"Mindful drinking" brings arguably healthier alternatives to consumers

It looks like a brewery, it smells like a brewery and, actually, it is a brewery. But it isn’t brewing beer. It’s brewing hard kombucha, a high-alcohol version of an ancient fermented tea that has exploded in popularity.

The product is part of an emerging trend of what the industry has dubbed “mindful drinking,” arguably healthier alternatives to traditional alcohol. The trend includes hard seltzers, ciders and kombucha brands cropping up in bars, liquor stores and on grocery shelves.

Adam Hiner is the co-founder of Boochcraft, one of several hard kombucha breweries in Southern California that have entered the “better for you” alcohol market and are having a hard time keeping up with demand. His company is already expanding with 20 new gleaming stainless-steel fermenting tanks with a capacity of over a million gallons a year.

“People are wanting something that’s a little bit more refreshing,” Hiner said. “It’s not weighing them down and something with more interesting flavor profiles.”

Boochcraft can’t seem to make enough of it.

“This is the trend. It’s not a fad,” said Danny Brager, a senior VP at Nielsen who tracks the alcohol industry. “Nielsen is seeing more bigger companies either, again, launching their own products or acquiring other companies or investing in companies that have hard kombuchas.”

Despite the potential growth, or maybe because of it, many of these emerging kombucha moguls are determined to run their businesses differently, ethically, they say, insisting on using only natural ingredients and maintaining quality.

“You can scale and stay with ethics. As long as you have the right customer base,” Greg Serrao said. 

Serrao is the founder of JuneShine, the world’s first hard kombucha bar offering over a dozen flavors on tap.

“Trends aren’t built overnight, but in the next five to 10 years I think we’re going to see what some people are calling functional alcohols,” Serrao said. “I think that that’s going to be a third of the section when you walk into a beer wall in any given store.”

So if you don’t currently see hard kombucha where you buy your beer, wine, or spirits, Hiner said you soon will.

“Five years in the future I hope that we are expanded throughout the country,” Hiner said. “I don’t think it’s a possibility. I think it’s a certainty.”

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