Jake Filson was locked into a ‘miserable’ corporate job at an international law firm in Manchester, working 11-hour days with hourly targets. The 33-year-old only went to law school knowing it would give him security, but his real passion was the food and beverage industry.
In the summer of 2019, Jake found a way out of Hale and quit his job. His friend needed a hand to open a plant-based restaurant in California, and it was during his time there that he came across alcoholic kombucha.
That was how he started brewing his own alcoholic fermented tea – a less sugary alternative to regular cocktails. He found that no one else in Britain stocks such a hard drink and now his schnapps is stocked in a multitude of pubs and restaurants.
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“I worked really hard and life as a lawyer was pretty miserable,” Jake said. “I didn’t kill myself, but I worked 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and had the pressure of hourly goals and the pressure from everyone involved; the courts, customers.
“When I was an intern I used to work weekends in bars and restaurants for fun – I loved making cocktails. In the back of my mind, the whole time I was practicing law, I knew that at some point I wanted to leave.”
Jake had also been helping friends with restaurants in Manchester including Dom Clancy – who previously owned Morley’s Cheeks in Chorlton and Stockyard in Hale and is now opening Jackalope in Sale in the next few weeks. Upon returning from the US and as lockdown kicked in in 2020, Jake began making his own cocktails from home using kombucha — a fermented, sweetened black or green tea beverage commonly consumed for its purported health benefits.
He received good feedback from friends who tried his creations, and after seeing the success of low-calorie hard-selling drinks — drinks made with carbonated water, alcohol, and often fruit flavors — he decided to go for it. “I checked online to see if anyone in the UK was doing it and no one was,” Jake continued.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy because we have such a drinking culture and the market is becoming more health conscious. If there’s anything that could possibly be trending, this is it.
“I figured when it’s on shelves in five years, I don’t want to be the guy who turns around and says to everyone, ‘I had this idea first.'” Jake’s drink — Happy J’s — is currently made at a factory in Devon, with filtered water, organic kombucha cultures, organic sencha green tea and organic raw cane sugar.
The former Manchester Grammar School pupil says it has four times less sugar than the average spirit and mixer, with the added benefits of antioxidants and probiotics. He currently uses 4% quadruple distilled vodka but is in the process of developing second fermentation alcoholic kombucha – meaning the alcohol comes from the kombucha itself.
Under EU law, alcohol over 1.2% is currently exempt from the legal requirement for calorie and nutritional labeling. Jake says full transparency of its ingredients is another USP.
“You can’t market an alcoholic beverage as healthy, but from a health standpoint, it’s way better than the other alcoholic beverages out there,” added Jake. His ultimate goal is to use his cans behind the bar in Glastonbury to replace sugary ciders at festivals.
After officially launching in November 2021, he can initially be found alongside his online shop in more than 30 pubs and restaurants across London – where he currently lives with his fiancée – and has Curb Wine in Ancoats and in Bernie’s Grocery Store in London Heaton Moor and Altrincham. After a recent visit to Manchester he has been in further talks with other hospitality businesses.
“Manchester’s food and drink scene is fantastic,” said Jake. “I think Manchester is a microcosm of London.
“Historically it was a year or two behind London, but now Manchester is at the forefront of food and drink; the movement is from Manchester to London. It’s great because it’s also very accessible.”
Because Jake has become his own boss and does occasional consulting work on the side, he has the freedom to work the hours he chooses and finds joy in his business. “If I want to take the afternoon to walk my dog, I can do that,” Jake said.
He added: “You can see a noticeable effect on what I’m doing. I hosted a charity food festival over the weekend where they sold my drink. I could see people enjoying themselves and enjoying the product while I was a lawyer.” , I didn’t make people happy. It’s lucky to see the result of the work you do.”
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