Owl’s Brew, makers of tea-based cocktail mixers and a tea-and-beer Radler line, announced Thursday it has closed a $4 million series A funding round. The round included large investments from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “disruptive growth organization,” ZX Ventures, and investment firm Cambridge Companies SPG.
As part of ZX’s investment, a representative of the group will join Owl’s Brew’s board of directors.
Recall that A-B InBev launched ZX Ventures (the Z stands for Zythology — the study of beer — and the X stands for experience) in February 2015, with the goal of investing into higher end and non-traditional areas of the beer category. In addition to making multiple international brewery acquisitions, ZX Ventures has already established a joint venture with Keurig Green Mountain, purchased two major U.S. homebrew ingredient and supply companies, made a minority investment in PicoBrew Inc., and helped fund the beer website October, among other projects.
Speaking to BevNET, Brewbound’s sister publication, Owl’s Brew co-founder and CEO Jennie Ripps said the capital infusion would go toward funding the expansion of the brand’s Radler line. The products — which are made with premium light beer, fresh-brewed organic tea and infused with real fruits and botanicals — launched last October but began a stronger East Coast rollout in Q1.
The funding will enable Owl’s Brew to support its wholesalers and distributors as the brand moves into new markets, Ripps added.
The Radler products — which clock in at 3.8 percent ABV and are a 60-40 blend of beer and tea — are currently available in 14 East Coast states and sold in roughly 1,500 off-premise retail stores, including Whole Foods, Wegman’s, Shaw’s, Shop-Rite, and Total Wine. The line will expand into PriceChopper in June and an eventual nationwide rollout is also in the works.
“We’re pleased to be part of such an innovative organization,” Filipp Chebotarev, COO and Partner at Cambridge Companies SPG, said in a press release. “Jennie Ripps and [president] Maria Littlefield are incredible founders with a proven ability to bring ideas to mass market. Cambridge Companies SPG is proud to be part of this fast growing brand which has established impressive category velocity, widespread distribution and strategic partnerships across North America.”
Owl’s Brew also landed an on-premise contract with concert and events giant Live Nation to sell the Radler line at 21 of its amphitheatre venues in the markets where the brand has distribution, including the Xfinity Centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Ford Amphitheater in New York, and the Verizon Amphitheater in Georgia. Live Nation venues nationwide attract more than 30 million people annually, Ripps said, and the new funding will also be used to help promote the Live Nation partnership.
According to Ripps, Owl’s Brew met with Live Nation executives during the 2016 National Restaurant Association show and the companies have been working closely together to prepare for the launch.
“I think it’s probably the most exciting, largest, on-premise opportunity that I can imagine to coincide with the launch of our brand for the summer,” Ripps said. “In terms of building brand awareness we feel extraordinarily lucky they want to be our partners and sell our product.”
Owl’s Brew launched in 2013 as a tea-based cocktail mixer line. While the brand has now embraced beer, Ripps said the company’s main focus still lies in creating “clean” tea and botanical ingredient-based products. However, since launching, sales of the Radler products have quadrupled and Ripps expects the line to be the largest driver of company growth in the near future. While the company’s flagship cocktail mixers are performing well, Ripps admitted that uses for those offerings are more niche and limited than the ready-to-drink Radler.
“You can drink it at a concert, you can drink it at the beach, you can crack one open much more readily so there’s no barrier for entry,” she said.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story also appeared on BevNET.com.