Hard lemonade, hard seltzer, hard kombucha, and now hard yerba mate? That’s right. It’s not surprising that innovation in alcohol is happening here in San Diego.
Kové Hard Yerba Mate is the world’s first alcoholic yerba mate company and recently opened its first tasting room.
Yerba mate is a caffeinated, infused herbal drink that was originally brewed by the Guaraní people in what is now Paraguay before growing in popularity during the European colonization of South American regions in the 1500s.
I reached out to the founders, Alex Montelbano (CEO), Josh Makler (COO) and Ryder England (CCO or Chief Creative Officer) to learn more about what inspired them to create a new space in the market, how they navigated opening during Covid, and what inspires them in the moment.
Cheers!: Hey Guys, thanks for getting me up to speed with on what’s going on at Kové Hard Yerba Mate. You just recently opened in a new space adjoining Thorn Brewing in Barrio Logan, but we’ve been in a pandemic for 15 months. What has the past year been like for the team, and what does it mean to you to be open now?
Josh Makler, (COO): The past year has definitely been a tough one. We all left our jobs during the pandemic to work on starting this business, and we had no idea how hard it was going to be. We launched the product in November of 2020, and did everything we could to get it around town and start to build the brand. With most things being half opened at the time, we focused on hitting smaller market liquor stores and a few restaurants.
We tried out doing a heavy DTC [Direct-to-Consumer] push as well with online shipping of our products, but that was extremely tough to do as a new brand with not many people who knew about the product. All in all, we continued to push through and grow the brand.
Now as the world has opened up we have grown into many larger grocery stores and draft restaurant accounts totaling about 150-200 different points of retail in San Diego. We have also been distributing our products into distribution in Oregon, Northern California, and Nevada.
Cheers!: Why yerba mate, and how did you go about turning this into an alcoholic beverage? What was the R&D process like, and were there any surprises?
Josh: We had tons of experience with alternative beverage products, and understood how to fill a gap and the amazing varieties that are coming out nowadays.
We all had been drinking yerba mate as a coffee alternative and enjoyed the social and cultural significance it had. It is exciting when you can make a product from something that has an amazing story and culture behind it.
We tested multiple different levels of Yerba mate brews and ferments to get their flavor and caffeine levels perfect.
We wanted to put forward a brew with caffeine levels just around 10mg. At one point we had 25 different one-gallon jugs fermenting with different levels of mate and different types of yeasts.
Definite surprises came when we started experimenting with different cuts of yerba mate as well, and we landed on using some that were just right for the flavor profile we were looking for.
Cheers!: For someone who isn’t familiar with the Kové brand, will you explain the theme or vibe, and what inspired you to pursue that style?
Ryder England: We are constantly inspired by the natural world. That is what shaped the unique and simple ingredients of our hard yerba mate, and also inspired the bold creative design of both our cans and tasting room. There is an amazing opportunity here to shape a new category in the alcohol space. Collaborating with different creatives and communities allows us to come forth as a brand with a human element.
Amazing stories of sustainability, art, and adventure are all around us, our goal is to connect our audience with these things while having a good time doing so.
Both alcohol and yerba mate are beverages that represent community, craft, and culture. Party in your plants is more than a catchy slogan, creating both a vegan and gluten-free product with trustworthy ingredients, we strive to make a beverage everyone can enjoy.
Cheers!: I believe all three founders worked at Juneshine. How did your time over there inspire this next step, and what made you decide to make the leap into your own venture?
Josh: As a founding member of the Juneshine team, I learned a great deal of knowledge about how these types of new alternative alcohol products can have an amazing impact and place in the market.
I was a part of the companies growth from the start and learned how to grow the brand and company, but got to a point where I wanted to do my own things and have a bit more control of the narrative.
[With] this knowledge and yearn for doing something of our own, I partnered with Alex and we eventually brought in Ryder to manage the creative direction of the brand and company.
Cheers!: You have a new collab, Hoppy Troppy, with Thorn Brewing, but if you start adding hops is it more beer or more yerba mate?
Josh: Haha, No. We are all “hard yerba mate” all the way and completely gluten-free, but we love using hops for the amazing qualities they can bring to our flavor combinations. Look out for more awesome hoppy flavors in the future.
Cheers!: I’m way up in Carlsbad. What is the best way for North County residents to get their hands on some Kové?
Josh: Find us at many of your local markets and restaurants! Some examples would be Frazier Farms Markets, Valley Farms Markets, Seaside Market, Nectarine Grove, and Fish 101’s
Cheers!: Anything else you want readers to know about Kové Hard Yerba Mate right now?
If you like craft beer, you probably also love a good cup of coffee. Pour a mug, and check out the most recent episodes of the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast featuring interviews and coffee education with great local coffee professionals.
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