Add hard kombucha to the list of craft beverage attractions on the Hops Highway. In late April, Local Roots Kombucha opened a spacious and colorful booch tasting room in Vista, taking over over the brewery and license left behind following Toolbox Brewing Company’s abrupt closure last fall.
1495 Poinsettia Ave Unit 148, Vista
Local Roots was already in business when that happened, just barely. Cousins and co-founders Ryan White and Joe Carmichael started up in Carlsbad last year, producing traditional, soft kombucha using cold pressed juices and certified organic ingredients. Kegs and cans moved quickly, and they maxed out production capacity within six months. They needed room to grow just as the turnkey opportunity became available. Plus it accelerated part of their long-term business plan: joining the hard kombucha market.
Kombucha in general has been on a steep upward trajectory nationwide, reports of 30 percent annual growth for the mixed fermentation tea follow its move from health stores into cafés, markets, and bars. Within San Diego, hard kombucha companies have shown a likewise steep trajectory. Pioneering hard kombucha brand Boochcraft just completed expanding the one-thousand-barrel Chula Vista brewery it launched with only three years ago, into a 70-thousand-barrel-a-year operation. Meanwhile, North Park’s Juneshine opened in a turnkey brewery less than a year ago, but has started moving into a former Ballast Point brewery in Scripps Ranch that could produce up to a reported 100,000 barrels annually. Craft brewers have taken notice. Otay Mesa’s Novo Brazil has started selling hard kombucha in addition to beer, and all three brands now offer hard kombucha in cans.
White and Carmichael come from healthcare and aerospace industries, respectively, and Local Roots grew out of a shared interest in healthy eating and cold press juices, which led them to brewing kombucha at home. Carmichael suggests the same principles are behind the sudden demand for kombucha in its hard form.
“For us it fits a bigger picture,” says Carmichael, “People are changing the way they’re eating, and with that they’re changing the way they’re drinking too.” Hard kombucha, he explains, offers health-minded consumers the first real opportunity to drink something healthy when they imbibe. “It’s not just another flavor, not just another palate experience.”
While the vinegary reputation of traditional kombucha is a marketing hurdle hard kombucha makers have to overcome, a flight of hard booch at Local Roots reveals exceptionally dry booch, brewed with a blend of black and green teas and a house culture that yields low perceived acidity. Assorted combinations of cold pressed fruits, roots, herbs, and spices added after fermentation provide enough sweetness to mask it. Most flavors feature fruit combined with something aromatic, such as blueberry ginger or watermelon basil. For some, that includes hops, such as a citra and pear combination, and the so-called Hoppy Habanero, where the chili pepper heat is braced against piney cascade hops.
One of the unique benefits of The Boochyard, as Local Roots calls its artificial turf and patio furniture style tasting room, is a chance for drinkers and non-drinkers (whether kids, teetotalers, or designated drivers) to enjoy similar beverage experiences side by side.
In addition to seven percent alcohol booch, Local Roots continues to make soft kombucha. Every regular kombucha flavor has a corresponding hard kombucha, made using the same ingredients. So, tasting notes of the soft strawberry mint may compare to the hard strawberry mojito.
It’s a reminder that potency isn’t the crucial part of crafting a beverage. “Even though it’s nonalcoholic,” says Carmichael, “it’s still a craft.”