Photo credit: Ben Brown

High-alcohol kombucha seems to deliver it all: the alcohol content equal to that of a craft beer and the nutritional properties of the probiotic drink that’s all the rage. With national sales growth of 462% over the past year, it’s a product that a lot of restaurants and retailers are paying attention to.

“Most people don't even know that they can get health-conscious alcohol. Then they see us and they realize ‘whoa, where has this been?’” said Joshua Rood, Co-Founder and CEO of Dr. Hops, a Bay Area-based vegan high-alcohol kombucha brand that’s recently expanded to Southern California. 

“It’s a long-awaited, high-demand product…The potential for evangelical, over-the-top fanaticism is strong,” Rood said.

Growing up in Maine with a garden and constant exposure to fresh foods, Rood moved to California and became entrenched in bartending and foodservice, as well as all things health and wellness. After bouncing between Los Angeles and San Diego, Rood found himself in the Bay Area, where he met Co-Founder and Brewer Tommy Weaver.

“At the time, Kombucha was booming. Craft beer was booming,” Rood said. “There was maybe one high-alcohol kombucha out there, but it wasn’t quite right. [Tommy] was like, ‘we can make it way, way better. That’s when I saw a real business opportunity.”

Rood and Weaver launched Dr. Hops with the mission to deliver ‘the most delightful and health-conscious alcoholic beverage in
the world.’ 

“We’re unfiltered and unpasteurized. Many of the other products out there right now aren’t actually live kombucha products. It’s difficult to deal with a product that’s still alive, but that’s what kombucha is all about,” Rood said. “`We do a very authentic fermentation, and we use very fresh Pacific Northwest hops. We’re the most beer-like because of the hops, and we’re the most hard-core about the kombucha culture. Our strains aren’t found in too many other high alcohol kombuchas.”

Dr. Hops is classified as a high-alcohol kombucha [to be classified as a beer, it would have to also be made with some type of grain], with the ‘beer’ component paying tribute to their use of hops and ale yeast. With four labels ranging form 7–10% ABV, however, Dr. Hops packs all the punch of a rich craft beer with some key advantages.

“You’re getting a lot more nutritional content and it’s easier to process…with far fewer negative consequences as found with other alcoholic products.” Rood said. But he himself is big on flavor. “We love really big beers, awesome flavors, lots of complexity, layers, intrigue. That kind of flavor profile lends itself to higher alcohol levels.”

Rood positions Dr. Hops as a premium product within the high-alcohol kombucha category, noting that his brand utilizes only fresh, unpasteurized ingredients rather than the pasteurized juices that his rivals incorporate. This comes with the challenge of requiring the product to be refrigerated at all times, but this hasn’t hampered Rood’s efforts in expanding Dr. Hops’ presence across California.

“We’re making a product that brewers very much respect so we're starting to make some good friends in the beer business,” Rood said. “Our production capacity is pretty significant.”

Dr. Hops had its first batch ready for sale and consumption in 2017, and after two years growing in the Bay Area, has expanded to Orange County, with Los Angeles and San Diego on the horizon. 

“We’ve known from the beginning that there’s a huge market in Southern California,” Rood said. “The weather is great, people are active, they love to party, it’s perfect for our product.”

He has his eyes set on other high-growth markets, namely New York, Florida, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. But eventually, Rood sees high-alcohol kombucha reaching high demand nationwide. 

“This is a new beverage category that needs to be developed. There’s maybe 10 brands like us in the whole country,” Rood said. “There’s plenty of room for all of us for now. [Dr. Hops] has a special place in the overall landscape of things, and we’re the high-end, hoppy, most complex one.”

But expansion aside, rood looks to be in the business for the right reasons. As a vegan himself, he seems for the brand to ‘support the environmental and social movement that veganism is.’ 

“We know that we have to make a successful business and there’s a race we have to run, but we’re in it for the love of the product and what’s possible in this category,” Rood said.

And while many connections could be drawn between the product’s components and its name, Dr. Hops was actually named after Rood’s wife’s pet lionhead rabbit, the original Dr. Hops. This should explain the company's intriguing logo, which has attracted a great deal of attention at brand activations and
food festivals. 

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