This is no exception.”