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Rain did not dampen the enthusiasm at the fourth annual Austin Fermentation Festival. Kombucha was front and center in our minds, and we were not disappointed with five vendors on hand. Much to our delight, as more people learn about the health benefits and tastes of fermented foods, the range of food, beverage, and related products at this yearly event has expanded, essentially outgrowing its quaint, earthy location at the Barr Mansion.
Newcome Casper Fermentation shared their kombucha, made with raw black tea purchased from a Nannuo Mountain farm in Yunnan, China. They are the only buyers of this tea in the U.S., and their kombucha is a light, tea-flavored product. Owner Benjamin Hollander stated that sugar is added only for the fermentation time, but it is “dry” for the bottling. This small company also offered raw apple cider vinegar and dill pickles, available at a few select Austin locations.
Three home-town kombucha brewers shared their goods. KTonic launched their fifth flavor on tap at the event. It is Cherry Blossom– thirst-quenching, fruity with spice flavors with hints of cherries, cardamom, and pepper. The new flavor will be available in stores on Jan. 1, 2018. Buddha’s Brew offering tasted of all their flavors, including basil, honey, and ginger. The company founders generously put on a workshop on “how to” brew kombucha and shared scobies with some of the participants. Wunder-Pils, most often found at the farmer’s markets locally, tasted their products and shared a prickly pear kombucha that was refreshing. New for them is a canned herb and tea beverage with the properties of a natural energy drink. Chipotle hot sauce made with kombucha was delicious– pleasantly hot with a perfect texture. The use of kombucha in new products is certainly a growing trend, as in the Wunder-Pils popsicles.
Los Angeles based Health-Aide Kombucha was also on hand offering tastes of their original flavor profiles. Pomegranate was particularly interesting–tart and lightly fizzy.
In the beverage area, Texas Keeper Cider has been expanding its offerings. A workshop on making cider was lively for those that were part of the hands-on tasting, while the remainder of the attendees heard the history of orchard-based cider brewing back to the Middle Ages. With heirloom apple popularity on the rise, this is certain to continue to expand as a popular fermented beverage.
Boggy Creek Farm is one of the original urban farms in Austin, and Larry Butler, the co-owner, offered a workshop on pickling/fermenting vegetables, entertaining the crowd with his trial and error experiences in creating products from their farm’s own produce. His smoked tomatoes, pickled squash, and zucchini have long been in demand at their popular on-site farm market. Austinite Kate Payne, the author of The Hip Girl series, shared some tips on successfully fermenting sauerkraut. Kirsten Shockey gave a hands-on demonstration of making fermented hot sauce and spicy pepper mash. Other workshops ranged from fermenting vinegar, making chocolate, kimchi techniques and butter/cheese making.
Sourdough is becoming more visible in fermentation discussions, given the bread and water (and sometimes yeast) are fermented to create the sour taste and smell. A chef from L.A.’s Manuela led a workshop on making whole wheat sourdough. The concept of bread as an additive to beer brewing is catching on, as grains, yeast, and water form the basic beer brewing mix. With discussion of food waste, it has become evident that one-third of the bread made in the U.S. is wasted so some beer brewers are using it as part of their beer starters. Other vendors in the fermentation tent offered dehydrated and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, sourdough baked goods, vinegars and oils and Barton Springs Mill sold single grain flours, milled from Texas wheat varieties.
Sandor Katz, a “fermentation revivalist”, was once again the inspirational, trendsetting event keynote. He tells his stories about fermentation, its benefits and the reemergence of the interest in “high quality living fermented foods and beverages. The evidence of small, cottage, family businesses making fermented products definitely was visible at the festival, reviving interest in fermentation arts, reinforcing Katz’s message.
Inside the Barr Mansion at the event, films, and music (of course, this is Austin) provided a lively backdrop to the day. “Fermented” a new, heralded documentary by food lover and storyteller Edward Lee was shown as part of the festival. This is a must-see movie detailing fermentation techniques in various parts of the world. It launched at the Seattle International Film Festival and is being gradually shared with the foodie world.
Believe it or not, a person named Teresa Strasser–someone who makes lists for a living–has created a map that has each state’s least favorite food. For Arizona, she chose kombucha which, by the way, is not a food.
And, by the way, Florida hates licorice, also begs credibility.
Most of the information found about kombucha focuses on the healthy benefits of this fizzy, probiotic tea beverage. There are some that doubt the ability to quantify these beneficial properties, hence creating a labeling controversy. But that is but one of many emerging trends in the kombucha marketplace.
In the past few weeks there have been several news items about kombucha that point to innovation and collaboration. These are popping up in such areas as creating new flavors, the concept of canned kombucha and new consumer-facing retail concepts.
One story tells that tale of a kombucha company, Inspired Brews Kombucha that has opened a brewing facility in downtown Philadelphia. The co-founder creates an interesting profile of flavors, initially starting with dessert-style flavors. In addition, there are root vegetable based flavors. Based on the season, the flavors vary but eight to 10 offerings are always available. The flavors are developed in conjunction with her co-creator located in Dallas, TX, who began as an avid home brewer. According to BevNet, Inspired Brews Kombucha networked with other entrepreneurs to launch its storefront and increase collaboration with local non-profits and businesses. The story described the background of the company and made me want to travel to Philadelphia to taste the various flavor options, many of which have Texas-inspired combinations.
Up Dog Kombucha, started by two students at Wake Forest University, was the focus of another BevNet piece. The students were producing the product on their own in two unused dorm kitchens, prior to becoming one of the startups in the university’s StartUp Lab. They represent a millennial market entry aimed at attracting and retaining college-aged students with their product – a “less vinegary, more mild and lightly fruity” version of kombucha.
Portland, OR is a city that is spawning kombucha creativity. As a story on Project NOSH indicated, “Portland is a hive of kombucha invention”, so creative kombucha concepts are a natural for Portland. Based on success in Washington State, with Kombucha Town selling cans of their brew to Trader Joe’s, the viability of canned kombucha is emerging. Canned wine and even craft beer in cans is becoming more popular as a way to transport beverages to outdoor events, or to the beach. With better canning facilities, it can provide an option to broaden the kombucha distribution as well. The challenge with kombucha is that it is a cold beverage and must be transported and stored in refrigerated trucks. Additionally, that makes it a challenge to expand the market area for a small fermentory unless it is willing to sub out its recipes and packaging to a packing plant or co-packer. Putting the kombucha in cans could help expand market opportunities.
On a recent visit to Portland, we had the opportunity to sample some of the variety of kombucha beverages available locally. One curious experience was the visit to SOMA’s new automated tasting room in the southeast part of the city. It was definitely a different way to taste and purchase some delicious probiotic brew. One delicious offering was a cold-brew coffee option, a concept just coming of age. The experience did reinforce the idea that Portland is a place for kombucha innovation and even ideas that seem a bit unusual have room to grow.
The product will be released in 2018.
Big-name retail chains such as Target, Costco and even Walmart have added kombucha to their product lines.
Grocery stores such as Sprouts and H-E-B, Wegmans are adding private-label kombucha to their shelves reflecting increasing demand.
Sports stadiums such as Safeco Field and Centurylink Field have added kombucha to their concessions.
Increased availability in bars and restaurants, alongside beer on tap.
Large multinational beverage conglomerates are buying (or consider buying) established kombucha brands.