In recent years, consumers have been gravitating towards healthier alcoholic beverages. The rise of “better-for-you” alcoholic beverages has opened new and profitable sectors to an overall alcohol industry that has an estimated $360 billion impact on the American economy.
One brand is shaking things up by offering craft hard kombucha. After seeing massive growth in the “better-for-you” alcoholic beverages category, and after trying hard kombucha for the first time at a pool party, Australia native Justin Medcraft, Co-founder of Mate Maker, wanted to bring hard kombucha into the country.
Stemming From a Car Ride Between Mates
“I was at a pool party and one of my friends handed me a can. It was then that I realized there was so much potential in that can,” Medcraft says. “That’s what set me off on the path to understanding the potential in this space. Then I went on a car ride with my business partners RÜFÜS DU SOL, a band in Australia, and I had the opportunity to pitch my idea to them. I was lucky enough that they had been drinking it already, but no one had made it in Australia. So we got on the same page to launch this company.”
After launching in San Diego in June, Mate Maker has had an outsized impact. In just 30 days of doing business, the brand secured over 200 accounts between off-premise retail and on-premise and has now produced over 500 barrels of its hard kombucha in three flavors.
Major retail wins already include Whole Foods and Total Wine, with major on-premise accounts including Mavericks Pacific Beach, Catalina Lounge OB, Shore Club PB, The Local OB and Surf Lodge.
Medcraft is not new to the beverage alcohol space. With over 12 years of experience in the industry, Medcraft started off his career at Diageo in Australia where he developed a curiosity for innovation. While employed there, he moved to New York where he continued to oversee innovation across multiple markets. Medcraft utilizes this previous knowledge and experience to help boost Mate Maker and craft it into a better brand.
The Golden Era Occasion Drink
Rather than focusing on a consumer’s age, Mate Maker is marketing themselves as the drink for all occasions. “If you’re going to a BBQ, in the cooler you’ll find hard seltzers, beers and canned cocktails – people are drinking everything these days. We ground ourselves in the golden era occasion – the early afternoon sunset when people are looking to try something interesting, fruity and full of flavor. That’s where we want to be,” Medcraft says.
To achieve this goal, Mate Maker is posting up at craft festivals, music festivals and food and wine festivals to build credibility as a great brewer. Getting consumers to try their hard kombucha is the most important aspect of growing as a brand because there are so many drink options on the market. So being able to test the drink in person gives Mate Maker a huge leg up.
Better Drinks for a Better Tomorrow
Currently, Mate Maker offers three core flavors: Mango Peach Smash, Pineapple Sundream and Blood Orange P.O.G. Josh Makler, Brewmaster for Mate Maker, says they are working on a new flavor to go into a variety pack that will be released in the new year.
“We’re going to round out our flavors with a Strawberry Citrus Spritz, which will be a champagne-like flavor,” Makler says. “We’ll work with local San Diego farms around strawberry season, which is from February until July or August.”
Mate Maker is passionate about being as sustainable as possible and works with other local businesses as much as they can. Their packaging is also made without plastic and is 100% recyclable, and their kombucha is made with organic ingredients.
Makler mentions that it’s tough to be sustainable as a small business, but notes that the company is leaning into digital printing on cans. “Previously, we had labels and plastic wrap, which were available for breweries and smaller brands since the only way to do painted cans was to order in truckloads. It’s a little expensive, but it’s super sustainable. We’re taking out all of the plastic wrapping out of our supply chain,” he says.
Mate Maker also partners with 1% for the Planet, where the brand donates 1% of its annual sales revenue to nonprofits combating climate change.
A Local Craft Brand at Heart
Medcraft says the only plans for expansion that Mate Maker has is to stay in California. Currently, they have one brewery in San Diego, and Medcraft would like to expand up the coast to Southern California very soon.
“We’ve always wanted to be a craft California brand, so being able to expand and focus on California in the next few years is where we want to be,” Medcraft says. “I saw the opportunity to build a credible craft product that’s California-centric, so we’re focused on here rather than trying to be everything to everyone.”
“We were one of the first alcoholic kombucha in the Australian market and have been going super strong. Then we had an opportunity to launch it over here this summer. I trusted the product that Josh was brewing and thought it had a lot of potential. It’s been an exciting 12 months for us, and that’s the beauty of a startup,” Medcraft says.