Bucha Brew Kombucha’s Kara Sam is going hard with Arlo

The Delta company is expanding to the alcohol realm with Arlo.

Let the hard kombucha races begin.

Just days after Vancouver’s Plenty became the first Canadian company to launch a hard kombucha in July, Arlo Hard Kombucha made its play, becoming available in select stores in Vancouver.

As the ready-to-drink market in the country and province welcomes more players seemingly each day, hard kombucha is something of a natural progression, in more ways than one.

“One of the reasons I wanted to move into the alcohol space—this sounds bad, but at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, after a full day with two kids, 4 o’clock feels like 9 p.m.,” laughs Kara Sam. “I’d go to the park with friends and always bring something fun to drink, but it would be, like, an aperol spritz or tequila soda, and you’d have to bring so many ingredients, and you’re there mixing drinks at the playground.”

Sam, who founded Delta-based Bucha Brew Kombucha back in 2015, had been experimenting with the idea of a hard kombucha for some time. “There’s a really big market for it in the U.S., probably a dozen brands,” she says. “So it was just seeing how small it was in Canada compared to places like L.A., where there are big walls of it in grocery stores.”

She started tinkering with ways to develop her own hard kombucha and landed on a natural fermentation technique: “To stay compliant with the under-1-percent alcohol percentage for Bucha Brew, we have a piece of machinery that removes the natural fermentation. The byproduct of that is a kombucha alcohol. And we flavour it with oranges or rhubarb to make bitters.”

The result is Arlo, a 4-percent-alcohol beverage that’s now available at select Vancouver stores (Darby’s in Kitsilano and Robson Wine Beer and Spirits downtown are two) and comes in three flavours (grapefruit, mango and raspberry), with a couple more on the way.

As part of the process, the company and its eight employees had to essentially turn Bucha Brew’s Delta facility into a winery. “There’s no space for hard kombucha in terms of how the government classifies alcohol,” Sam says, noting that the process took more than a year. “So it’s considered a wine, which it’s obviously not, but the system is so archaic.”

In the end, it’s “kind of good that we’re classified as a wine,” she adds. “Wine can be sold in a lot more places than hard seltzers and the RTDs.”

The drink’s “personality” is another way that Sam has tried to differentiate Arlo. “We put a lot of effort into the QR code,” she says. “When you scan it, it comes up with a whole bunch of stuff you can swipe through—conversation starters, dad jokes, playlists. If you get a pack of Arlos, you can essentially create your own party.”

Whether you’re at the playground or anywhere else.