Owl’s Brew


Spilling the Tea

CEO of Owl’s Brew spills the tea on the creation and growth of the business. When Jennie Ripps and her founding partner, Maria Littlefield, set out to disrupt the alcohol market with their “boozy tea,” they knew transparency in ingredients would be a key differentiator. Fast forward to today, the writing was in the tea leaves—Boozy Tea is now available in six flavors and in 18 states, focusing on good, whole, clean ingredients.

As Tidal River’s first investment, we wanted to share a little bit of background on this tea-rrific company. Jennie Ripps, CEO of Owl’s Brew, sat with us for a brief interview.

Q: How did the idea for Owl’s Brew come about?

A: I became passionate about tea a little over 10 years ago. I began exploring tea and botanicals for their health benefits. When I realized that I could make incredible-tasting beverages with tea as a base, I was hooked!

I became a tea sommelier, and Maria and I set off on the journey to build a business together. We first launched our wholesale tea company, Brew Lab. At Brew Lab, we crafted tea programs for restaurants, fast casual chains and coffeehouses. Some of our clients included sweetgreen, Momofuku Group and The Public Hotel.

At the same time, I was collaboratively developing tea cocktail programs with our restaurant partners. Maria and I loved these “tea cocktails,” and it was our preferred way to imbibe.

Maria and I were also “over” the boozy beverages that were available on the market. Everything was either full of sugar or—worse—chemicals. What was a natural flavor made with natural flavors? As it turns out, it was just a fancy way of saying “junk.” We started hosting “tea parties” and participating in events around the country. The more we poured our spiked tea, the more feedback we got that people wanted to drink the same way we did—with good, whole, clean ingredients that they could pronounce.

When we started to really look at the alcohol market, we realized there was nothing like what we were doing available. There was a major lack of transparency in ingredients; no one was publishing what was actually inside. All the canned products were filled with all sorts of chemical additives, colorings and junk (including, of course, “natural flavors”).

We launched Owl’s Brew as a solution to this problem. We make clean boozy beverages, and we say “Drink Wise,” because we believe that you should know what you’re putting into your body, even when you have a spike or two!

At Owl’s Brew we never use any funny stuff in our products, which is prolific in our category. That means no artificial flavors, no natural flavors (which are made in a lab and always contain chemicals), no sugar substitutes, no parabens and no animal byproducts (which are surprisingly present in beverages).

The response to our mission for Owl’s Brew and our commitment to delivering a clean alcoholic beverage has been welcomed with incredible support. We launched our line of spiked sparkling teas, Boozy Tea, in 2020. Boozy Tea is now available in six flavors and in 18 states.

Q: What problem were you trying to solve that led you to seek out an investor?

A: Our mission has always been to provide consumers with an accessible, delicious product made with better ingredients. In order to fulfill that mission, we saw the need for an infusion of capital to the business to support our growth and invest in our markets and team.

Since we launched our Boozy Tea product line in early 2020, we have gained distribution in 18 states; we have launched with some incredible retailers such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Publix, Total Wine and HEB; and we are available for online purchasing in 32 states.

We’re now focused on growing the business by expanding product distribution in current and new markets with our retail partners to reach more consumers. We’re also investing in sales and marketing initiatives, and are expanding our team to support this growth.

Q: What other options had you considered?

A: We bootstrapped in 2020. We monitored Owl’s Brew’s velocity and the consumer response, and from there determined that an equity round was the right path for Owl’s Brew.

Q: Why did you choose the Tidal River team?

A: The statistics regarding funding for female-founded businesses is staggering—just 2.3 percent of businesses funded in 2020 were women-led. To know that Tidal River is focused on supporting and encouraging female investors in building Connecticut’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and that we have the opportunity to work with their board chaired by First Lady Annie Lamont and Alison J. Malloy, is truly an honor. We are also a minority business in our industry (only 4 percent of companies in our category, beer/seltzer, are female-led), so Tidal River’s mission really resonated.

There is so much expertise and experience within the Tidal River network. Previous to taking on the investment, we were able to spend a lot of time with several Tidal River investors. The focus, insight and operational experience various members offered were incredibly valuable to us, and will continue to be.

Q: What has your experience with Tidal River been like? Or what did/will the funding enable you to accomplish?

A: Our experience with Tidal River has been incredible. We are a Connecticut business, and it’s amazing to find this resource and opportunity within the state. With the funding, we’ll continue our focus on growth and making Owl’s Brew more accessible to the consumer.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges along the way? If so, how did you solve them?

A: So many! Our industry saw an entire channel disappear when COVID-19 hit. Bars and restaurants shut down and, with it, on-premise sales of alcoholic beverages. Boozy Tea had launched weeks prior, and we needed to shift quickly. We were ultimately able to react quickly and pivot our focus to off-premise sales and the direct-to-consumer channel.

Q: What’s next for Owl's Brew?

A: We are continuing to focus on growth within existing and new markets to increase our points of distribution for the consumer. We’re also innovating with our style offerings. We recently introduced our newest flavor, Spiced Chai & Cranberry, a perfect complement for the fall and holiday season.

Q: Anything else you want to mention that I didn’t know to ask?

A: This year, we launched Wise Women Collective, an inclusive program centered around women supporting women. We support women’s initiatives and charities as well as community-building programs, and promote conversation and celebration. We introduced our Boozy Book Club in partnership with publisher Random House and have since featured four books written by fantastic female authors. We are also partnering with the Keep A Breast Foundation this October for Breast Cancer Awareness month.