Founder Anna Zesbaugh has a background in hospitality management and corporate event planning, industries hit hard by the pandemic. Furloughed from her job, self-proclaimed “doer” Zesbaugh says sitting idly by was just not going to cut it, and so the job search began.
But then the people of Denver went into full blown panic mode when, even if only for a few hours, everyone thought liquor stores were being shut down for good as part of the city's early response to COVID-19. "I thought, ‘Wow, this feels a lot like Prohibition," Zesbaugh says. "It sparked something in my mind, generally. And I’ve always enjoyed kombucha since it helps with gut health, and when hard kombucha came out, I thought that was really cool.”
Zesbaugh, who hails from Minnesota, called her dad, who owns a brewpub there, to get some expert advice on the idea that was forming in her mind. “He thought it was a good idea and told me he thought I was really on to something.” With the added reassurance, she switched her focus from seeking a new job in corporate event planning to pursuing a fast-growing passion: brewing and selling her own line of hard kombucha.
Dos Luces Brewery owner Judd Bellstock was the first to show interest, kicking off six months of experimental brewing in June 2020. "The process was very interesting,” says Zesbaugh. “I bought a home-brew kit initially to see what it was all about, but I quickly learned you probably don't want to be brewing alcohol at your house if you don't know what you're doing.” Though Dos Luces had never brewed kombucha, it is a totally gluten-free facility, which appealed to Zesbaugh since it aligned with kombucha's gut-health benefits. Zesbaugh has since partnered with Woods Boss Brewing Company for production.
In developing her brand, Zesbaugh took inspiration from the short-lived Denver Prohibition of 2020 and ran with it. “‘Hooch Booch’ kind of hit me in the face, and I loved it,” says Zesbaugh. “I had an idea about the classic cocktails I wanted [the flavors] to be inspired by. And during Prohibition, the ‘hooch’ they were making was actually deadly, so it’s interesting to think about.” (Rest assured, Hooch Booch is safe to drink responsibly.) “All the flavors are inspired by Prohibition-era cocktails, which originally came about to mask the flavor of hooch.”
Current Hooch Booch flavors include the Old Fashioned, which Zesbaugh describes as “dark, oaky and smokey,” with a masculine feel that pairs well with whiskey. The Bees Knees is a “sweet and delectable” honey and lemon mix, and the Clover Club is a tart combination of raspberry and lemon.
Although Hooch Booch has a higher alcohol content, at around 8%, than regular kombucha or even most hard kombuchas, it still retains the probiotics that aid in gut health. Plus, there isn’t any added sugar, and the calorie count remains relatively low. The suggested method of enjoyment is mixing Hooch Booch into a cocktail for some added flavor and fizz, which is implied by the brand’s tagline, “Dare to Go Harder.” “The biggest [motivation] for me starting this was that we were all drinking and connecting in different ways [during the pandemic], so we wanted to bring people together over a beverage,” Zesbaugh says.
After a successful 1920s-speakeasy-themed launch party, Zesbaugh’s focus is now on distribution and getting Hooch Booch out to the rest of Colorado (and hopefully beyond). She's likely to expand to Minnesota next, and hopes to eventually bring more flavors to the line.
Hooch Booch can be found at participating retailers in Denver. For more information, call 303-570-0025 or visit hoochboochkombucha.com.