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Hard tea gets a new twist with Yerbuzz

Hard seltzer meets yerba mate in San Diego’s latest beer alternative

Yerbuzz yerba mate hard seltzer debuted with two flavor options: blueberry and guava.
Yerbuzz yerba mate hard seltzer debuted with two flavor options: blueberry and guava.

We’ve already seen the evolution of hard seltzer yield a spinoff known as hard tea, and now a San Diego business has launched around a further expansion of the concept: hard yerba mate.

Yerbuzz blends the hard seltzer trend with increasing popularity of yerba mate, a tea-like beverage brewed from a species of holly plant native to South America. As a result, each can of 12-ounce Yerbuzz cans weighs in at 5.5-percent alcohol, and 20 mg of caffeine, meaning a six-pack yields a lift equivalent of a cup of coffee.

Founder Dan Nierman, a San Diego native, has a home brewing background, plus experience working with brew teams at Miramar’s Duck Foot Brewing and Chula Vista hard kombucha maker Boochcraft. He tells me he conceived of Yerbuzz on late 2019, at a Secret Santa party with friends, after receiving a blend of yerba mate leaves as a gift.

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“I saw the hard seltzers that lines the coffee table and thought this would be a great idea to combine the two,” he says.

Nierman and his roommates initially joked the combination would be, “more or less a hipster’s red bull and vodka.” However, over the course of 2020, Nierman got serious. He tested 25 different brewing approaches before deciding on a brew using a dextrose sugar wash. As opposed to sucrose (table sugar), dextrose is a monosaccharide, meaning its yeasts leave behind no residual sugars after fermentation, producing a very dry beverage.

That was important to Nierman, who hasn’t been satisfied with a number of hard seltzers on the market. “I think when you drink a seltzer your mouth should only be tasting the flavor for so long,” he explains, “Other seltzers have a lot of sugar that stays on the tongue, and there’s a certain texture that’s not attractive, It’s almost sticky.”

For Yerbuzz, this means any sweetness is derived from natural fruit flavorings. Nierman says he tasted over a hundred natural flavoring options from a dozen different suppliers. By the time the business launched in November, Yerbuzz offered two options: blueberry and guava. He plans to debut a passion fruit flavor this spring.

Nierman points out the fruit flavors bring balance to the herbal notes of the yerba itself, which he likens to a beloved local ingredient. “Yerba mate is to hard seltzer as hops are to beer,” he says, “The earthy and bitter characters of the yerba mate really help balance out the beverage.”

Currently, Yerbuzz contracts brewing at a brewery in Northern California, then stores and self-distributes out of a third-party logistics business here in San Diego. Since its relatively low-budget launch, Nierman has been slowly growing the business, adding a distribution vehicle and seeking a local warehouse and office lease to establish a fixed Yerbuzz headquarters.

So far, distribution is limited and local, including a few mom-and-pop liquor stores and most Barons Markets. But as Nierman starts growing a Yerbuzz sales staff heading into the new year, he already has his buzzy new brew’s sights set on Los Angeles.

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Yerbuzz yerba mate hard seltzer debuted with two flavor options: blueberry and guava.
Yerbuzz yerba mate hard seltzer debuted with two flavor options: blueberry and guava.

We’ve already seen the evolution of hard seltzer yield a spinoff known as hard tea, and now a San Diego business has launched around a further expansion of the concept: hard yerba mate.

Yerbuzz blends the hard seltzer trend with increasing popularity of yerba mate, a tea-like beverage brewed from a species of holly plant native to South America. As a result, each can of 12-ounce Yerbuzz cans weighs in at 5.5-percent alcohol, and 20 mg of caffeine, meaning a six-pack yields a lift equivalent of a cup of coffee.

Founder Dan Nierman, a San Diego native, has a home brewing background, plus experience working with brew teams at Miramar’s Duck Foot Brewing and Chula Vista hard kombucha maker Boochcraft. He tells me he conceived of Yerbuzz on late 2019, at a Secret Santa party with friends, after receiving a blend of yerba mate leaves as a gift.

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“I saw the hard seltzers that lines the coffee table and thought this would be a great idea to combine the two,” he says.

Nierman and his roommates initially joked the combination would be, “more or less a hipster’s red bull and vodka.” However, over the course of 2020, Nierman got serious. He tested 25 different brewing approaches before deciding on a brew using a dextrose sugar wash. As opposed to sucrose (table sugar), dextrose is a monosaccharide, meaning its yeasts leave behind no residual sugars after fermentation, producing a very dry beverage.

That was important to Nierman, who hasn’t been satisfied with a number of hard seltzers on the market. “I think when you drink a seltzer your mouth should only be tasting the flavor for so long,” he explains, “Other seltzers have a lot of sugar that stays on the tongue, and there’s a certain texture that’s not attractive, It’s almost sticky.”

For Yerbuzz, this means any sweetness is derived from natural fruit flavorings. Nierman says he tasted over a hundred natural flavoring options from a dozen different suppliers. By the time the business launched in November, Yerbuzz offered two options: blueberry and guava. He plans to debut a passion fruit flavor this spring.

Nierman points out the fruit flavors bring balance to the herbal notes of the yerba itself, which he likens to a beloved local ingredient. “Yerba mate is to hard seltzer as hops are to beer,” he says, “The earthy and bitter characters of the yerba mate really help balance out the beverage.”

Currently, Yerbuzz contracts brewing at a brewery in Northern California, then stores and self-distributes out of a third-party logistics business here in San Diego. Since its relatively low-budget launch, Nierman has been slowly growing the business, adding a distribution vehicle and seeking a local warehouse and office lease to establish a fixed Yerbuzz headquarters.

So far, distribution is limited and local, including a few mom-and-pop liquor stores and most Barons Markets. But as Nierman starts growing a Yerbuzz sales staff heading into the new year, he already has his buzzy new brew’s sights set on Los Angeles.

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