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An Interview With The Original Ultra Low Calorie and Zero Sugar NA Beer BrewersBased out of Campbell, California Surreal Brewing Company sits at the forefront of the non-alcoholic (NA) revolution. Surreal is a company that endorses health, wellness, family, and an overall balanced lifestyle. Surreal promotes environmental stewardship and encourages consumers to enjoy all that life has to offer without any sacrifices.
The founders Tammer and Donna are a husband and wife team that combines their passions to provide delicious non-alcoholic beverages. Since the initial launch of their first NA beverage — the Chandelier Red IPA, Surreal has gone on to acquire numerous awards and gold medals for their distinct and varietal flavor combinations that produce bold and complex tastes.
After meeting with Donna and tasting the delicious flavors of Surreal ourselves, ASJ decided to conduct an interview with founder Donna Hockey.
ASJ: Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to get into brewing non-alcoholic beer?
We are a husband and wife team, with three kids under 12 and a passion for craft beer. Family run and owned, we value our customers above all and view them as an extension of our family.
As NA drinkers, we had accepted that we wouldn’t be enjoying the mosaic of craft beer styles on the market. However, after a major life change – a diagnosis and successful treatment for breast cancer, we wanted to celebrate a new chapter in our lives with a non-alcoholic beer. We were wildly disappointed by what was on the market and, to be honest, we felt excluded.
Knowing that there were others who felt excluded from the diverse craft beer scene as well, we started homebrewing a recipe for a non-alcoholic craft beer. It had to be something we would be proud to celebrate with. It had to be bold, complex, and worthy of sharing with friends — and it had to be different.
It took a while, but after 9 months our flagship Chandelier Red IPA was born and launched in June of 2018. It won a gold medal in the World Beer Awards and was picked up by a national retailer within the first two months of its release. Since then, our brews have gone on to win the 2019 World’s Best Non-Alcoholic and Low-Alcohol Award, Gold medals for Best Pale and Best Dark NA in the U.S., and bronze in the U.S. Beer Championship becoming the first U.S. beer in this category to win an international award.
From the first ultra low calorie & gluten reduced non-alcoholic beers: Red IPA (33 cals) and Kolsch (17 cals) and the first Hazy IPA: Juicy Mavs (25 cals), the first non-alcoholic beer made with ancient Kveik yeast: Creatives IPA (44 cals) and the first Milkshake IPA (65 cals), we challenge ourselves every day to think differently, bring new true-to-craft brews to market, and push the boundaries of the non-alcoholic craft beer industry.
ASJ: I understand you are a family run business … Any advantages/disadvantages?
Being a family run business we view everything from this perspective, including our customers, who are the inspiration for everything we do. We are inspired each day by letters we receive from customers who tell us that they can’t believe that they can have craft beer again — it is an honor to be able to be in their lives that way. We make the healthiest beers. This is one of the reasons people seek us out. We are 1/7 to ⅓ of the calories of other NAs and zero sugar with all the flavor of a full strength craft beer. If you are choosing an NA beer, why would you want one with 80+ calories and/or loaded with sugar?
So when we are thinking about our recipes, we always consider who will be enjoying Surreal Beers. We strive to make a variety of beers in both style and health factors. Our motto is Dare to Be Different. We champion being different and putting a product out there that is healthy, unique, and pushes the boundaries of the NA industry.
ASJ: It seems as though more people have been going non-alcoholic these days. Do you have any industry insight into that? Do you think this will be a growing trend?
This is definitely a growing trend — one that is here to stay. Now in light of COVID-19, there has been an even greater shift toward health and people are making major lifestyle changes that include reducing sugar intake, reducing calories and exercising more. Rehydrating with more interesting beverages like Surreal Beer is also happening. People want a variety of options and want them to be readily available. Beverage buyers are looking to grow their NA options to meet the growing demand.
ASJ: I have heard that your beer is actually good for you. It provides vitamins, etc. Can you tell our readers a little bit more about that?
Beer is a very healthy beverage loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, B vitamins and electrolytes, however these are not readily available in alcoholic versions because alcohol has the opposite effect it’s inflammatory and dehydrating. So with NA beer, you get hydrated while enjoying the other health benefits of a good beer. Here is a great article that gives you more about this: nytimes.com
ASJ: Tell us more about your distribution. Where can people buy Surreal beers. Are you available on tap at bars?
In California, you can pick us up at Whole Foods, BevMo, select Safeways in the South Bay area and many independent stores.
ASJ: We love the Surreal bottling and packaging! Who did the art for your cans/what was the inspiration?
Thank you so much! Our inspiration is the outdoors, adventure, and creativity. I (Donna Hockey) created the art. Both Tammer and I love the outdoors especially the Redwoods and the ocean. The artwork for the original four beers feature iconic CA destinations.
- Chandelier Red IPA – Chandelier Redwood tree in Humboldt County
- 17 Mile Porter – the famous twisted cypress tree on 17 Mile Drive
- Juicy Mavs Hazy IPA – Mavericks at Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay
- Natural Bridges Kolsch Style – Natural Bridges State Beach
The dessert series (so far Milkshake IPA and Pastry Porter) feature the Surreal dragon who can be found winding around a redwood tree in our logo.
Our latest Creatives IPA — a west coast inspired IPA features the World Tree, which ties to creativity and inclusivity. This beer is a shout out to all creative types and changemakers. With everything going on in the world today, we wanted to lift up people who are working to promote positivity in the world. We used an ancient kveik yeast for this brew and a hop so new it doesn’t yet have a name – putting together old and new. And also, in the words of a very good customer of ours, “giving NA drinkers something cool to talk about at parties.”
ASJ: What are your plans moving forward with Surreal? Looking to the future, what do you hope Surreal can accomplish?
We want to continue making healthy, delicious non-alcoholic craft beer so that choosing a NA beer is something people are happy to choose and excited to hold in their hand.
With this idea, we hope to continue to break down the stigma surrounding drinking na beer so people feel comfortable ordering it and choosing it if they want. We have some really cool things planned for the upcoming months and are really excited about those.
ASJ: Can you offer any advice to entrepreneurs looking to start their own beverage company?
No matter what happens always come back to your true north — meaning the reason you started your company. For us, that was wanting to give people a healthy beer no matter what their health goals are. We always come back to that reason.
ASJ: What are some challenges you have faced since the start of COVID 19? How has it impacted Surreal Brewing Company?
As soon as COVID-19 started, we increased our program of free delivery locally in the South Bay area recognizing that people want to have a great beer without the negative effects and some don’t want to go out unless they have to. Nationally, we ship online direct for $5 per 12 pack everywhere in the U.S.
Visit the Surreal Brewing Company website: surrealbrewing.com