Owl’s Brew co-founder Jennie Ripps spills the tea on drinking wisely
Hard seltzers are everywhere these days. At at their heart, however, most are new spins on old drinks. You’ve got your millennial wine spritzer (sparkling rose, sparkling fruit wine), grown-up childhood favourites (spiked lemonades), and adaptations of familiar cocktails, lightened up with sparkling seltzer water. Yes, there are also sparkling teas hitting supermarket shelves as well. With a collective post-pandemic goal to eat and drink healthier, these fizzy lifting drinks have wide appeal to a wide variety of imbibers over 21.
As category pioneers, however, Owl’s Brew co-founders Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield are not worried about the growing competition in the sparkling seltzer universe. The determination to do things on their own terms give Owl’s Brew an edge—even if it can be a challenge to keep it sharp. Nearly a decade ago, Ripps discovered just how versatile tea was when she was working on coming up with a remedy brew for a sick family member with optimal healing benefits. Mixing and matching different tea varietals like green, rooibos and peppermint not only added to a drink’s health benefits but also to its naturally occurring range of unique flavor profiles—some that needed little or no sugar.
While club soda is the magic ingredient that makes most of the new breed of “healthy” cocktails sparkle, there are drawbacks in many of the products that can make the excitement go flat. Ripps also learned in her experiments that without artificial flavours, sweeteners or sugar, there’s not much of a taste when its combined with most spirits. The blast of sugar taking place when juice is mixed with a spirit increases the possibility of a hangover, even with soda water in the recipe. Teas provided the cure for the common light cocktail. By 2011, she was a certified tea sommelier, sold custom teas by the pound in New York and LA, and founded Brew Lab Tea, which allowed her to turn her experiments into sparkling teas and mixers.
As a bona fide tea expert, Ripps was commissioned to mix up tea cocktails at events around the country, including Art Basel in Miami and the Superbowl, and developing tea programmes and cocktail lists for restaurants such as the James Hotel, Scarpetta, Sweetgreen and Dig Inn.
In the years since Owl’s Brew officially hatched (2015), Ripps and partner Littlefield have run the business with the long game rather than instant gratification at the heart of the business plan. The team is always working on new flavours and ideas to stay abreast of the market-place, and working closely with bartenders, beverage directors and mixologists as, ‘A lot of the retail products are informed by what’s happening at bars, because that’s where trends start.’ That said, Ripps shifts gears again, noting that tan even more important goal is helping Americans trying to drink smarter, through more plants and botanicals and less sugar and artificial stuff.
The Owl’s Brew ladies are also wise to supporting good causes as part of their business, and it has taken the form of the Wise Woman Collective (WWC), an inclusive programme centred around women supporting women. ‘Through this platform, the company supports local and national women’s initiatives and charities, community building programmes and education, while promoting conversation and celebration,’ says Ripps.
Earlier this year, Emmy Award-winning presenter and activist Jeannie Mai moved into the Owl’s Brew nest as its new chief brand officer, lending a hand with new product innovations and brand strategy. ‘We are thrilled to have Jeannie on board during this exciting time and know she’s going to be an integral part of our success in 2021,’ Littlefield said on adding Mai, a lifelong tea drinker, to the team.
Lucire Rouge: Who is the Boozy Tea drinker?
Jennie Ripps: The Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea consumer is social and seeking better ways to entertain and enjoy life, whether that means better taste or better ingredients. We’ve seen that women have been the early adopters, but the response from drinkers from all walks of life has been incredibly positive. We’re hearing from 21-plus college students discovering the product and switching to Boozy Tea from other hard seltzers brands, Moms in their 30s and 40s who are looking for better-for-you products with real ingredients, and more. We’ve recently brought home a double gold medal in the hard seltzer category from the SIP Awards and a gold in the New York International Beer Competition. The taste is really winning people over.
How is Boozy Tea better for you?
Maria and I have a shared passion and respect for real ingredients, and we believe that when you are celebrating, you can still be putting good things into your body. All Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea styles are made with only whole, real ingredients including fresh-brewed tea, fruit and botanicals. To make Boozy Tea, we fresh-brew tea (just like you would in your kitchen!), add just a splash of juice or a dash of cane sugar and spike it.
How have you been getting the word out in the midst of this lower-alcohol cocktail boom?
We are seeing a lot of engagement from the consumer through our Instagram channel, but a lot of consumers are finding their way to our brand by word-of-mouth from others that have tried us or organically finding us in retail and being blown away by the taste. Jeannie Mai, co-host of The Real and host of Holey Moley, joined the Owl’s Brew team as chief brand officer in February 2021. She discovered Owl’s Brew at Whole Foods, fell in love with the real and refreshing taste and reached out to the brand to get involved.
What is the specific message you are trying to convey when you reach out to consumers?
Owl’s Brew is a boozy tea company committed to helping people “drink wise”. In other words, drinkers should be able to know and trust what is going into their bodies, even if it’s spiked! There are a lot of ready-to-drink options available that are low in sugar but lack real ingredients and have labels that read ‘made with natural flavours’. Sadly, these “natural” pretenders are made with just as many chemicals as an artificial flavouring. It’s a lot of trickery, because they are marketed and labelled as if “natural” is a good thing, while actually made in a lab.
Boozy Tea summer cocktail recipes
Watermelon gin fizz
1 12 oz can White Tea and Watermelon Boozy Tea
Handful of fresh berries
1. Pour a can of chilled White Tea & Watermelon Boozy Tea and gin into a glass with ice and stir.
2. Garnish with fresh berries.
Sparking berry hibiscus lemonade
1 12 oz can Darjeeling and Hibiscus Boozy Tea
1½ oz vodka or tequila
Handful of fresh blackberries and lemon wheels
1. Muddle blackberries in a glass and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
2. Add ice and pour over a can of chilled Darjeeling Tea and Hibiscus Boozy Tea with vodka or tequila.
3. Stir, and garnish with additional lemon wheels.
All of the Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea flavours are made with real ingredients, are gluten-free and vegan, and spiked to 4·8 per cent ABV. Owl’s Brew Boozy Teas and mixers are available through its website, as well as Drizly.com, Total Wine, Instacart and Walmart.