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Angus Woman Looking for Success with Alcohol Free Beer

Angus woman Morgan Humphreys swapped a career in the oil and gas industry to start up a business selling non-alcoholic craft beers.

Making a move into selling craft beer from a career in the oil and gas industry may seem a life-changing choice – and maybe a risk.

But doing it during a pandemic, and only selling non-alcoholic beverages, is not a path many have taken, never mind achieve.

But that is exactly what Morgan Humphreys has done with her young start-up The Clean Cask.

The business, which only sells alcohol-free craft beers, has been operating for seven months, but Morgan, from Carnoustie, is hugely optimistic for the future.

Morgan, 33, who completed a degree in chemistry and then did a Masters in marine science, said she never really felt a connection with science so came up with the idea of selling quality alcohol-free beers after having a period of abstinence from alcohol herself.

“I had the idea last year. I like to give myself little challenges now and again, and I decided to do 80 days alcohol free, don’t ask me why 80 days, it was just a round number to get me to my birthday,” she said.

“I’ve always been really interested in craft beer, particularly the more niche styles and I have absolutely no sweet tooth, so going to the pub and having a pint of coke was not something I wanted to do.

“You can have a pint of water with your friends, but once you have had one that’s enough, whereas you will have several beers.

“I did a bit of research while I was in this eighty-day phase and it seemed to me that there had been an explosion of alcohol-free beers in the craft market. Lots of really interesting, independent brewers doing some really exciting things – not just doing lagers that you boiled the alcohol out of, really experimenting with the way they are brewing, getting really good flavour and quality beer.

“We aren’t seeing that being translated into the pubs yet. Although if you are into craft beer and non-alcoholic beer you can order it online and drink it at home. It is missing that social element so they will go to the pub and drink an alcoholic beer because they don’t want to go and ask for a Beck’s Blue because it doesn’t have a great reputation in the craft beer world.

“If you are someone like me who likes to try a new beer when you go to the pub if they only have a Beck’s Blue it kind of takes the fun part out of it – the discovery.”

However, lockdown has meant a slight change of direction for Morgan at the present time, relying on home sales with pubs being closed.

“Because of this disconnect of non-alcoholic beers not going into the pubs my idea was to be the wholesaler, the spokesperson for the market to pubs around Dundee and Angus, in the local area to bridge the gap – and then lockdown happened.

“Most of the pubs closed, or when they were open weren’t willing to take a chance on something new, they were really looking after their pennies which was completely understandable.

“From their point of view, I would go in and say ‘I’ve got these really good non-alcoholic beers, want to give them a go?’ And they would say ‘Well we’ve got this Beck’s Blue and it never sells so why would we spend some money on a different kind?’ It is usually more expensive too as it is a better beer so that became quite a difficult challenge.”

But with the coronavirus vaccine now being rolled out, Morgan is confident that things can improve, and The Clean Cask’s offering of top-quality beer will be a winner.

“I think as Covid-19 hopefully eases I think we will see more traction. There are a couple of restaurants and a couple of health food cafes that have taken the beers and they have gone down really well so the hope is there, but it is just getting through Covid,” she added.

“I decided I wanted to focus on Scottish breweries, so there is a brewery called Jump Ship, Scotland’s first completely non-alcoholic brewery and they’re really good; Tempest who have got a really interesting fruity sours; Harviestoun, not technically a craft brewery, but have some really good dark beers; Coast who are new and they are also completely non-alcoholic; there’s a new one called Days, and Reid’s Gold in Stonehaven whose beer is called Designated Driver which is just great.

“I think I emailed nearly every brewery in Scotland at some point, but obviously they are Covid-stricken at the moment with a number being closed or staff on furlough, but the number that are doing it are sticking with it. Lots of brewers have plans to do it, so it will get bigger in the market.

“At the moment pretty much all of my sales are public sales selling directly through my website to people. I will probably keep that going and then try and get back to the original dream of the business of trying to get the beers into the social spaces because I think that’s where the stigma of the alcohol-free beer will be reduced and normalised. Maybe one day I will have a physical shop somewhere.”

And Morgan is enjoying being a beacon of light for the non-alcoholic craft beer industry.

“It is good and it is hard work. It’s so difficult at the moment, but in the future when things get back to normal the possibilities for these beers are endless.

“You can take them to festivals people are driving to and sports events – at the end of a triathlon you could be having an isotonic beer, even before you take part in the triathlon you be having an isotonic beer. It’s really something exciting to be part of.”

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