Crafty buggers: Can craft drinks inspire a new way to do business?
Socially conscious craft beer company Brewgooder are leading the way in making a difference with their profits
Craft drinks aren’t all double strength IPAs and well-groomed beards, y’know? In Scotland alone, following the lead of Messrs Dickie and Watt over at Brewdog, these creative, boozy start-ups are often some of the most exciting, product-focused and well-branded business ventures around. But beyond that, some bevvy merchants are proving that underneath its fuzzy faced exterior, the craft drinks industry isn’t all just flannel shirts with no hipster boxer shorts.
Two friends in the corner of a cosy Edinburgh old man’s pub, sipping pints and putting the world to rights, may be a common scene in Scotland’s capital. Heck, it may be a common scene in just about any city or town around the world. Some of the best ideas are born from a heavy night on the sauce and a little bit of political debate. Then again, so are some of the worst.
But as most of these little social experiments fizzle out the morning after, like the stale remains of the glasses left behind at closing time, each with their own unique little flurries of creative imagination and social idealism, some surpass the hangover and prove to be more than just the ramblings of drunken fools. Take the stage, Brewgooder.
Alan Mahon is the founder of the craft beer company, which donates 100% of its profits to clean drinking water projects around the world. Set up with fellow entrepreneur and good friend Josh Littlejohn, founder of socially conscious sandwich shop Social Bite, the idea was born from two entrepreneurs wanting to make a difference and, almost poetically, a fair few shandies.
“The idea came as we were sort of in a really entrepreneurial mind-set around how we could create enterprises like Social Bite — ideas that would make a difference in people’s lives or fit into people’s consumption or life habits if you like,” Mahon explains. “Whilst we were kind of doing that, we noticed we were drinking a lot of beer in pubs while we trying to put the world to rights.
“As a big craft beer fan, I thought, why don’t we actually make a beer? We drink enough of it already! So, we thought let’s do this, let’s call it Brewgooder — because all good business ideas have puns in them!”
In case you haven’t figured it out, or you’re drunk on their Clean Water Lager while reading this, Brewgooder is a play on “do-gooder”. Doing good, and the impact it can have in a business sense, is the foundation of Mahon’s ethos. He’s a modern kind of entrepreneur, one who takes great satisfaction in making a difference.
Brewgooder itself takes inspiration from Mahon’s own experiences with a lack of clean drinking water. While travelling in Nepal in his formative years, the Northern Irishman suffered from a waterborne illness. He was fortunate to survive, having had access to the appropriate medication that nursed him back to health. This is something that 650 million people don’t have, all the while taking a risk with unclean and unsafe drinking water every day. There’s a real human issue here – that’s why there is something so endearing about the project.
Yet this ambitious entrepreneur knows that there’s no sense having a great purpose, without having an excellent product to back it up.
“First and foremost it should be about the beer,” Mahon says. “The beer should really be good. It should be fit for buying a round with friends and sharing a beer with friends, even before we talk about what happens beyond. But the thing was we just didn’t know how to brew.
“So we thought let’s approach the guys at Brewdog, who obviously have a very different take on the beer industry and on business in general. James Watt from Brewdog agreed to brew for us at zero margin meaning that we could pass the most amount of cash and profits onto clean water projects as possible. That was a bit of a game changer for us, because obviously if you have the guys at Brewdog making the beer, you know it’s going to be a good quality product.”
First and foremost it should be about the beer. The beer should really be good.”
In a business sense, Alan earmarks two key aspects of Brewgooder’s socially responsible success. Firstly, it’s offering a high-quality product. Caring about your product and what you do is one of the most powerful and agreeable messages you can administer. Secondly, and not quite as immediately obvious, is the need for an easily translatable message.
“Drink beer, give water” is just that.
Fast forward one year – the project’s first birthday was on 22 March, World Water Day – and Clean Water Lager is stocked in 250 Asdas and 400 independent stockists, and has provided 5,000 people with clean drinking water through their projects. With plans to up this to 40,000 in the next year, Mahon also wants the project to have a positive impact on modern business.
“I want people who are sitting around drinking a beer, and conversation is drifting left and right, I want people to be inspired by the fact that there is a beer that does this, so why can’t there be a x, y, z other company that does a, b, c?” he explains. “I want people to think that you don’t have to set up a company just to be rich. There are other metrics of quality of life that money can’t buy and by appreciating that from the start, you can actually get the satisfaction of building a business or selling a product that gives you that intrinsic satisfaction of achievement but also goes beyond the day-to-day.”
It’s not just the beer industry who are utilising the growing interest in craft drinks for social good. Ginerosity have capitalised on the resurgence of the spirit of choice for mothers everywhere and a not-so-guilty pleasure for the rest of us. In partnership with Challenges Worldwide, Ginerosity help young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds take part in International Citizenship programmes.
Director Chris Thewliss is also a director of GTS Solutions, a social enterprise in private security which offers employability opportunities and training, and Beer for Good CIC, a social catering enterprise which offers employment opportunities and qualifications for those looking to get into the hospitality trade. He speaks about creating a new, unique experience for drinkers to get on board with.
“We want people to enjoy drinking our gin, but we want them to enjoy drinking our gin with a social conscience. Not only are they enjoying that drink, but they’re also helping other people who’re living different lives. It gives them an experience they wouldn’t normally have.”
Businesses are beginning to acknowledge that our day-to-day consumption habits don’t just have to satisfy us, and the science backs it up. Millennials in particular want more from business – a Cone Communications study, as quoted in AdWeek, found 61% of millennials feel personally responsible to make a difference, 72% of millennials would spend more money on sustainable or socially responsible products or services, and 68% of this group say that a company’s social or environmental commitment is extremely important. Alan Mahon believes that this generational shift in attitude is having a real impact on business.
“If you want to term it millennials or whatever, there’s so much information out there, there’s so much innovation out there, it’s kind of culminated in our generation’s outlook on entrepreneurship, where we’ve grown up in a globalised world, where you can effectively say my doing something here effects people somewhere a million miles away.
There’s factors outside money that are talked about or current themes in the popular discourse of our society, such as happiness or quality of life, people are now saying, what would give me the most happiness? What would give me a higher quality of life? Part of that is establishing a successful brand or business, but then the other part, “what can I do after?”, that’s where the socially conscious aspect comes in.”
As this kind of “altruistic consumerism” evolves, the hope is that how we do business will evolve too. We’re changing our spending habits, influenced by information which exposes how those habits impact other people. And in the case of beer, we’d all rather buy into something a little more meaningful than a day of Netflix and self-deprecation the day after the night before.
Even in Brewgooder’s case, their mantra of “drink beer, give water” is echoed in the upper echelons of the beer world. Stella Artois recently launched the third year of their “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign, which — in partnership with Water.org and Matt Damon — provides funding for clean water.
This consumer shift seems to be rebuilding some of the conventional pillars of business, replacing cracked mantles of secrecy, profit and apathy with transparency, responsibility and compassion, and, if Stella is anything to go by, big business is waking up to it. Even if the cynic inside tells you that they don’t really care, you’d have been laughed out of the Belgian brewers’ boardroom had you recommended such a thing 50 years ago.
That said, it’s not about unrealistically abandoning brands and industries – it’s about holding them to account. Not in a way which feels necessary, but in a way which feels purposeful. Shiny tags of Corporate Social Responsibility and hugs with underprivileged children really won’t cut it. People want to see and feel the impact when they spend, and it’s a way of thinking that Mahon is hopeful for in the future.
“I hope it becomes the mainstream. If I have one hope, it would be that – even if Brewgooder might never reach that one million target, that’s something you can’t predict – if the sheer fact of Brewgooder’s existence inspires one more entrepreneur or a few entrepreneurs to go on and have the impact similar to the one we want to have. I think you’ll see in the next 5-10 years that people who’ve grown up with that going on will more than likely take up that route.”
Mahon is perhaps the embodiment of the millennial entrepreneur – creative, socially aware and ambitious for our shared future. With more people like Alan Mahon in business, business can only benefit. And with more companies like Brewgooder, people can only benefit, and maybe, if we’re lucky, more people will have an inspiring idea that does good and comes to life over a cold pint of Clean Water Lager with a friend, in Edinburgh or anywhere else, in the corner of a cosy traditional pub.