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West Auckland’s all-women brewing team, Liv McGregor and Rene Schliebs are creating their own unique shelf in the beverage fridge with their Happy Hour Hard Kombucha, an alcoholic version of traditional kombucha brewed using a double fermentation process.

Happy Hour Hard Kombucha is one of only a few double fermented alcoholic kombuchas made in Aotearoa. With four years of experience brewing their non-alcoholic kombucha, (or fermented black tea), under the Mama’s Brew Shop brand, the team are confident they have the product, the skills, technology, and distribution channels to take on the alcohol market.

Brewed up in response to changes in social drinking patterns amongst their target millennial market. McGregor said the shift towards conscious consumerism has led their product development.

“People are becoming much more aware about what they are putting in their bodies and how their purchases affect themselves and the world around them. These consumers are looking closely at product ingredients - carefully considering their provenance as well as their relationship to the environment. We wanted to create an interesting, complex, more conscious alternative for those consumers, and for ourselves!” said McGregor.

The growth of the Hard Kombucha market overseas, led by the US, suggests that this is a trend that is here to stay. Hard kombucha still comprises only a small share of the $1.8 billion kombucha category in the US, according to trade group Kombucha Brewers International, but its sales have grown from USD$1.7 million in 2017 to more than USD$12 million in 2019, and are expected to rise exponentially over the next five years.

“Happy Hour Hard Kombucha delivers great flavour with less than 1g of sugar per can. We’ve found it’s a great option for people who want to make the most of Saturday night AND Sunday morning."

Unlike RTDs which use a spirit base, the alcohol in Happy Hour naturally occurs during the double fermentation process. Schliebs added Champagne yeast to the Mama’s Brew Shop organic kombucha formulation of green tea, sugar, premium botanicals and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The Champagne yeast turns the sugars in the kombucha into alcohol, with a resulting ABV of 4.5%. Current flavour combinations include Lemongrass and Ginger, and Lavender and Hibiscus.

“Effectively if you are to put this into wine speak, a kombucha RTD is like having a glass of sparkling grape juice with vodka added, while a hard kombucha is like having a glass of sparkling wine. The double fermentation produces a more natural, refined product,” said Schliebs.

As a brewed product, Happy Hour Hard Kombucha is able to be sold in supermarkets, a distinct advantage over the spirits-based competition.

“We are supplying Farro Fresh stores in Auckland and select New World's around the country. This is in addition to online sales and our wholesale supply to restaurants and bars, in both cans and kegs,” said McGregor.

Schliebs is a nutritionist and medical herbalist who takes charge of product development while McGregor comes from a background in marketing and sales. The pair credit their combination of skills and the resilience that they have developed as young parents with their success to date.

“Liv and I approach our work from very different perspectives, but our combined passion for creating high quality kombucha products brings us together and our resilience built up in the face of the day-to-day parenting juggle has helped us build a strong culture within our company.

“Caring for each other and our families is at the heart of everything we do. Whether it’s the way we drink booze, or the way that we don’t, Happy Hour Hard Kombucha and Mama’s Brew Shop Kombucha is our way of sharing our love of fermented beverages with all Kiwis,” said Schliebs.