Zip Kombucha Unveils New Hard Kombucha Line and Renovated Taproom
Zip Kombucha, with the support of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, launched its new hard Kombucha line Black Label Booch and celebrated the grand opening of its taproom September 18; Eddie Parker, with Ohana Media Group, checks out the new menu.
September 18 was a busy day for Alaskan entrepreneur Jessie Janes, owner of Zip Kombucha: he launched Black Label Booch, the company’s new signature hard kombucha line, and hosted the grand opening of Zip Kombucha’s recently renovated taproom at the company’s midtown location on Arctic Boulevard near 36th Avenue.
For two years Janes has been working out of the current facility, brewing, canning, and packaging his classic kombucha flavors: Plane Jane, Blueberry Mary, Mandy Mint, and Ginger Rogers.
But coinciding with the grand opening, Zip Kombucha has expanded not just to hard kombucha but also to beers and hard seltzers. Having acquired a brewing license, the company now offers twenty-four drinks on tap: eight kombuchas, eight hard kombuchas, four beers, and four hard seltzers.
“What I’m most proud of about the new space, and the launch, is we worked really hard on getting a lot of really fun flavors with a lot of diversity,” Janes says. “We’ve got low alcohol percentage (4 percent), low sugar kombuchas, and then we’ve got some higher alcohol (8 percent) with a kick and a bit sweeter, more of a classic cocktail type mixture. We’re happy to have a little bit of something for everybody: those health conscious people and then those people that just like a good mixed drink.”
Janes has been experimenting with making his own kombucha for about seven years, but his entrepreneurial spirit goes back even farther. “I got in trouble when I was in Army training because I ordered fifty t-shirts that said ‘Army Aviation’ on the back and was selling them out of my locker. Apparently drill sergeants don’t like that too much,” he laughs.
Fortunately, his interest in entrepreneurship melded beautifully with his interest in kombucha, which he’s been manufacturing and selling for several years now. For the first few years, Zip Kombucha packaged products primarily in kegs, which were distributed to local breweries and restaurants and used at farmers’ markets to fill growlers. Today locals can find Zip Kombucha products at New Sagaya, Natural Pantry, and Carrs, and Janes says he’s working on getting them onto shelves at Fred Meyer.
“In the last three or four months our wholesale side has actually outstripped our retail side for the first time,” Janes says. “It’s probably primarily due to COVID-19 and people not going out as much, but also the fact that Carrs is picking up and it’s our first summer rush with one of the big retailers.” Until recently, 60 to 70 percent of the company’s revenue was from retail operations, but that’s shifted to 55 to 60 percent of revenue being generated through wholesale.
Zip Kombucha and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce kicked off the grand opening of the brewery’s new tap room with a ribbon cutting. Jesse Janes, next to his wife Amanda, cut the ribbon. Hunter Guthrie of CoHo Financial (far left) and Josh Vandagriff of Wells Fargo (far right) facilitated the ribbon cutting.
He clarifies that in-house sales of his kombucha line have remained steady over the last twelve months, despite the massive disruption of COVID-19. He attributes that steadiness in part to online and pick up orders but more significantly to members of the community who like Zip Kombucha and made an effort to show their support.
Janes also has the support of a small, but important, crew: today he has two taproom employees and an assistant brewer—who’s also conveniently a welder. “He’s my stepdad and a retired welder,” Janes says. “That’s actually how he ended up here: I broke a valve off a tank lifting it with a forklift and I asked him for a hand and he just kind of never left,” he laughs.
While Zip Kombucha has managed to thrive and even find growth during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a couple of almost-issues.
For example, Janes previously acquired a liquor license but was surprised at some aspects of getting a brewing license. Although he was able to secure a federal brewing license in February, and the state was prepared to approve the company’s license as early as March or April, it took until late August/early September for the Municipality of Anchorage to give final approval—just three weeks before the tap room’s grand opening. “We’re in a business zone and so we had to do a conditional use process, and that process was both expensive and took a long time,” he explains. Additionally, COVID-19 had an impact on scheduling necessary public hearings, which ended up spaced out more than they would normally be.
Tom Karpow of Upper One Studios samples one of twenty-four Zip Kombucha beverages now on tap; Zip Kombucha, with the support of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, celebrated its expanded line on September 18.
COVID-19 has also created some packaging panic for many manufacturers through contributing to an aluminum can shortage, which is how Zip Kombucha packages its products for retail sale. “We luckily bought 122,000 cans in January,” Janes says. “We completely got ahead of the can shortage by accident… It’s actually been a huge life saver for us, because I went into it hoping we would get a canning line and I got the line of credit for it, but had we not had that, the amount of sales we would have been able to do over the counter would had been significantly reduced.”
The can shortage isn’t entirely attributable to COVID-19, as Janes notes there’s been an upward trend of purchasing items in cans instead of bottles. “But there are a lot of people that have canned products now that don’t normally because of the whole COVID-19 thing. As I say that, SteamDot is actually in our back room right now using our canning line to can about a thousand gallons of cold-brew coffee because not as many people are getting their latte on the way to work or hanging out in coffee shops.”
The businesses that have continued to thrive in this difficult economy have all found methods of adapting and moving forward, and despite a pretty monumental September, Janes doesn’t plan to slow down. The next step? “Digging into the new product lines,” he says. “I’d like to find a couple that resonate really well on the market and pitch those to my distributor come spring—get those in stores, on liquor shelves in Brown Jug, in Oaken Keg, and in all the liquor stores in town and around Alaska.”