School calendars might dictate that summer is coming to an end, but the weather has us thinking it’s still in full-force here in the South. With heat and humidity that lingers six months out of the year, it’s no wonder Southern cities have birthed refreshing favorites like sweet tea, Coca-Cola, and Cheerwine*. But as soda and sugary drinks fade out of favor, a new generation of drink makers has accepted the challenge to improve upon tradition. We found 11 Southern beverage startups with thirst quenching concoctions to help you beat the heat well into an Indian summer.
*And don’t think we forgot about Bourbon. The boozy libations are for next week’s DIG 500, perfectly timed to help you through post-vacation and first week of school blues.
1. Founded by a husband and wife team (both nationally renowned baristas), Raleigh-based Slingshot Coffee sells handcrafted, bottled cold brew coffee and Cascara tea. Launched in 2012, the startup is quickly becoming a mainstay in the coffee world. They snagged a $400K investment in 2015, have been featured on Huffington Post, Good Morning America, and Bon Appetit (to name a few), and recently won the Southern Living Southern Food & Drink Entrepreneur Award at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.
2. Mother Shrub is a drinking vinegar startup launched by Richmond resident Meredyth Archer last year. Her bottled shrubs mix fresh fruit like grapefruit and black cherry with vinegar and honey. Mother Shrub won the award for Best New Overall Product out of hundreds of showcasing companies at the Virginia Food & Beverage Expo earlier this year.
3. Created by a holistic health coach and celebrity trainer in 2013, Atlanta startup Chuice, short for “chewable juice,” makes blends of bottled, plant-based foods that include over 35 fruits, vegetables, seeds, and herbs. They landed $500K in funding last year, recently launched rebranded bottles, and currently sell in all Atlanta Whole Foods and online.
4. The idea for Durham-based Mati Energy was hatched in Tatiana Birgisson’s Duke University dorm room a few years ago. After securing a partnership with Carolina Beverage Group and raising over $1M in 2015 (including a $100K personal investment from Steve Case after winning Google Demo Day), Mati upped production on their healthy energy drink, which blends natural fruit juice with Guayasa, and is now sold in most Whole Foods around the Southeast.
5. Launched by two Vanderbilt grads with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013, Nashville-based Everly creates all-natural, sugar free, low calorie drink mixes. For every box of mixes sold, the company provides life-saving rehydration salts to children suffering from waterborne illnesses. As of last year, the company has raised nearly $800K and is available on Amazon and in Whole Foods, Publix, Target, and Kroger.
6. Boca Raton-based Rehydrate is a healthy alternative sports drink launched in 2014 by a former college football coach. The drink contains no sugar, no calories, and no caffeine, with three times the electrolytes and two times the vitamins of other sports drinks on the market. Rehydrate has agreements with Florida and West Virginia distributors and inked a major partnership with GNC stores earlier this year.
7. College Park startup JavaZen was founded in 2014 by three University of Maryland students. The drink combines the buzz of coffee with the health aspects of tea by blending L-Theanine amino acids into direct-trade coffee beans. Successes thus far include features in The Washington Post, ABC, and MarketWatch, winning 2015 DC Startup of the Year, winning an $80K grand prize at the 2016 Cupid’s Cup Entrepreneurship Competition, and being voted a “Top 10 Healthiest Beverages in Grocery Stores” by Clean Eating Magazine earlier this year. You can find JavaZen in select Wegman’s and Whole Foods.
8. Cannonborough Beverage Co. was founded by three Charleston, SC mixologists in 2012. The company creates handcrafted small batch sodas that are currently available by the bottle or on tap at bars, restaurants, and specialty retailers in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. They’ve been featured in Paste Magazine, WSJ, Garden & Gun, and Monocle and were one of six finalists for the Southern Living Southern Food & Drink Entrepreneurs Award in Atlanta this summer.
9. Founded in 2013, Birmingham, Alamaba based Alabama Chai produces organic and sustainable chai tea made with milk from a local dairy farm. After winning the Alabama Launchpad competition, the company sold 8-ounce bottles at local Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Piggly Wiggly stores. Last year, Alabama Chai and its sister company, Teasy Teas, were acquired by Royal Cup, a major roaster and distributor of specialty coffee and teas. Founder Marshall Malone is now Royal Cup’s Tea Category Manager.
10. Miami-based EnerBee creates 100% natural, organic energy drinks sweetened with honey, including lemon green tea and a soon-to-come hibiscus berry tea. The company donates a portion of all sales to support the honeybee population through the HoneyBee Alliance, and was a featured participant in Whole Foods Florida “Share the Buzz” campaign in 2015. Cans of EnerBee are currently sold on Amazon and in markets around Florida.
11. Founded in 2011 by a Navy SEAL, Kill Cliff is an Atlanta-based company that produces sports recovery drinks and canned cold brew coffee. Their sports drinks include ginseng, green tea extract, and enzymes aimed at post-workout use. Kill Cliff was recently featured on CB Insights 10 early-stage beverage startups to watch and is sold at GNC stores, the Vitamin Shoppe, gyms, and on Amazon.
We hope these 11 new Southern drinks help you stay hydrated until the summer heat subsides. Know of others we should include? Give us a shout on Twitter!
Photo Credit: Cannonborough Beverage Co.