Cold brew coffee is one of the fastest-growing segments in the beverage industry and surging demand has attracted hundreds of new brands to the market. Despite a crowded field, New York City-based Rise Brewing Co. believes its nitro-infused cans and kegs — and a penchant for experimentation — will help it rise above the rest.
Co-founders Jarrett McGovern, 36, and Hudson Gaines-Ross, 30, were friends in 2014 when they started cold brewing coffee in their apartments and giving it to their friends. They soon decided to infuse it with nitrogen to give it textured mouthfeel and help differentiate from other cold brew products. They created a recipe with the help of a friend from the craft beer industry.
“We were very fortunate that one of our good friends was a beer brewer from Colorado who just happened to move to New York right around that time,” McGovern said. “We asked if he could add nitrogen to coffee. He said ‘that’s like asking a carpenter if he can cut wood.’”
The result was Rise. McGovern and Gaines-Ross launched the brand in 2015 and moved from their kitchen into a brewery in Connecticut. Early on, McGovern and Gaines-Ross focused on sales to the foodservice channel and the brand has since developed a loyal customer base in offices, hotels and restaurants along with retail outlets in California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
The beverage industry was a natural career path for the pair. McGovern’s father, Kevin McGovern, was a founder of SoBe and went on to found McGovern Capital which has investments in beverage companies and walter filtration companies. Following in the family business, McGovern’s first job was sampling SoBe at stores in Connecticut. He later moved into water filtration where he learned the significance of properly formulated water, knowledge he took with him to Rise.
Gaines-Ross spent several years in ecommerce, working at the Gilt Groupe before joining the founding team of heath and wellness CPG brand Aloha.com as COO.
Rise currently offers quarter-barrel, half-barrel, and six-barrel kegs of its coffee which vary in price, depending on shipping or installation needs. According to McGovern, a six-barrel costs roughly $140. Currently, Rise also sells 12 oz. cans, which utilize the same nitro widget technology as Guinness, for $4.49 each.
Rise also operates a pop-up store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where it introduces and tests new flavors like chai. According to Gaines-Ross, the pop-up has also led to expansion with new retailers as office managers happen upon the shop and decide to buy kegs or cans for their company.
Rise is currently in the midst of a fundraising round, and the startup wants to quadruple the size of its brewery for 2017. The goal is to become a brand that is synonymous with nitrogen-based drinks.
“We want to own the nitro category,” Gaines-Ross said.
They’ll have some significant competition on the coffee side: last year Starbucks introduced nitro coffee on draft in over 500 company-operated locations. Meanwhile, third-wave coffee pioneers Stumptown and Cuvee Coffee each market popular canned nitro coffee, and Califia Farms extended its presence in the cold brew category with the July, 2016 launch of an aluminum bottle-packaged nitro coffee. Both Stumptown and Califia’s nitro products are sold nationally at Whole Foods, and a growing cohort of upstart regional brands are picking up shelf space at the natural retailer as well.
This month Rise will complete a rebrand from “Rise Coffee” to “Rise Brewing Co.” as it seeks to branch out into other beverage categories. By the spring, the company plans to release a nitro matcha drink as the first in its major non-coffee lines.
Rise also dipped its hand into alcohol last year when it partnered with a brewery to release a limited-edition coffee porter called “Rise and Shine.” The beer sold out so quickly they brewed a second batch.
“We really want to be part of people’s routine,” Gaines-Ross said. “Once it’s at your office you start seeing it on store shelves, then you start seeing it at the cafe on your way to work. What’s really important in beverage is density and it’s important to have those multiple touch points.”