published 100+x a year
Vol 15 No 175 | November 16, 2018
Publisher: Benj Steinman | Editor: Gerry Khermouch | Senior Editor: Jim Sullivan

PROFILE: Calif’s WhaleBird Happy to Take It SLO with Dry-Hopped and Spicy Booches; Takes Joyride into SF, LA, San Diego    Draft-forward kombucha brand called WhaleBird that sports winged whale as icon and exhorts customers to “dive deeper, fly higher” has been expanding thru Calif from its base in San Luis Obispo, riding Joyride distributor into SF, LA and San Diego with its Dry Hopped Pamplemousse and other distinctive flavors.  Brand is operated by founder/ceo Mike Durighello, former tech sales exec who’s last of 3 original founders back in 2012, joined by partners Jake Pritzlaff, Lee Wilkerson and Dustin Oswald, all deeply into aquatic activities like spearfishing and surfing and committed to using stainless kegs and glass growlers as sustainable packs.

Group has followed familiar startup trajectory, starting in garage using brewing techniques they picked up on Youtube, graduating to shared kitchen and then their own 2,400-sq-ft space.  In early days, Durighello sometimes made deliveries of 65-lb kegs on his bicycle.  Tho it still self-distributes to accts like Lassen’s Market in SLO and Santa Barbara counties, WhaleBird recently recruited Joyride Distributors to take its brand into SF, LA and San Diego.  With Joyride embarking on plans to build big facility in Bakersfield, Mike also has designs on testing whether WhaleBird can fly in Central Valley towns like that and Fresno and Visalia.  But for foreseeable future, in synch with brand slogan, plan is to go “an inch wide and mile deep” within Golden State, hitting all key metros by 2020.

WhaleBird aims to offer kombuchas that are “approachable but with character,” as Mike put it, balancing sweet, sour and dry notes.  Using black or green tea base, core flavors include fruity and floral Jasmine Bliss, spicy Ginger Sarsaparilla and earthy Dry Hopped Pamplemousse, using Citra and Cascade hops and edible grapefruit essential oils.  Crew is happy to take suggestions from consumers, as with Mango Coconut Cayenne entry, and has also done CBD-infused entry called Purple Rain.

Tho they’ve grown staff to fill functions like  “SCOBY zoo keeper,” “cellar samurai” and “kombucha flow master,” Durighello and partners plan to take it a step at a time, pulling in modest capital rounds last year and this year via Slow Money program, which pools local lenders for low-interest loans.  Durighello cites as one role model the yerba mate pioneer Guayaki, with its build-it-slow approach, without recourse to institutional money, and its priority on creating living-wage jobs and environmental sustainability.