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Global bully boys attempt to steal Scottish craft brewery's 'top bar of the year' award

Added: Thursday, May 10th 2012

Global drinks group Diageo has been forced to make an abject apology to a small Scottish brewery and bar owner after a clumsy attempt to hijack an awards ceremony in Glasgow on Sunday.

The ceremony was organised by the Scottish arm of the British Institute of Innkeeping and one award was meant for BrewDog, a craft brewery based in Fraserburgh near Aberdeen. BrewDog, launched five years ago, also runs seven bars, including sites in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Camden, North London. Its founders, James Watt and Martin Dickie, expected to pick up their trophy, which already had their company name engraved on it.

But the dinner at the Grand Central Hotel was hijacked by representatives from Diageo, the international group that owns such brands as Guinness, Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff. To the astonishment of people attending the event, it was announced that the “Bar Operator of the Year” award had gone not to BrewDog but to the Behind the Wall bar in Falkirk. Diageo staff surrounded BII organisers and said they would withdraw future sponsorship from the event if the award went to BrewDog.

Diageo, with net annual sales of £10bn last year, later admitted to “a serious misjudgement by our staff.” This followed an outraged attack by BrewDog on Twitter, which led to international protests. Drinkers as far afield as Chile and China said they would never touch a Diageo product again. The criticism was seriously damaging to Diageo, which uses social media to promote its products. A spokesman for the global giant said: “We would like to apologise unreservedly to BrewDog and to the British Institute of Innkeeping for this error of judgement and we will be contacting both organisations imminently to express our regret for this unfortunate incident.”

BrewDog, with an annual turnover of £12m, said it was “gobsmacked” by Diageo’s tactics. “This is clear evidence of the dirty tricks used by global corporations to derail young competitors they fear,” James Watt added. “This is another clear indication that some organisations feel they are big enough to be kingmakers, controllers of everyone else’s fate.”

He said the only plausible conclusion to explain the attempt to block the award to BrewDog was a vested interest in making sure small companies were not successful.

BrewDog made a profit on £425,000 last year. The company has grown rapidly as a result of an investment scheme in which beer lovers have been encouraged to buy shares in the company. Investors poured close to £2m into BrewDog. Last October the brewery said it planned to open a £7m new brewing plant and five new bars.