Bellevue resident Katy Enger was sitting on the deck of her family’s vacation home on San Juan Island, drinking a huckleberry vodka, when it hit her: Why weren’t there any drinks on the market like the ones she and her friends wanted? Why was everything so calorie-laden, or full of hangover-causing sugar, or both? Realizing that quality low-calorie, low-sugar beverage options were few and far between, Enger decided to make her own.
Previously a Spanish immersion elementary school teacher, then a stay-at-home-mom to four kids, Enger knew she needed a team — a reliable support network — to help her follow through with her idea.
Longtime family friend and beverage industry veteran Ron Lloyd fit the bill as CEO; Enger’s husband, Kyle, joined the team as well; and brewmaster Frank Commandy was recruited as the company’s expert in brewing and product development. Although all four employees had other jobs and projects as well, they were able to successfully imagine, test, brew, and produce San Juan Seltzer, the first hard sparkling water made in the Pacific Northwest, in less than a year.
The spiked sparkling water started to be sold in stores like Metropolitan Market just in time for the Fourth of July. Lloyd said that the product differentiates itself from nationally distributed mass brands like Truly and White Claw because it’s low-calorie; brewed in small batches; and is made with local, natural flavors. With only 85 calories per 12-ounce can — and with zero carbs and zero added sugar, to boot — San Juan Seltzer is available in flavors inspired by the Pacific Northwest: Huckleberry (of course), Raspberry-Cran, Fuji Apple, and Pure.
The spirit of the drink also is meant to reflect the place that inspired it: San Juan Island. “It’s one of the most beautiful and family-friendly places in the world, I think,” Enger said. The vision of the company is to reflect the island’s atmosphere by producing a refreshing drink that can be enjoyed outdoors among friends and family.
“We expect the idea of the local flavors combined with the spiked sparkling water to explode, much in the same way that we saw kombucha explode.”
San Juan Seltzer isn’t Enger’s first entrepreneurial pursuit. In 2015, she and her friend Jen Landes started Belle Vie Events & Celebrations and planned events of all kinds for clients in the Bellevue area. Luckily, her work in her first business has proven beneficial for her second. “Belle Vie has actually been a great way to see what people are drinking and what people want to drink at their events,” Enger said. “There’s definitely a need for San Juan Seltzer.”
For most people — especially those with little experience in entrepreneurship and alcohol brewing — creating a real product out of an idea is less than likely, especially in less than a year. But once Enger had the idea, she knew she had to jump in.
“Once I had pulled a team together, we worked hard constantly to deliver the best spiked seltzer we could,” Enger said.
Enger’s friends and the rest of her family also have been instrumental in the creation of the product. “My family was involved from the get-go,” she said. “I’ve tossed around a ton of ideas with them, and they give me their opinions and advice. It’s definitely been a group project.”
Because Enger decided to make San Juan Seltzer a craft-style product that is brewed in small batches, the price point for the spiked sparkling water is about 5 to 10 percent higher than the mainstream, national players — more on par with local craft beer. A six pack will cost about $12; a 12-ounce pour on tap is currently $6.
The slightly higher price point is worth it for Enger, though. “Our focus right now is just on the quality ingredients,” she said. “We source all of our ingredients from high-quality, all-natural suppliers that give us those unique specific Northwest flavors that we desire.” Plus, she added, brewing in small batches means that they can be involved in every step of the process of making the product, which she said ultimately allows the company to make better decisions for the consumer.
Lloyd, the CEO, agrees that the product is better because of the meticulous, hands-on process. “Since we started, we have done everything possible to mitigate risk while making products that are unique, better than the competition, and relevant to consumers,” he said. “We have done this by meeting and/or exceeding all legal requirements for safety and by having the most rigid process in selecting only suppliers who have proven track records of safety and success in the beverage alcohol category. This scrutiny has allowed our San Juan Seltzer team to sleep well at night.”
Enger is hopeful that San Juan Seltzer will appeal to consumers like the clients she works with through Belle Vie; ultimately, she believes its popularity will spread like wildfire.
“We expect the idea of the local flavors combined with the spiked sparkling water to explode, much in the same way that we saw kombucha explode,” Enger said. “There are multiple brands, and they’re in every market. But it’s nice that we are and always will be the first craft Pacific Northwest-made (alcoholic) sparkling water brand to hit the market. It’s super exciting.”
Lloyd added that the company fully expects other small breweries to follow the lead set by San Juan Seltzer and enter the category behind them. Until then, however, only San Juan Seltzer offers up a slice of Washington in a can.