Fresh, organic turmeric and ginger roots are pressed with tangerine to flavor a twice-fermented, 7% ABV kombucha.
The South Bay's brewing scene has been slowly coming to life over the past year, but there's another company that recently began working in Chula Vista with an ABC type 23 Small Beer Manufacturer license. And it's not making craft beer — at least, not quite.
Boochcraft launched its operation in March, marketing a unique take on a probiotic-laden health-store staple: high-alcohol kombucha. "Normal kombucha is around 1.5% [alcohol]," says cofounder Todd Kent. "We've upped it to 7." The extra potency seems to have created an instant market for Boochcraft — Kent says it can already be found on tap in about a dozen local bars and restaurants, and its bottles are carried in roughly 60 stores, including Whole Foods.
"Basically, kombucha is a fermented tea," explains cofounder Adam Hiner, describing how the brewing process differs from that of making beer. Rather than mashing grains, they start by making organic black tea sweetened with organic cane sugar. They add this to an open tank for primary fermentation with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY feeds on the sugar, producing low levels of alcohol and high levels of probiotics — the sort of healthy, friendly bacteria found in the digestive tract.
Like Hiner, Boochcraft's third partner and head brewer Andrew Clark has been homebrewing kombucha for ten years. Clark says he experimented with dozens of yeasts before settling on a more standard brewer's yeast for the kombucha's secondary fermentation — a proprietary process that raises the alcohol to 7%. That fermentation more closely resembles beermaking. The brewed kombucha goes into a closed fermenting tank with added sugar cane to feed the wine yeast, which Clark says he selected for its fruity esters and the fact it can handle its own against the probiotic cultures.
"If you ferment at certain temperatures, you encourage the bacteria over the yeast, and vice versa," he explains. "If you feed it certain foods you get different flavors out of it…. That's what we've experimented with for years, and we finally got what we like and it comes out really nice, really clean." Clark notes it was important to the team to avoid "that musty, vinegar component," often associated with kombucha, "because that's what turns people off."
They build on this clean flavor by cold-steeping the kombucha with fruits and herbs. The certified organic results incorporate blends such as fresh pressed turmeric, tangerine and ginger, which invokes tropical flavors and slightly juicy body while doubling as an anti-inflammatory. That's in contrast to a much dryer apple, lime and jasmine combination, which has the body and aromatics of a sparkling wine or cider. Meanwhile, the grapefruit, hibiscus and heather combo more closely resembles a new generation of funky, tart beers coming out of local craft beer company's wild ale experiments.
The Boochcraft brewery — or Boochery as the team calls it — is currently configured to produce about 200 barrels a month. And if the concept of high alcohol kombucha tkes off, there's room to add enough fermenters to triple capacity.