Scots entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter has paid tribute to James Watt after the BrewDog CEO announced he would be stepping back from the drinks business.

Mr Watt is to take on a newly-created non-executive role of “captain and co-founder” after 17 years at the helm, having seen the Scottish brewer and pub chain achieve global success.

“James is very honest about his ups and downs,” said Sir Tom. “I took offence when the BBC did a hatchet job on him. I’m going to defend James – not that he needs me to defend him.”

Mr Watt and co-founder Martin Dickie started BrewDog aged 24, operating from a garage and selling hand-filled bottles at local markets.

“I remember going to a hut in Fraserburgh in 2007,” said Sir Tom, “and I met James and Martin. James is a different kind of thinker. He worked on a fishing trawler, he studied law then he started the craft beer company with Martin in this hut.

“I loved it because the entrepreneurial spirit was so evidently there. Where that business is today is phenomenal. It employs 2,300 people. It has 129 bars from Berlin to Brisbane and a brewery in Columbus, Ohio. 

“I’ve only got the turnover figures to 2022 – so it’ll be more than that now – but it’s £321 million. They managed to differentiate themselves because it’s a tough market. 

“They did amazing marketing, including driving a tank down Camden High Street. I remember James took a helicopter and chucked stuffed toy cats out for the fat cats of the city of London. 

“I really like James. I think he’s made a good decision. He has a professional CEO in place for the next step. 

“James is a thoughtful guy and this isn’t the end of his journey. It’ll be interesting to see what his next big plan is.”