Entrepreneur Mark Wong is Pioneering a Replacement For Traditional Beer
Durham University graduate and entrepreneur Mark Wong is pioneering a replacement for traditional beer, delivering on the promise of a ‘one or two pints feeling’ without the need for alcohol
‘The easiest way to describe IMPOSSIBREW is to imagine that you could enjoy a beer without the hangover, but you can still experience the relaxing effect. The way we see it is the next generation of beer. We’re trying to provide uncompromising flavour and sensation without the drawback that normally comes with alcohol,’ explains Mark.
Originally from a wine background, Mark’s journey with IMPOSSIBREW started with a life-changing health revelation. ‘I started not feeling too well, and it turns out that my liver was essentially shot from drinking too much. I was so young at that point; I was only 22,’ Mark explains. ‘My family came from a background of wine as well, so for me that was a massive shock. I just sat there thinking, what on earth am I going to do?’
The world of alcohol-free beer often feels like a compromise, never truly managing to accurately recreate the sensation of drinking a craft ale due to a different lack of bitterness (usually from the absence of enough hops) and a complete disregard for the emotional reasons as to why we drink – to relax after a hard day’s work, and to reward ourselves. Mark argues that IMPOSSIBREW is coming from a angle, penetrating the market with a new category of beer altogether, a beer ‘replacement’ rather than just a beer ‘alternative.’
‘It’s all about identifying “that moment” – a lot of people look at it and they identify the alcohol-free space as someone who might not be drinking, but they still need the flavour of it, assuming that’s what the consumer wants, and that’s the only thing that the consumer wants.’ Mark elaborates: ‘People don’t just want the flavour, we don’t go to a bar just to enjoy the taste of a malty beverage, we also go for that social environment. That human, emotional aspect of it is just as important as the taste alone. We don’t see it as an alcohol-free challenger, we are creating our own functional alcohol-free category. It’s the difference between “alcohol alternative” and “alcohol replacement”, we are more towards the latter.’
Mark recognises that there’s a sweet spot, however – before things get silly. ‘There’s a reason why we reassure our friends with the promise of “we’ll go for just one or two!” (often a lie we happily tell ourselves). The way we’ve tailored the blend is to create that “one or two pints” feeling, any more than that you get a bit groggy, but that point where conversations just flow, you don’t feel a headache or anything negative, it’s that moment that we want to recreate without needing alcohol.’
Mark recruited the help of his university lecturer to discover a way of recreating the magic two-pint moment, inspired by a successful stint in home-brewing in his university kitchen, ‘It wasn’t actually a beer in the beginning. I was just tinkering with eutrophic extracts to see what effects they would have. We would distil it, brew it, and tweak it to see how it worked. We eventually made a beer in my uni kitchen, handing it out to friends who weren’t drinking. People really enjoyed it and it made me think, maybe there’s an idea here.’ Mark wasn’t the only one, quickly garnering support for his ‘moodeffecting’ beer replacement.
‘We got a lot of support, some grants and university start-up support. We won a few competitions here and there, and from that point I knew that this might be something that could grow into a business.’
So, how does it work? IMPOSSIBREW uses eutrophic extracts from traditional Japanese herbs –ingredients such as theanine that produce a release of chemicals in the brain. Theanine is a main ingredient in green tea, acting as the agent that gives green tea its distinctive calming effect. Other herbs include panax ginseng, used for acclimatising to stress, and griffonia simplicifolia, a seed containing 5-HTP, a chemical that helps produce serotonin. This means that while ‘mood-effecting’, IMPOSSIBREW beers are actually safe to drink and drive with. Mark simply suggests that you ‘check-in’ to be extra careful. ‘Although the law says that you can drive with it, we always recommend just “checking-in” with yourself to see how you feel. For example, it’s like getting behind the wheel after having five or six cups of coffee, it’s not that you can’t drive legally, but you know if you feel up to it or not.’
With the rise in popularity of craft-beer continuing across the UK, IMPOSSIBREW is in pole position to ride the wave with a health-conscious replacement. ‘It’s the fastest growing category in drinks. We’re talking 5.2 billion in the next two years. It really reflects customers’ choices now; people are moderating their alcohol consumption. The way we make our decisions is to make this experience accessible to as many people as possible. That will include people with different tastes. For example, I’m a massive fan of stouts. We don’t yet have a stout, but it is something we are looking towards developing. If there is a beer style that people particularly enjoy and would like to see “replaced”, then we’d happily try and do that.’
Looking forward, Mark sees promise in IMPOSSIBREW’s future as a replacement for alcohol. ‘We’re excited to create a future where it’s no longer a binary choice between drinking or not drinking.’ Mark is impassioned by IMPOSSIBREW’s warm reception. ‘We have the odd customer who says they have ADHD or some other condition where they know alcohol makes them feel worse, but they still use alcohol a lot for its relaxing properties, now finally being able to say they don’t need the alcohol anymore. It just makes me so happy.’
Regardless of what the future holds for this fledgling brewery, thanks to Mark and IMPOSSIBREW one thing’s for certain – this is going to be a much easier dry January than last year.