NOCA is, from left, Richard Roy, Galen Hand and Alex Febonio. The three met in college and a few years after graduating started the spiked water company. Courtesy / NOCA

PORTLAND — Portland native Galen Hand went to work in investment banking in Chicago after he graduated with a finance degree from the University of New Hampshire in 2016, but he was soon bit by the entrepreneurial bug.

“I started to have that entrepreneurial dream when I started to work with entrepreneurs as part of my job. It was then that I realized that was the path I wanted to take,” said Hand, a 2012 graduate of Cheverus High School.

Hand left his job in 2018 and joined forces with college friends Alex Febonio and Richard Roy to start NOCA, a spiked non-carbonated water company.

“It’s boozy water. That’s the best way to describe it. It is very similar to hard seltzers on the market except the bubbles have been stripped out. It’s made with fermented sugar,” he said.

Hard seltzers, Hand said, are “very hot,” but he saw something missing in the market: a non-carbonated version.

“A lot of people are drinking them and more and more businesses are entering the market,” he said. “I don’t really like carbonated drinks too much and I made the simple assumption that I was not the only person.”

After entering the New Hampshire and Massachusetts markets in 2019, NOCA became available in Maine this summer. Made with all natural ingredients, it comes in three flavors: Triple Berry, Dragon Fruit Mango and Watermelon Lime.

NOCA, which comes in three flavors, is similar to hard seltzer, but without the bubbles. The company, co-founded by a Portland native, is available in all six New England states. Courtesy / NOCA

Hand said he is thrilled his product is now on store shelves in his home state, where it is sold at many convenience and adult beverage stores in greater Portland.

“There aren’t too many words to describe it other than surreal and exciting. There is a big element of pride to it,” he said.

Ahsam Ashram, manager of Three D’s Variety, located on Brighton Avenue not far from where Hand grew up, said the product has been selling well.

“Every week we get two cases and we have been selling out,” he said.

NOCA is also a hit at Bow Street Beverage on Forest Avenue, which is selling five cases of it a week.

“It is definitely selling well to younger people and in hotter weather. Right now is a pretty prime time for it,” said Cameron Graham, a beer manager at the store.

Hand has had some local help along the way to get his business up and running. Fellow Cheverus graduate Fred Forsley, founder and owner of Shipyard Brewing Company, and Baxter Brewing Company founder Luke Livingston shared their experiences breaking into the craft brewing industry.

“I was happy to connect with him and answer some good how-to questions because I remembered being in his shoes – writing a business plan – and how grateful I was to speak to existing brewers who’d already been through what I was going through,” said Livingston, who retired from Baxter Brewing in 2019 to become a founding partner of Brickyard Collective, a business consulting firm in Portland.

“It was important to me, personally, to always give back in the same way,” he said.

With New England now covered – NOCA launched in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont this year, as well – Hand said he is not sure what the next step for the company may be.

“I don’t know if it is deepening our roots here in New England or expanding into other markets. My initial thought is it will be a combination of both of those,” he said. “A lot has happened in the last 12 months. It is going to be a moving target, but that’s what we are prepared for.”

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