Funny spelling, serious ingredients goes the motto for Jiant, a better-for-you alcohol brand selling hard kombucha to the masses and created by greenwich-native Larry Haertel Jr. and co-founder Aaron Telch. The pair met at Brown University where they played on the golf team together before joining forces years later to pioneer what they see to be a huge opportunity in the emerging “beyond beer” category.
A quick survey of Instagram reveals that hard kombucha is quickly becoming the adult beverage of choice among health-conscious drinkers. With its gluten free, low carb, and clean ingredient promise, it’s easy to see why some people are calling it “the next hard seltzer.” However, Jiant is quick to point out that while it does share some common ground with the oft-memed slim-canned beverage, the hard kombucha value proposition is a little more thoughtful and a whole lot tastier. To understand where hard kombucha is going and why two Ivy-educated MBAs decided to put their livelihood on the line to pursue their “Jiant” dream, it may be helpful to first explain what exactly hard kombucha is and what makes it special.
While you may be familiar with kombucha, a fermented tea beverage and purported health elixir championed by everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to moms in yoga pants, you might not have known that even the grocery store variety has a trace amount of alcohol (less than 0.5%). Rather than try to curb alcohol byproduct from fermentation, Jiant engineered a process to increase it to the equivalent of a light beer or hard seltzer, by taking its brews through a second fermentation. Whereas most kombucha is made with black tea and sugar, Jiant’s hard kombucha is brewed with high-grade organic green tea and sustainably-sourced honey, resulting in a much lighter and smoother taste that lacks the funkiness that can turn some people off from ‘booch.
On the surface, hard kombucha may seem like a niche product. However, Jiant is quickly solidifying its mainstream appeal and attracting hordes of kombucha and non-kombucha drinkers alike. It also boasts the top-ranking for any hard kombucha on Untappd -- the de facto beer-ranking app. Jiant notes that the two most common pieces of feedback they receive are “I didn’t think I liked kombucha, but I love this” and “It doesn’t taste like there’s any alcohol in here.” Checking in at an easy-drinking 4.5% ABV, Jiant is brewed to be sessionable, meaning you can drink more than one of them.
All of Jiant’s hard kombuchas are thoughtfully crafted with organic ingredients, including green tea, honey, fresh-brewed botanicals and real fruit. Jiant prides themselves on creating fun and interesting flavor combinations including passion fruit & elderflower, grapefruit & hibiscus, ginger & lemongrass, and the brand new guava & mint (aka “Guavamente”). Equally important is what you won’t find in these cans, including GMOs, gluten, natural flavors, sweeteners such as Stevia or Erythritol, or any preservatives or pesticides. You can also read the full nutrition facts and an ingredient list on the back of every can, so you know exactly what you’re drinking.
“Transparency and sustainability are important to us and our brand. While these ethos are table stakes in most other consumer categories, they are noticeably lacking from alcohol. We’re trying to do our part to kickstart the conversation around it and hopefully encourage other brands to follow suit,” says Haertel Jr. That being said, Jiant’s intentions go well beyond virtue signaling as Haertel Jr. contends that at the end of the day “high-quality real ingredients simply taste a lot better than something made in a lab.”
Since launching in Los Angeles in Summer 2019, Jiant has rapidly expanded from coast to coast and can now be found in Connecticut, California, Colorado, Utah, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachussets, and Pennsylvania, with plans to expand to 20 more markets in 2021. Jiant is sold in over 1200 accounts and has national partnerships with prominent retailers such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Total Wine, Sprouts, and Costco. You can typically find them at plenty of tastemaking bars and restaurants (editor's note: it’s fantastic on draft) as well as cool and in-the-know bottle shops such as Cap, Cork, & Cellar in Greenwich.
Haertel Jr. says that it’s an interesting time to be in the alcohol business. “The industry as a whole was already undergoing a major recalibration as brands, retailers, and distributors struggled to adapt to shifting consumer preferences. The pandemic has only accelerated some of these changes and I think the landscape is going to look quite different once the dust settles.” He says that Jiant has received tremendous support from its friends, family, and investors, many of whom are part of the Greenwich community. The brand’s strong retail partnerships and chain-focused strategy has also afforded them the ability to grow substantially though a very challenging period. However, Haertel Jr. says that he can’t wait for bars and restaurants to return in full force and how much Jiant is looking forward to helping them in their rebuilding efforts. “While grocery is what keeps the lights on for a brand like Jiant, it’s the independents accounts, resutatants, and bars that really are the soul of our industry. They are what make this endeavor worthwhile. The alcohol business is a total grind but when you walk into an account and see a frosty Jiant can in a patrons hands and people having a good time, there’s really no better feeling,” says Haertel Jr. Whether you’re in on hard kombucha or not, I think that’s a feeling that we would all like to get back to as soon as possible.
You can find Jiant on Instagram @jiantcombucha or online at jiantkombucha.com.