WHEN two friends gave up good jobs to set up an alcohol-free beer business from scratch, they took a giant leap of faith.

Little did they know how wide the chasm below would expand with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mike Gammell and co-founder Duncan Keith started working on the Days Brewing Company in January last year, not long before lockdown.

However, after pivoting to launch a mainly direct to consumer offering initially, the Edinburgh-based firm produced 200,000 bottles of beer in its first six months, notched up 500 per cent growth and is on track to hit £1 million in sales within the next 12 months.

The 0.0% alcohol by volume lager and pale ale is for people who “don’t want side effects to get in the way of their Days”.

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Mr Gammell waxes lyrical about their motivation, their plans and what their friends and family thought about launching a start-up during Covid.

“Duncs and I, my co-founder, have been pals for the last 25 years and we had this conversation about two years ago, saying 'isn’t it sad that we are turning away from that occasion that we love so much, just having a beer with your pals, that moment at the end of the day when you open up a beer'.

“We realised the reasons why weren’t doing it was because we were kind of getting older, we were taking things more seriously, we were taking our physical health more seriously, taking our mental health more seriously, taking our careers more seriously and just came to that realisation that alcohol no longer made so much sense for us all of the time.”

HeraldScotland: Duncan Keith, left, and Mike Gammell, have been working hard to lay the foundations of the business.Duncan Keith, left, and Mike Gammell, have been working hard to lay the foundations of the business.

He adds: “I should say the first question I get from my pals is 'do you still drink alcohol', and I’m very open about the fact that we do still drink alcohol, but we drink a lot less than we did before and the positive is we drink a lot more beer now.”

Mr Gammell continues: “We both actually left our jobs in January 2020 right before the pandemic and spent a tonne of time trying to find a great brewing partner for us to make the beer with.

“We started to get wind that lockdown was happening and a few of our friends and our parents were like ‘guys it might not be the best time to start something if the world is about to fall apart here’.

“We had a meeting with the brewery to test our final products, we tasted the beers and we thought 'we’re never going to have an opportunity like this again.

“'We’ve worked hard to get the beers to where the are, these beers taste great, we’ve just got to do it'.

“So that was a big jump and that was scary, because you were leaving jobs, like the world was falling apart, but we just had so much confidence in the opportunity, we knew the beers were there, we thought ‘right, gotta get cracking’.”

HeraldScotland: Industry contacts gave critical feedback on the lager and pale aleIndustry contacts gave critical feedback on the lager and pale ale

They spent more time brewing and getting feedback from friends, former colleagues and contacts in the trade "who were stuck at home and were quite happy to receive a care package of beers”.

He said: "We’ve been blown away by the feedback to the beers."

"We won a World Beer award for our lager in the summer, our pale won an innovation award last month, so we know we’ve got great beers and way that alcohol-free beer hasn’t done beforehand."

The brewing partner remains under wraps. “We tested every different way of making an alcohol-free beer and it was always really important to us that the beers were 0.0% abv, so no alcohol whatsoever, and there are some of our competitors in the space of 0.5%, we wanted to be 0.0% because it is really clear for the consumer really clear.

“It’s not about moderation, it is actually about more. It is about great beer, great occasions and making the most of your time."

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The targets are ambitious. “For context, alcohol-free beer is the UK and in the US 2% of the beer market. The beer market is huge.

“If you are looking at plant-based meats and plant-based milk, which are two categories we see as very similar to ours, in that they are disrupting traditional categories, plant-based meat is 10% of the meat category, and plant-based milk is 10% of the milk category.

“There is no reason alcohol-free beer can’t be 10% of the beer market."

“There’s definitely opportunities in the US, in the Middle East, in Australia and New Zealand, and that is definitely there but our success there is dependent on really understanding who our consumer is and really building a great brand here in the UK that speaks to people.”

While they were able to take advantage of their direct to consumer offering, their key focus is on socialising.

“We want to be in bars, at festivals, at events, with people and we are definitely excited that that’s us hopefully out of it (lockdown issues).”

Helping with mental health is another core strand to the company, says Mr Gammell.

“We have an initiative that runs through the business called Days Duty which commits 2% of sales to mental health charities, and can we use beer, this thing that brings people together better than anything else, but that particularly men enjoy doing, so pair that with things that we’re not great at doing, actually having a conversation about our mental health.

“We would love to reframe that conversation, let’s call it mental fitness, and it’s something I’m pretty happy talking to my friends about.

“So that gives us a lot of passion and energy.”

The son of Cairn Energy founder Sir Bill, he has "given advice, but not in an invasive way".

“I’m very lucky that both my mum and my dad have encouraged me and my brother to do what it is we want to make our own names for ourselves.

“Of course dad is always going to encourage that entrepreneurship thing, right? But he’s given me my own space to make my own mistakes."

Q&A: Mike Gammell

HeraldScotland: Mike Gammell: Growing up I wanted to be a teacher. Mike Gammell: Growing up I wanted to be a teacher.

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I was pretty lucky to travel a lot with my previous job at ABInBev. I actually interviewed with them in Tokyo, lived in Belgium and London and travelled for work to New York & South America. Beer culture differs from country to country but it always has that role in bringing people together.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

Growing up I wanted to be a teacher. I loved the idea of helping a group of people realise their potential by getting them really enthusiastic about a topic and I always enjoyed coaching and being coached.

What was your biggest break in business?

Definitely Duncs and I landing on the final recipe and brewery partner for Days Lager and Days Pale. We spoke to breweries from all over the world, taste tested beers with 1000+ people and worked with some incredibly talented brewers before landing on the final process. It’s really important to us that we use locally sourced ingredients to brew our beers at home in Scotland and the process to get great tasting beers at 0.0% abv definitely involved a fair amount of good fortune.

What was your worst moment in business?

In a former job I presented a “cocktails on tap” espresso martini product to one of the UK’s biggest bar chains. We weren’t well enough prepared and the product was a disaster. I learnt a lot from that day.

Who do you most admire and why?

There are a few founders I follow in the consumer space who are very open about the challenges of building a business and the impact it can have on your mental health. I think showing that vulnerability is pretty cool because it sets a positive tone and encourages an open dialogue. I’ve got bags of admiration for leaders who are re-shaping the conversation around mental health.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

I’m currently reading That Will Never Work which is about the rise of Netflix and also Shuggie Bain which I’m late to but can’t put down. 

As I write this on the train up to Edinburgh I’ve got Gerry Cinnamon blaring on my headphones and it’s just got to Canter which is a belter.

Q&A: Duncan Keith

HeraldScotland: Duncan Keith: I like to think all moments are positive provided you can learn somethingDuncan Keith: I like to think all moments are positive provided you can learn something

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I was fortunate to live in Amsterdam for two years while working for Genius Foods which I really enjoyed. My mother is Dutch so it was nice to connect with Holland in such a meaningful way and Amsterdam is a brilliant city, very liveable and a great way of life.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

As a child? It would have to be a professional sportsman! I know it’s probably a cliché but it’s such a visual example of a high performing team and the draw of being able to influence a successful outcome in that environment has always been hugely appealing.

What was your biggest break in business?

I graduated from university during a recession so it was quite a tricky time to be entering the job market. I leaned towards finding a start-up because of the chance to learn and make an impact quickly. I was very fortunate to be introduced to the CEO of Genius Foods at the time, Gervase Cottam, who saw enough to give me an opportunity and I’ll always be grateful for that. 

What was your worst moment in business?

I like to think all moments are positive provided you can learn something!

Who do you most admire and why?

Hard to say, I would take traits from several people I admire – Elon Musk for his innovation and resilience, Sheryl Sandberg for her leadership and Nelson Mandela for his empathy to name a few.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

I’m reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight which I highly recommend and I’m listening to whatever pops up on my Spotify playlist! Sam Fender at the moment.