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Bootstrap Kombucha goes for a hard ReBoot

Organic booch brand adds hard kombucha to its lineup

Bootstrap Kombucha serves crowlers of ReBoot Hard Kombucha ahead of a summer can release. - Image by Bree Steffen
Bootstrap Kombucha serves crowlers of ReBoot Hard Kombucha ahead of a summer can release.

For five years, Susan McMillion and partner James Farnsworth have quietly been making and serving some of the city’s best kombucha out of their small shop, Bootstrap Kombucha. Operating on an industrial stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, near the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Bootstrap found its niche, luring converts to the many health benefits of the live culture, fermented tea. But in the meantime, a different sort of kombucha emerged, and quickly commanded the public’s attention. There was no getting away from questions about high alcohol kombucha.

Place

Bootstrap Kombucha

4085 Pacific Highway, Suite 105B, San Diego

“People had been asking us to do hard kombucha, and we were going in that direction” says McMillion. “We were going to be working with a very large brewery, before Covid.”

The contract brewing arrangement with a well-known local brewery de-materialized with the pandemic, so the founders of Bootstrap did what they’ve always done: figured out how to do something themselves. “During covid, some people learned how to bake sourdough bread,” says McMillion, “We learned how to make hard kombucha.”

They kept the taproom open on a limited basis, started asking questions of people in the brewing industry, and began brewing R&D batches. They secured a brewing license last November, and earlier this year they launched a new product line from tasting room taps: ReBoot Hard Kombucha, measuring about six-percent alcohol.

They acquired a can seamer, so they could start offering crowlers of flavors including pineapple ghost pepper and “Orange is the New Black Pepper.” In the next month, they plan to market 12-ounce cans of two additional flavors: tart cherry ginger and oak aged apple.

Canning is something Bootstrap has never tried with its regular (or soft) kombucha. The business supplied five-gallon kegs to local bars, restaurants, office, and gyms; but otherwise customers could only buy it straight from the taproom, in a glass or growler. That’s because, McMillion explains, distributing regular kombucha in cans or bottles requires adulterating the finished product.

For one thing, soft kombucha isn’t entirely alcohol free. It’s fermented with both bacteria and yeast, yielding small levels of alcohol in the process. However, to sell as a non-alcoholic product, it may contain no more than half a percent of alcohol. “In order to keep the alcohol down, you have to alter it, dilute it,” says McMillion.

Then there’s the little matter of shelf stability. Live kombucha is loaded with probiotics, microorganisms that may continue to process sugars after packaging. “You have to play with it so it doesn’t explode in bottle,” says McMillion, “A lot of companies will pasteurize it.” Given that the point of pasteurization is to kill microorganisms, it kind of defeats the purpose when it comes to kombucha.

These reasons help explain why Bootstrap’s booch tastes so much better than a lot of store-bought product, and why McMillion has been able to win over a lot of kombucha haters over the years.

A scenario she’s seen play out often involves a woman dragging her boyfriend or husband into the shop. “The guy hangs back and sits down and gets on his phone,” she says, “he wants nothing to do with it.” Eventually, McMillion is able to get him to try a sip. And then a few more. “Then he’ll leave with a growler,” she adds, “and we have a new customer.”

Reboot’s hard kombucha won’t present the same trade-off in cans, in part because McMillion ferments it for months, past the point any yeast remains. Or sugars to ferment.

“It may not be the best business model for making lots of money fast,” she notes, “but that’s not really our aim. Our aim is to produce a really high-quality product and share it with people.”

The dry booch is available now in the tasting room, and in stores later this summer. Everything’s produced in very small batches for now, but McMillion and Farnsworth hope to eventually expand ReBoot into its own, larger location. While Bootstrap continues to do its thing, over on the PCH.

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Bootstrap Kombucha serves crowlers of ReBoot Hard Kombucha ahead of a summer can release. - Image by Bree Steffen
Bootstrap Kombucha serves crowlers of ReBoot Hard Kombucha ahead of a summer can release.

For five years, Susan McMillion and partner James Farnsworth have quietly been making and serving some of the city’s best kombucha out of their small shop, Bootstrap Kombucha. Operating on an industrial stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, near the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Bootstrap found its niche, luring converts to the many health benefits of the live culture, fermented tea. But in the meantime, a different sort of kombucha emerged, and quickly commanded the public’s attention. There was no getting away from questions about high alcohol kombucha.

Place

Bootstrap Kombucha

4085 Pacific Highway, Suite 105B, San Diego

“People had been asking us to do hard kombucha, and we were going in that direction” says McMillion. “We were going to be working with a very large brewery, before Covid.”

The contract brewing arrangement with a well-known local brewery de-materialized with the pandemic, so the founders of Bootstrap did what they’ve always done: figured out how to do something themselves. “During covid, some people learned how to bake sourdough bread,” says McMillion, “We learned how to make hard kombucha.”

They kept the taproom open on a limited basis, started asking questions of people in the brewing industry, and began brewing R&D batches. They secured a brewing license last November, and earlier this year they launched a new product line from tasting room taps: ReBoot Hard Kombucha, measuring about six-percent alcohol.

They acquired a can seamer, so they could start offering crowlers of flavors including pineapple ghost pepper and “Orange is the New Black Pepper.” In the next month, they plan to market 12-ounce cans of two additional flavors: tart cherry ginger and oak aged apple.

Canning is something Bootstrap has never tried with its regular (or soft) kombucha. The business supplied five-gallon kegs to local bars, restaurants, office, and gyms; but otherwise customers could only buy it straight from the taproom, in a glass or growler. That’s because, McMillion explains, distributing regular kombucha in cans or bottles requires adulterating the finished product.

For one thing, soft kombucha isn’t entirely alcohol free. It’s fermented with both bacteria and yeast, yielding small levels of alcohol in the process. However, to sell as a non-alcoholic product, it may contain no more than half a percent of alcohol. “In order to keep the alcohol down, you have to alter it, dilute it,” says McMillion.

Then there’s the little matter of shelf stability. Live kombucha is loaded with probiotics, microorganisms that may continue to process sugars after packaging. “You have to play with it so it doesn’t explode in bottle,” says McMillion, “A lot of companies will pasteurize it.” Given that the point of pasteurization is to kill microorganisms, it kind of defeats the purpose when it comes to kombucha.

These reasons help explain why Bootstrap’s booch tastes so much better than a lot of store-bought product, and why McMillion has been able to win over a lot of kombucha haters over the years.

A scenario she’s seen play out often involves a woman dragging her boyfriend or husband into the shop. “The guy hangs back and sits down and gets on his phone,” she says, “he wants nothing to do with it.” Eventually, McMillion is able to get him to try a sip. And then a few more. “Then he’ll leave with a growler,” she adds, “and we have a new customer.”

Reboot’s hard kombucha won’t present the same trade-off in cans, in part because McMillion ferments it for months, past the point any yeast remains. Or sugars to ferment.

“It may not be the best business model for making lots of money fast,” she notes, “but that’s not really our aim. Our aim is to produce a really high-quality product and share it with people.”

The dry booch is available now in the tasting room, and in stores later this summer. Everything’s produced in very small batches for now, but McMillion and Farnsworth hope to eventually expand ReBoot into its own, larger location. While Bootstrap continues to do its thing, over on the PCH.

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