In December, Carlsbad-based Local Roots Kombucha made headlines by acquiring Latitude 33 Brewing’s Vista brewing facility. This move instantly upped Local Roots’ annual production capacity from 1,000 barrels to 35,000 barrels. That astronomic increase was inspired by sales far exceeding the company’s projections following the introduction of a hard kombucha line. Since announcing the acquisition, investors have been coming out of the woodwork, providing even more resources for this two-years-young brand to work with as it forges ahead. This seemed the perfect time to learn a bit more about Local Roots, so we sat down with co-founder Joe Carmichael to do just that.
What factors warranted such a massive advance in manufacturing capabilities?
We played it and originally estimated our production capability would last us five-to-six months after opening, but it hardly lasted two. I think part of that is our focus on quality over growth. Anyone can make craft beer or hard kombucha, and I’ve gone on record as saying when [co-founder] Ryan White and I first started surveying what was available, I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t until we began experimenting with our own recipes and ingredients where we were able to taste what was actually possible. We quickly saw an overwhelming response to bring Local Roots into more restaurants and stores throughout San Diego. This sort of interest so soon was a nice and unexpected surprise. We thought it would take a lot longer. Once we were sure that the demand was going to be sustained, we began working on expansion plans within our current facility, and then the opportunity to acquire Latitude 33’s brewhouse came up and we couldn’t pass it up.
What made Latitude 33’s facility attractive to Local Roots?
The biggest thing was its location. It’s just a stone’s throw away from The Boochyard [in Carlsbad], where we still brew and have our tasting room. With the acquisition, we had the opportunity to bring on some of the members who were key in making Latitude 33 the great brand that it is today. Four key members of their team have become a part of Local Roots. Cameron Moffett and Colin Montgomery, who have a history of brewing some of San Diego’s highest-rated beers, will be brewing kombucha for us full-time. Their expertise in brewing—and with the equipment we just purchased—is a huge asset. Matt Silbert is a seasoned microbiologist and now leads our QA department. He’ll be monitoring our probiotic content and product integrity. John Bristol also crossed over. He is the handiest of handymen ever and holds the role of maintenance technician, making sure our newly purchased facility doesn’t crumble under us.
What are Local Roots’ production goals?
We’ve set some aggressive goals for ourselves over the next 12 months, and have an experienced and passionate team on board with us to make them happen. We will learn a lot in the next few months as we take this next step as well as launch distribution with Craft Brewers Guild. We are extremely excited and bullish on the opportunity and are continually bringing on resources to support the growth of an authentic kombucha brand.
What does “authentic” mean and how is Local Roots different from hard-kombucha producers? We stick to kombucha’s original origins, where we believe that kombucha should be a naturally fermented beverage that has probiotic content as a result. The only additions we make to the finished kombucha are 100% organic flavor additions such as fruit juices and herbs. Many emerging companies are pasteurizing their product in order to make it shelf-stable and, thus, killing all of the naturally occurring culture. By our definition, this is not authentic kombucha. We’re seeing more and more entrants into the space who are cutting corners and producing kombucha-like products that can dilute and confuse the category. We will be working with those we believe are doing it right and making sure the consumer is educated on the difference as the reach continues to expand. Hard kombucha is a whole new space and has plenty of opportunities for all these brands to succeed.