Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha Plans Expansion Into the Alcoholic-Beverage Market

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has made a point recently of checking in on kombucha producers to make sure they're keeping their brews to less than .5 percent alcohol by volume, the legal limit above which beverages are subject to the bureau's regulations. At alcohol levels that low, kombucha isn't attracting many social drinkers — but Boulder's Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha wants to change that. Founder James "Jamba" Dunn is in the process of rolling out a new 3.2 percent ABV kombucha to sell in Front Range grocery stores by spring of next year.

"We are hedging our bets by brewing both delicious, alcohol-free products and also releasing a series of above alcohol products branded for a broader self-conscious drinking audience," says Dunn. Rowdy Mermaid has already filed with state and federal agencies for a brewery license that will allow the company to legally brew beverages in the same alcohol range as beer. But Dunn explains that the method of production, not the alcohol volume, determines what type of license kombucha producers fall under. (Nationwide, there are kombucha companies that operate under wine-making licenses, too, even if the end product is lower in alcohol than most wines.)

In addition to a license, Rowdy Mermaid needs funding to purchase the needed equipment to ramp up production, so Dunn is in the middle of a convertible note round (basically, a loan that converts to equity) to raise money. Once funds are in, he'll be rolling out the first batches of 3.2 percent ABV dry-hopped kombucha. After that, he plans on adding sour cherry, ginger and barrel-aged flavors and also releasing higher alcohol kombucha to liquor stores.

The Rowdy Mermaid tap room, located at 2516 49th Street in Boulder, could have the boozier versions of kombucha available this winter, before bottles hit the shelves around town. "We're just looking at this as a lot of fun," Dunn notes, adding that he thinks plenty of health-conscious kombucha drinkers also want a probiotic social beverage. 

Kombucha is produced by fermenting sweetened tea with a combination of yeast and bacteria. Generally, the microflora are killed off if the alcohol level rises as high as that found in beer, so Dunn says there's a fair amount of experimentation before the right mix can be created to produce beer-strength kombucha. His blend results in a drink that's drier and a little less sour than many commercially available kombuchas. "We're a specialty product, but we're not looking for specialty palates," Dunn adds. "We want to make something everyone will like."

In addition to expanding into alcoholic-beverage production, Rowdy Mermaid has also teamed with New Image Brewing Company in Arvada to have a beer/kombucha blend on tap when the brewery's tap room opens later this year at 5622 Yukon Street.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation