It’s been about two years since Chula Vista brewery Boochcraft introduced the concept of high alcohol kombucha to the craft beverage market. At that time, the mixed fermentation business had the capacity to produce about 1000 barrels a year, with enough extra space in its 5000 square foot warehouse to bump up to 4000, eventually. If the demand was there.
Today, on the heels of its second anniversary, Boochcraft is expanding into a 19-thousand-square-foot warehouse affording room to produce up to 40 thousand barrels per year. As it turns out, there was in fact a market for a gluten-free, seven percent probiotic tea made with organic ingredients, and demand has been rising fast.
“We tried to be conservative in our numbers in the beginning, but we didn’t really have any idea how long it would take us to get to max capacity,” says cofounder Adam Hiner, “We weren’t expecting to double sales overnight.”
That was around June 2017. After a solid first year, the partners behind Boochcraft — including Hiner, Todd Kent, and head brewer Andrew Clark — had just maxed out their brewhouse, packing it tight with new fermenters. The next step was to briefly shut it down to install equipment upgrades that would increase automation.
But just as they shut it down, the weekly sales report came in, showing sales had literally doubled since the week prior. Automation would have to wait. They needed to get brewing again immediately or they would fall behind.
“If we shut down again,” Clark recalls thinking, “we’re never going to catch back up.”
Boochcraft has been hustling to meet demand ever since, with standing orders for more as soon as they can produce it. It’s still producing the four distinct flavors it opened with, as there hasn’t been time to catch a breath and focus on research and development. Because the four flavors sell at virtually equal rates, adding a fifth to the lineup would just be disruptive. “We would just be moving revenue from one flavor to another,” explains Clark.
The company has been shipping 22-ounce bottles through Stone Distributing Company since the beginning, and has expanded to all its territories, which cover most of Southern California up to Santa Barbara, and Hawaii. Through other distributors, it’s currently shipping to the bay area and other populous northern California regions, and once it’s new brewhouse goes online, Boochcraft is laying the groundwork to expand throughout the west, for starters. It will also begin marketing cans for the first time, most likely 12-ounce four-packs.
Now that boozy kombucha is a proven concept, a handful of competing businesses seem poised to enter the market. But it will take time for them to launch, let alone catch up to the level of infrastructure Boochcraft is preparing in its new warehouse, which is fewer than 50 yards from its original base of operations.
It’s been a fast rise for a group of guys who are still relatively new to the business, so when they were approached by experienced executive who wanted to help scale their operation, they named him Boochcraft’s new chief operating officer. Michael “Wooly” Woolston is a longtime engineer who most recently served as vice president of engineering and capital development at Stone Brewing, where he spent years overseeing the optimization of its Escondido brewery, and development of its breweries in Richmond, Virginia and Berlin, Germany.
It looks like a smart move for both parties. Woolston has exited a beer industry that’s experiencing growing pains for a high-alcohol kombucha industry that has nowhere to go but up.