Meet the team looking to disrupt the craft beer market with a healthier option

Rosemary Gallagher meets Jason Clarke, one of the team behind the Gen!us idea of producing a lower calorie and alcohol content craft lager

Picture: Genius Brewing

When people think about health and fitness, beer is unlikely to be the first thing that springs to mind. But one Scottish brewer decided to go against the grain and position itself as the UK’s first light craft lager for ‘smarter drinking’.

The global craft beer market is growing, as is the demand for healthier drinks. The team behind Glasgow-based Genius Brewing realised that nothing was being done to marry the trends, so they set out to fill that gap in the market.

The business was founded by Jason Clarke and Charlie Craig, who met more than 30 years ago while both were studying at Aberdeen University. After graduating, Clarke went into the army and then filmmaking, while Craig worked in recruitment before managing craft brewer Fyne Ales.

Jason Clarke. Picture: Genius Brewing

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Genius Brewing is tapping into a growing interest among Britons for healthier drinking. More than half of respondents in the MCA’s UK Pub Market Report 2019 survey stated that the healthiness of their drinks was ‘important’ or ‘very important’.

Creative Director Clarke explains how the idea for Gen!us developed: “In 2016, I was in a pub one afternoon and fancied a beer, something tasty but nothing too strong. The craft and premium beers were all near 5% ABV and the no-alcohol options didn’t appeal, I wanted a ‘drink’. I thought, ‘Why is there nothing in the middle, a great tasting beer but with less alcohol?’ and that’s where the spark began.

“It raised the question of why the alcohol industry wasn’t more in tune with the trend for healthy lifestyles. The craft sector seemed to be in an arms race of who could make the strongest beer, when consumers were clearly looking for healthier, lighter options.

“We carefully chose an ABV of 3% to find the perfect sweet spot between flavour and health. We wanted enough ‘booze’ to make Gen!us a genuine pleasure, but with meaningfully less alcohol.

“Also, at 3%, we calculated that a 330ml can of Gen!us is exactly one unit of alcohol, which would help people keep track of their alcohol consumption.”

Transparency and consumer information are an important part of the brand’s “smart drinking” ethos. Clarke adds: “Gen!us was the first UK craft beer to put units and calories right on the front of the can. On the back, we provide a full, food-standard nutrition breakdown – carbs, sugars, proteins, fats, salt… the works.

Genius Brewing’s focus on healthy lifestyles has led to its sponsorship of sports teams and events across rugby, cricket, triathlon, and golf. Last year, Gen!us was

the official beer for golf’s Ladies Scottish Open.

As Official Fundraising Partners of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, the brewer’s #5p4Doddie campaign sees five pence from every can of Gen!us sold donated to the charity. More than £15,000 has been raised to support the former Scottish rugby international’s quest to aid research into motor neurone disease, and support those coping with the condition.

From this week, more beer drinkers and Doddie fans will be able to buy Gen!us with the news that the craft lager will be available in Spar stores right across Scotland.

“We’re really pleased to be stocked in Spar,” says Clarke “ Not only has Spar got a great footprint across Scotland, they really appreciate their customers’ growing demand for a light craft beer.”

A competition hosted on Spar’s Facebook page to promote the launch will offer the chance to win a signed copy of Doddie Weir’s autobiography.

Clarke hopes that the distribution deal will lead to Gen!us being stocked in Spar stores in other parts of the UK, and he is optimistic that it could be a catalyst to the craft lager being stocked in major retailers, such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Clarke explains: “The big supermarkets are cautious about taking on new, small brands and like to see success elsewhere. However, their beer buyers are very aware of what’s happening in the ‘Low and No’ healthier drinking segment, and of the need to adapt their offerings.”

Genius Brewing is also seeing substantial growth in online sales due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to lockdown Gen!us was stocked in smart delis, farm shops and speciality wine shops, with off-trade availability in convenience store chain Margiotta and Edinburgh wine merchant Vino.

In the on-trade market, Gen!us was found in up-market bars such as Stravaigin in Glasgow’s West End and Rabble Taphouse and Grill in the Capital’s Frederick Street. With bars and many off-trade outlets being closed due to the lockdown, sales have been hit but e-commerce sales of Gen!us through online craft beer retailer Flavourly.com have soared by an amazing 1,400 per cent.

Clarke and Craig had been planning to launch Gen!us in draft next month, but this move has obviously been postponed due to pubs and bars being closed.

“The British drinker loves a pint,” says Clarke. “Launching in draft was going to be a major leap forward for us, but it’s now on hold until 2021.”

The challenges of lockdown have not changed Clarke’s belief in the long-term trend for ‘smarter drinking’. “We’re proud to be a Scottish company leading the agenda for healthier drinking, as we Scots are not exactly known for moderation when it comes to alcohol!”