Sierra Nevada’s new innovation arm, the Chico Fermentation Project, has announced its first release: Strainge Beast Hard Kombucha, the company’s first-ever beyond beer offering.
“I’ve been drinking kombucha for some time, and the team has done a fantastic job of coming up with really nice flavor and balance,” founder and president Ken Grossman said in a press release.
Strainge Beast’s first flavor to market will be Ginger, Lemon and Hibiscus, which pours bright pink and checks in at 7% ABV. Strainge Beast is also certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Strainge Beast will launch on draft in March in San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and San Diego in California; Portland, Oregon; Phoenix, Arizona; Asheville and Raleigh, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Tampa, Florida. The brand will roll out in additional cities in May.
Two additional flavors will follow after the draft launch: Blueberry, Acai and Sweet Basil; and Passion Fruit, Hops and Blood Orange. Cans of all three flavors will begin hitting retailers in August.
How did Grossman feel about his company’s first foray into the beyond beer world?
“As long as the product has providence and soul, I’m good with it,” he said in the release. “Like beer, kombucha allows you to become an alchemist, morphing natural, raw ingredients into something amazing to drink.”
Director of technical brewing and innovation Sean Lavery and his team worked with Oregon State University doctoral student Keisha Rose Harrison and her team to develop a new SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) for Strainge Beast. Harrison is working toward a Ph. D. in fermentation science with a focus on kombucha.
“We researched hundreds of cultures and brewed more than 50 batches to get the flavor just right,” Lavery said in the release.
The base of Ginger, Lemon and Hibiscus Strainge Beast is a blend of organic black tea and green tea.
“The tea flavor comes through, as does a nice clean acidity,” Lavery said.
In a memo to wholesalers last month, chief commercial officer Joe Whitney wrote that Strainge Beast is not the only product the company offers outside of the Sierra Nevada brand.
“2020 will also mark the first time in our history where our portfolio will move beyond
producing only Sierra Nevada craft beers and enter the mindful drinking space with our national rollout of Sufferfest Brewing Company and Chico Fermentation Project’s Strainge Beast hard kombucha brands,” he wrote.
The company made its first-ever acquisition of Sufferfest Beer Company, a fitness-focused company with functional beers, in February 2019.
Other new offerings under the Sierra Nevada brand include 40th Hoppy Anniversary Ale, which the company brewed to commemorate its fortieth year and serves as 2020’s spring seasonal; Fantastic Haze IPA, which checks in at 9% ABV and has “more tropical flavor” than the company’s Hazy Little Thing IPA; and Wild Little Thing, a “slightly sour ale.”
Also in 2020, Sierra Nevada will launch its first-ever national media campaign with ads on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Roku, Apple TV and Sling and paid partnerships with Outside magazine, Thrillist and extreme sports media company Teton Gravity Research.
To support the campaign, Sierra Nevada is asking wholesalers to contribute an optional $0.10 per case equivalent.
“We view this increase in distributor support essential to success in today’s hyper-competitive beer business and hope you see the importance of positioning our portfolio for growth in the future,” Whitney wrote.
In 2018, Sierra Nevada was the third-largest craft brewing company, according to trade group the Brewers Association. The company’s volume increased 2% that year, to 1,078,908 barrels.
In 2019, Sierra Nevada’s portfolio-wide dollar sales grew 4.2% in off-premise scan data, according to market research firm IRI. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale remained challenged, declining 6.2% in dollar sales to $101.4 million.