Kombucha with a bite: Paly grad start-up Jiant capitalizes on alcoholic beer craze | New

True to his roots in Palo Alto, Aaron Telch says that Jiant, the beverage company he co-founded, has “a garage story, except it was in the kitchen.” Telch, a Palo Alto high school graduate, began developing Jiant’s flagship product – alcoholic or “tough,” kombucha – four years ago in the Santa Monica apartment he shared with his little one. friend.

As with many startups, the company spent a few years finding its place amid trial and error – though a little more unusual, Telch sent samples of the evolving beer across the country to convince a potential business partner.

Jiant, which launched in 2019, now offers four regular flavors of hard kombucha, as well as two seasonal flavors in rotation. This summer, she is launching a line of three hard teas.

Although the company entered the market the year before the COVID-19 hit, the pandemic has not resulted in many speed bumps for Jiant as much of its business is focused on selling in stores rather than in stores. restaurants, Telch said.

Today, Jiant is no longer brewed in Californian cuisine, but produced in a craft brewery in Colorado. And in a roundabout way, a bit of Jiant’s foundation goes back to Telch’s time at Palo Alto High School. Telch played on Paly’s golf team, then played for Brown University, where he met future Jiant co-founder Larry Haertel Jr., who was also on the golf team.

“We became good friends in college, then in New York after college, we were roommates and always wanted to start a business together. But it took a while to find the right idea and the right passion.” , said Telch.

Telch, who grew up in Palo Alto, moved to Los Angeles in 2014 after graduating from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. In Los Angeles, he aimed to gain experience in both entrepreneurship and the food and beverage business world, working with a consumer incubator focused on food and beverage development.

The ever-growing popularity of alcohol-free kombucha about six or seven years ago caught Telch’s attention, as did consumers’ growing emphasis on health and wellness. And he noted that there wasn’t much available for consumers who were focusing on healthier alternatives in food and drink, but still wanted to enjoy the occasional adult drink.

Around 2017, Telch started making hard kombucha at home and sending samples to Haertel in New York.

“I started brewing, and I had never brewed anything before in my life. But as soon as the samples tasted good, I started sending them across the country to Larry, who still lived in Brooklyn, and I tried to convince him to move to LA, ”Telch recalls.

These samples ultimately proved convincing, as Haertel and his wife moved to Los Angeles to help found Jiant.

Kombucha, which is made by fermenting tea and sugar, usually already contains a small amount of alcohol, according to Telch, who said that Jiant brews his kombucha “in a very traditional setting, which is in the open with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) on top. “

To make hard kombucha, the drink goes through a second fermentation, in which Champagne yeast is added, and as it ferments, it increases the alcohol content. Jiant’s kombucha is around 5% alcohol, just like the company’s hard tea. Jiant hard tea only undergoes one fermentation, without the SCOBY. But like kombucha, since the tea is fermented, it is slightly effervescent.

The name “Jiant” is in part an ironic reference to the small independent status of the company. With a beverage market dominated by big commercial Goliaths, Telch likened Jiant to a David, but with an idea that has the potential to become quite big on its own.

The unique spelling with a “J” is a nod to Jun, the staple type the company uses to brew their kombucha. Rather than fermenting black tea and sugar, a common base for kombucha, Jiant’s hard kombuchas all use Jun, a blend of green tea and honey, as the base. While brewing and testing at home, Telch said, he’s noticed the difference the basic type can make.

“This was probably one of the most crucial things I discovered was to use a Jun kombucha designed for really light, refreshing, crisp and clean hard kombucha,” Telch said.

Jiant offers four regular flavors: The Original, with passion fruit and elderflower; Gingerly, a blend of ginger and lemongrass flavors; Hicamaya, with grapefruit and hibiscus; and Guavamente, a flavor of guava and mint. Additionally, Jiant offers two seasonal flavors in rotation: Taco Tuesday, with pineapple and jalapeño to sip on in warmer weather, and for the winter there’s Cool Beans, which mixes the flavors of coffee and blueberry. .

Jiant departs a bit from the green tea base used in his kombuchas as it branches out into hard teas, with flavors that instead use oolong, keemun (a variety of black tea) and pu’erh (fermented tea). ) as bases. Jiant sells the teas in a variety of packaging of three flavors: Mango Lime with oolong; Raspberry Mint with keemun and Blood Orange Grapefruit with pu’erh.

The hard seltzer trend in recent years has inspired Telch and Haertel to consider offering hard tea as an alternative. Telch’s theory is that consumers may be drawn to hard soda as a drink that is often lower in calories than other alcoholic and gluten-free drinks, but as he put it: “Everyone drinks them, but nobody drinks them. seems to really like it.

“One thing that we think we are doing really well and different from some of our competition is the way we use plants to really add complexity and flavor to our products without adding sugar, so it felt very natural to us to continue to rely on tea and plants. to create gluten-free drinks that are low in sugar, ”he said.

The teas, which have already been launched on the East Coast and in Southern California, were recently featured in a New York Times article on summer drinks.

In general, Jiant was more widely stocked in stores in San Francisco, but on the peninsula shoppers can now find Jiant’s hard kombucha in most Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods markets. The company aims to begin marketing its hard teas in stores across Northern California in August.

More information is available at jiantkombucha.com.

About Rhonda Lee

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