An innovative craft beer company producing a health-focused, light craft lager is set to go before the panel in tonight’s episode of Dragons’ Den. Jason Clarke and Charlie Craig, founders of Genius Brewing will take their 3% ABV, 79 calorie lager into the Den in the hopes of gaining backing for their ‘smart drinking’ company.
Genius Brewing was launched in 2018 with a mission to “make healthier drinking a pleasure, not a compromise”, says Clarke. “We identified that the wider trend for healthier lifestyles would eventually change the way consumers chose to drink alcohol.
“While the craft beer revolution recalibrated drinkers’ expectations of quality, it came with a health cost – high ABVs and a heap of calories. The ‘eureka’ moment for us was the vision to create a beer with the flavour quality of craft but the healthier attributes of ‘light’.”
Clarke says British drinkers have traditionally had a low opinion of light beers, unlike in the US, where light beers now make up the top three selling products. It isn’t all good for our American cousins, however: “The American notion of ‘light’ emphasises ‘low carb’ rather than lower alcohol, as if the value proposition is ‘get drunk but keep your six-pack’. Charlie and I felt this was an out of date, out of touch approach. Today’s health-conscious consumer wants low calories and less alcohol – who wants a six-pack but a wrecked liver?”
At 79 calories per can, their Gen!us Craft Lager is less calorific than an apple, and its 3% ABV makes a 330ml can exactly one unit of alcohol, which Clark says helps consumers to ‘drinkaware’.
Founders Clarke and Craig met 33 years ago at Aberdeen University, graduating in law and politics, respectively. They then went their separate ways, with Clarke joining the army and Craig moving to Hong Kong. Clarke went on to study film in LA and spent the next twenty years as a writer and filmmaker.
Craig worked in headhunting, building banking teams in Hong Kong and London. In 2008, he joined Fyne Ales in Scotland, when the craft beer revolution was in its infancy. He rose to become Operations Manager, helping to transform the small brewer’s turnover from £250,000 to £1m.
Clarke says his love of beer was more “as a fond consumer than brewer”, but as a former rugby player, he’d always had a focus on fitness and health. “Why couldn’t I find a beer that was genuinely tasty but that wasn’t ‘rocket fuel’ strong and loaded with calories?” he says. After reconnecting with Craig to ponder this problem, Genius Craft Lager was launched in April 2018.
As co-founders and joint owners of Genius Brewing, Clarke acts as the Creative Director overseeing the brand, its marketing, corporate communications and CSR, while operations including production, distribution, logistics, and finance are managed by Craig.
Building a small brewing company in today’s multinational industry is no small feat, with the scales tipped firmly against Genius.
“Over the last decade, the brewing industry has consolidated hugely, with a handful of mega-brewers now dominating production and distribution on a global scale,” says Clarke. “Although the craft wave has inspired consumers to seek new and interesting brands, getting a new, small brand to market was a huge challenge.
“The decision to launch only in cans and not bottles added to that challenge, with the on-trade seeing bottles as premium. However, we were looking further ahead and could see how the better environmental attributes of cans would overtake bottles.
“Without the budgets and reach of the mega-brands, we focused on ‘home territory’, launching Gen!us in Scotland, focusing on smart bars, hotels, gastro-pubs, and wine retailers.”
Last year, Gen!us was listed in Spar stores across Scotland and in June will go on sale in Spar across Wales and most of England.
Clarke and Craig were approached by the BBC in early 2020 after Dragons’ Den producers noticed the brand on social media, admiring their #SmartDrinking ethos.
Clarke admits to some nerves in the lead-up to the Dragons’ Den pitch but says he never doubted the product. “As entrepreneurs, we’re big fans of Dragons’ Den, it’s an iconic show, so when the BBC called offering us an audition, we knew we had to grasp the opportunity.
“We naturally had one overriding fear: that the Dragons wouldn’t like Gen!us. Imagine, after our opening pitch, the Dragons all take a sip and go ‘Urgh’ on national TV. Nightmare! But we knew we had an award-winning, quality product with great feedback from thousands of drinkers. Nothing ventured, nothing gained…”
The onset of Covid forced the business to delay their roadmap and led to a “pivot to ecommerce”. They listed on Amazon in November and launched a shop on their own website, leading to a rapid growth in online sales during lockdown and a doubling in annual turnover year-on-year.
“One silver lining of the Covid ‘cloud’ was an acceleration in the move to healthier drinking,” says Clarke, “with the increasing health-awareness of consumers driving a demand for lower alcohol, low calorie beers.
Their plans going forward are certainly ambitious, with the company aiming to become the UK’s number one light craft lager brand. Tune in this evening to find out if they will be taking that journey with the help of the Dragons.
• For more information check out the Genius Brewing website here.