Here’s How This 20-Something Duo Created a Cult-Favorite Boozy Kombucha

Is JuneShine's hard kombucha the next spiked seltzer?

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JuneShine cofounders Greg Serrao (left) and Forrest Dein / JuneShine

You've probably noticed that alcoholic drinks have been getting "juiced" up. Spiked seltzer is everywhere—I know you've seen those White Claw memes. But I'm here to let you in on a little secret: There's a new boozy beverage, and its founders believe they've hit the sweet spot—literally.

Let me introduce you to boozy kombucha. Yes, you read that right—kombucha that also happens to get you drunk is a real thing.

JuneShine Kombucha was started in 2018 in San Diego. The company told me that, "JuneShine manufactures and sells organic hard (6.0% ABV) kombucha. While a variety of flavors on draft in its tasting rooms, the company currently distributes five flavors in both cans and draft (Blood Orange Mint, Honey Ginger Lemon, Midnight Painkiller, Acai Berry and its latest addition, Rosé). JuneShine is currently available in California, Oregon, Seattle, Austin, NYC and soon to be Hawaii, Chicago, Boston, Phoenix and Las Vegas."

So we wanted to get ahead of the inevitable craze and spoke with JuneShine's CCO Forrest Dein. Dein and  CEO, Greg Serrao are former college roommates, and surfer buddies. After dabbling in San Diego’s world-class craft beer scene, coupled with their increasing interest in living healthy lifestyles, Greg and Forrest began to question why there was a sustainable, transparent option in nearly every consumer grocery category, except for alcohol. They asked, “Why is it that we know so much about the food we eat, but so little about the alcohol we drink?” Frustrated by the lack of honest transparent alcohol brands that could cater to their healthy, active lifestyles, Greg and Forrest decided to make their own that they could feel good about drinking. Being kombucha fans, they set out to make the healthiest and highest quality alcoholic jun kombucha they possibly could. The result? JuneShine.

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JuneShine cofounders Greg Serrao (left) and Forrest Dein / JuneShine

ONE37pm: What inspired you guys to start this, and what keeps you motivated?

Forrest Dein: Since day one, we've made it our priority to stay humble and stay hungry. We’re motivated by the fire that we feel coming from our team every single day; it’s extremely motivating to have 50 passionate, creative people united by a fundamental pursuit of brewing honest alcohol for a healthier planet. It’s our goal to win the hard kombucha category nationally by the end of next year, and we’re just getting started. We’re also motivated by our doubters. From the beginning, people have looked at Greg and I, and saw two 26-year-old surfer bros who had no idea what they were getting into. Proving those doubters wrong lights a fire under us for sure. Finally, we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to purchase a 100 percent organic, sustainable, premium quality, craft alcohol beverage. There are still many parts of the U.S. where people don’t have a single option to fill that need and that isn’t fair.

Can you explain how hard kombucha is different from spiked seltzer?

Dein: Hard Kombucha and spiked seltzer are quite different actually. Hard seltzer is a flavored malt beverage—essentially the same as a Lime-A-Rita or a Colt 45 or a Smirnoff Ice. These products derive their alcohol from fermented malted grains and are then carbonated, flavored and sweetened. JuneShine’s hard kombucha is truly a craft beverage that is brewed through a two-step organic fermentation process similar to craft beer brewing. We use only 100 percent organic ingredients (green tea, honey, SCOBY, organic cane sugar, brewers yeast, organic fruit juice and spices). Our brewers come from some of the best craft breweries on the West Coast, including Ballast Point, Stone Brewing, Lost Abbey, Cutwater Spirits and Saint Archer.

Describe your brand building strategy in one sentence.

Dein: At JuneShine, we are building a community of like-minded artists, athletes, creatives and passionate people who are frustrated by the lack of organic, transparent alcohol beverages that are united by an honest but fundamental pursuit: Leave the places you love far better than you found them.

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If you were pitching your business on Shark Tank, what would you say?

Dein: We wouldn’t.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?

Dein: Prioritize and execute, stay humble and stay hungry and hold course.

What’s one aspect of your job that you knew nothing about? How did you adapt?

Dein: Navigating the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the Food and Drug Administration compliance regulations for both distribution and labeling, has at times certainly had its challenges. We’ve adapted to the slower pace of government by learning to balance persistence and patience, and that personal handwritten letters go a surprisingly long way in a digital world.

Tell us about the time in your career when you felt the most stuck.

Dein: Greg spent his first few years out of college on Wall Street at Oppenheimer Investment Bank and would call me after working 100-plus-hour weeks for several months at a time. I knew he was gaining a lifetime of experience in a few years, which would ultimately propel us to where we are at in just 12 months at JuneShine, but I can imagine he definitely felt stuck at times with no clear way out of that rate race in sight.

What do you consider your greatest failure to date? What did it teach you?

Dein: I don’t think either of us has experienced true failure yet, and I know it’s going to take us totally by surprise. Greg likes to quote Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” But I know that when it happens, we will pick ourselves back up and keep charging.

How do you take your coffee?

Dein: Black with a little whiskey.

What is your number one way to inspire positive company morale?

Dein: We’ve tried to build a “let my people go surfing” culture inspired by Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia. It’s motivating to see your CEO leaving on a Thursday to go fly fishing for a long weekend knowing he just worked his ass off for seven days in a row, but still knows how to turn off and get after it outside! We also are as transparent as possible with our employees from top to bottom, which builds trust across the team.

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How can a candidate impress you in a job interview?

Dein: You can tell when someone shares your passion for the problem your company is trying to solve. I remember one of our first employees did not have the experience to run our self-distribution business, but he looked Greg and I in the eyes and told us he would lie down in front of a semi-truck on the I5 South if it meant getting JuneShine delivered on time. That’s obviously a little savage, but it got us fired up and we knew we could trust him to do whatever it took to get the job done.

How do you balance your career and your family life?

Dein: We don’t. We lived together for the first 12 months of JuneShine and were pretty much married to JuneShine. Family is incredibly important to us, and we both have loving, supporting parents and siblings, but we both also believe that when your competition is more experienced than you, has more money and more resources, you have to outwork them every week to keep your edge. We started JuneShine last year when we were both 25, so we don’t really ever get tired, but we know that age advantage won’t last forever.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a business?

Dein: The only factor that you can really control in a business at the end of the day is how hard you are willing to work. At a startup, you have to accept the fact that you will never really feel done for the first few years. So if working as hard as you can without ever knowing if and when you will be done sounds fun, then start it up!

Related: How One Guy Plans to Revolutionize the Snack Industry

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