Women’s group, state back ‘sparkling’ tea startup
As Athletic Brewing announced another round of awards for brews concocted in Stratford at what is becoming one of Connecticut’s best-funded startups, the state’s newest beverage upstart in Stamford has $9 million in backing to sell “boozy tea” for those seeking an alternative drink.
Owl’s Brew has established an initial Connecticut headquarters at The Village in Stamford, after tapping interest from several investors including the Connecticut Innovations venture fund and a new women’s investment network led by Annie Lamont, the Greenwich venture capitalist married to Gov. Ned Lamont.
Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield started Owl’s Brew in New York City. The pair also partnered on an earlier startup there called Brew Tea Labs that crafted custom tea blends for coffee shops and other establishments.
As the case with Athletic Brewing, Owl’s Brew has won national attention in short order for its “hard sparkling” tea, a beverage category that emerged on the heels of a boom in hard seltzer labels the past several years.
Ripps said she and Littlefield set out to make Owl’s Brew different from many with a pledge to use only natural ingredients. She said that was cemented after getting early advice to check out a “flavor house” that concocts ingredients for infusion into beverages.
“I was like, ‘So what you do is you take the flavor I get from tea and you reproduce it in a way that is not tea? And then you put that into liquid?’” said Ripps, who lives in Greenwich where she grew up. “Take the tea kettle experience and just scale that up, and that’s how we brew our tea — and that’s why you actually get a lot of benefits.”
Owl’s Brew lists nearly 50 retail outlets today in Connecticut, to include Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s; package stores like BevMax and Crazy Grapes in Stamford; and a handful of food and drink establishments like the Beer Garden at Shippan Landing and The Sunset Grill at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk.
Norwalk was home to one of Connecticut’s biggest alcohol startup successes to date, with Spiked Seltzer acquired five years ago by AB-InBev, which now sells it as BON V!V Spiked Seltzer.
Newer hard seltzer forays include Stratford’s Two Roads Brewing with its H2Roads brand, and Athletic Brewing with DayPack.
Companies large and small are now piling into hard sparkling tea, to include Pabst Blue Ribbon, hard seltzer giant White Claw, and Cisco Brewers based in Nantucket, Mass., which has a seasonal beer pavilion at The Village in Stamford where Owl’s Brew now has its main office. Brent Montgomery, who led development of The Village, is also an Owl’s Brew backer through his Wheelhouse investment firm.
Other investors include Connecticut Innovations, as part of a new openness to investing in consumer product companies after a long focus on technology and life sciences. Ripps cited support as well from Tidal River, a new angel investment network chaired by Annie Lamont of Oak HC/FT, with the goal of helping more women launch startups in Connecticut with funding at the earliest stages of development.
“We did a ton of due diligence on (Owl’s Brew) and the market, and we believe in the market opportunity,” said Matt McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. “At least three Tidal River members have invested alongside of us in Owl’s Brew.”