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A Gutsy Move

By Shelly Steig

During the height of COVID-19, 26-year-old Anna Zesbaugh was furloughed from her creative manager position at ACCESS Destination Services – Colorado. As venues turned into ghost towns, an initial six weeks turned into six months and then became permanent. Like the proverbial lemons to lemonade, she decided to take something bitter and transform it into something better. For her, it was the probiotic, stomach-fortifying drink, kombucha—in this case, the hard kind.

The idea fermented in her mind after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced he was shutting down liquor stores on March 23, 2020. Swarms of people formed block-long lines. Denver’s “prohibition” lasted only three hours, but it propelled Zesbaugh to start researching.

“Classic cocktails emerged during the [1920s] to mask bad flavors of hooch or alcohol,” Zesbaugh says. The name Hooch Booch bubbled up, as did creative taglines like “Buzz with added benefits” and “Speak Easy. Drink Hard.”

After floating the idea by her brewpub-owner father, Zesbaugh decided to recreate classic cocktails in kombucha form and launched Hooch Booch in May 2021. Working in tandem with Judd Belstock, owner of Dos Luces Brewery in Denver, she persevered through 20-plus batches until she nailed down two recipes: Old Fashioned and Bees Knees. She soon added a third, Clover Club, which is now the company’s most popular. At the end of May, Zesbaugh will introduce a fourth flavor, Lounge Lizard.

Hooch Booch now has approximately 140 accounts in Colorado and launched in Zesbaugh’s home state of Minnesota in mid-March. Her goal is to be a national brand within three years.

Looking back, Zesbaugh, who earned her degree in hospitality management from the University of Denver in 2014, notes her favorite class was advanced beverage. “I was, and still am, fascinated by the beverage industry.”

Education and expertise in hospitality have spilled over into Zesbaugh’s business. Hooch Booch has hosted pop-up speakeasy parties and quenched thirsts during Denver events held at Tracks, McNichols Civic Center Building, and Colorado Convention Center, as well as at the Aspen Art Museum, beer festivals, and 2021 Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference in Pueblo.

Zesbaugh says, “Hooch Booch can easily integrate into any event by an activation, cocktail class, welcome beverage, pairing dinner, or all-around beverage to sip on.”