Kombuchas and shrubs: local hand-crafted drinks for the whole family
By Zachary Rosen
The long nights at home during the quarantine have certainly made it easier to have an extra drink here and there. While many of us still want to enjoy an evening round or two, you might be looking for something that is still tasty yet gentler on the liver. Fortunately, there are many craft beverages being made along the 101 that have no alcohol, but plenty of flavor which can be enjoyed by the whole family.
A Tale Of Two Kombuchas
Kombucha has become a wildly popular drink choice for people of all ages, the health conscious, and those looking to go alcohol-free. The tart, sparkling tea-based brew contains probiotics and features a range of exciting flavors. Whalebird Kombucha in San Luis Obispo has been a trendsetter for years in the area. When founder Mike Durighello first tried kombucha in 2006, he did not initially like its flavors, but after a couple years of tasting different kombuchas he was able to find some that he enjoyed. Soon he “loved everything about kombucha” and it changed his life, introducing him to all kinds of fermented foods. Mike and his roommates had the idea of starting their own kombucha company and in 2012 began to experiment in their garage. At the time there weren’t many resources on kombucha, but they were able to find one YouTube video of a Russian guy going through his grandma’s recipes and process. Mike noticed that no one was producing the kind of flavors of kombucha that he enjoyed. This led him to explore the many botanics and exotic flavors that Whalebird Kombucha has become known for.
Mike wants to stay true to the healthy nature of kombucha, and today all Whalebird kombuchas are made from only organic, fair-trade farms using bioregenerative practices. They have direct trade relationships with their sugarcane growers in Brazil and tea farmers in Bangladesh, making sure that each one uses growing practices healthy for the soil. In addition, their fusion of exotic flavors was a pioneering concept when Whalebird Kombucha first opened. Each flavor has an imaginative set of ingredients that liven up the character of regular kombucha. The Dry Hopped Pamplemousse blends the citrus notes of seasonal hops and edible grapefruit essential oil into a bright and refreshing kombucha. Manguava fuses the lush flavors of guava and mango with just a highlight of hibiscus and lemon myrtle. Their many fun flavors can be found at their San Luis Obispo store or all throughout the 101.
Jun is a close cousin to kombucha and is becoming more well-known throughout the area. Jun kombucha differs from regular kombucha in that it is brewed with green tea and honey, rather than black tea and sugar. This gives it a drier, less acidic character, with the green tea often adding an herbal, earthy flavor. Both can sometimes contain small amounts of alcohol (usually less than 0.5% ABV) and have similar brewing processes to that of beer. Adam Gallegos of Revel Kombucha Brewery and Acai actually began in the beer industry; however, he immediately fell in love with jun after first trying it. He also quickly noticed the health benefits associated with the beverage. Within weeks of drinking jun, some of his chronic health problems, like acid reflux and migraines, began to subside, and he was even able to stop taking his prescription medicines for these ailments. Adam had always dreamed of opening a craft brewery but noticed that no one was making jun in the area. He took all of his ideas and passion for a craft brewery concept and adapted it to opening a jun kombucha brewery. He and his wife found a cozy rental space in downtown Ojai and started making small batches of jun in the back. Today they have grown into a popular tasting room that serves these healthy tonics alongside acai bowls and other vegan treats.
Revel offers two flavors of jun year-round. Pink Moment is a lively blend of hibiscus, ginger, and orange zest. Eclipse features a spicier character of coconut chai green tea and activated charcoal. They also have four seasonal flavors; these smaller batches come from Adam walking the nearby Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market, looking for inspiration in the seasonal produce. They can range from juicy watermelon to the more soothing flavors of orange and vanilla. There is a strong focus on local, organic ingredients, and Adam avoids any syrups or fruit concentrates, producing all juices onsite from fresh fruit.
In addition to their range of jun flavors, Revel offers a probiotic matcha and probiotic cold brew coffee served on nitro. Both are sourced locally and have probiotics blended in to give them an extra health boost, with the nitrogen pour giving them a silky finish. Their juns are available on tap along the 101; however, the best way to experience them is at their Ojai brewery. Their outdoor seating area and service window make it easy to grab a glass of kombucha during these times.
3576 Empleo St. Ste #1,
San Luis Obispo
For more: (805) 316-1631 or whalebirdkombucha.com
Revel Kombucha Brewery and Acai 307 E. Matilija St. Ste C, Ojai
For more: (805) 272-0028 or revelkombuchabar.com
The Season Of Shrubs
Various vinegars have long been touted for their health benefits, and the fruit-infused fermented vinegar — known as shrubs — is a rising star between both cocktail bars and health advocates. These healthy, tart tonics can refresh sparkling water or your favorite cocktail. CT and Jody Williams of Broken Clock Vinegar Works first discovered shrubs when visiting a local cocktail bar. They were fascinated by the flavors and began to explore the process at home, having always had their own fruit and vegetable garden. They experimented first with a pomegranate and lemon shrub and loved the result. They then obtained a cottage license but soon grew out of their kitchen, moving operations to the industrial kitchen of the wine bar they owned before quickly growing out of that space as well. They realized they needed a dedicated space for the company, opening up a full-scale shrubbery in Solvang in 2017.
As Broken Clock Vinegar Works grew, they have remained dedicated to the whole fruit-to-vinegar process. All the fruit is sourced from local farmers, or just word of mouth. Their newly released Plum and Cardamom Shrub came from a friend who had a plum tree that needed harvesting. The vinegar takes about six months to produce from the whole fruit and “mother” that contains all of the active cultures. From there, fresh fruit and other seasonings are cold macerated for about 30 days with sugar and vinegar.
Many of their popular flavors, like Jalapeño and Peach Shrub or Raspberry and Mint Shrub, are available most of the year; however, their seasonal approach means that they often release small batches of specialty flavors. Anyone who doesn’t want to miss out on their special releases can join their Shrub Club that features six bottles per year, along with product discounts and other perks.
Certainly, shrubs are a great addition to any cocktail. Jody feels that their Jalapeño and Peach Shrub is a natural fit for a margarita. But if you’re looking to cut down on your alcohol intake, then a dash of shrubs in sparkling water makes for an invigorating drink to be enjoyed at any point of the day. Jody also notes how well shrubs go with cooking, suggesting them in everything from marinades and salad dressings, to baked goods (try the Blueberry and Vanilla Shrub in a batch of brownies). In addition, they offer a line of award-winning culinary vinegars for any other kitchen escapades. Their range of products can be ordered online, or the website’s store locator can direct you to the closest place to find their unique line of shrubs and vinegars.
Sarah Bourke of Sideyard Shrubs had a similar epiphany about shrubs around a year ago after trying them in a cocktail. The process and flavors really spoke to her deep passion for food systems and sustainable farming practices. Working for the Patagonia food division, Patagonia Provisions, closely connected her to these principles and the many interesting people that help produce our food. She began experimenting with shrubs and received a lot of positive feedback from family and friends. Since having more free time during the pandemic, she decided it was the right moment to make something more out of her hobby and launched Sideyard Shrubs this past June. She is working under a cottage license, producing small half to one-gallon batches of shrubs in her home. Sarah focuses on harvesting fruit from certified organic non-profit farms, like Fairview Gardens in Goleta, and several private residences after verifying their farming practices. All of the fruit is harvested by hand and macerated with an organic apple cider vinegar base.
Sarah has been offering about five different flavors at a time that capture the produce and flavors of that season. Her newest batches feature flavors like passion fruit, strawberry, and a fascinating tomato shrub. Of course, Sarah is always experimenting with different exotic ingredients such as tomatillos and sugar pie pumpkins to see what exciting flavors she can discover with the seasonal produce. She is planning to release a persimmon and turmeric shrub that she feels is the most beautiful expression of fall. Currently, Sarah is selling directly to the public at places like The Farmstand at Fairview Gardens or the local Farmer’s Markets. Sideyard Shrubs can now be found at several spots in the area including Satellite in Santa Barbara or Bettina in Montecito. While Sideyard Shrubs is still blossoming, they promise to be a flavorful new addition to the area.
Broken Clock Vinegar Works
1210 Mission Dr. Ste 103, Solvang
For more: brokenclockvinegarworks.com
Sideyard Shrubs can be found at a variety of locations across the Central Coast
For more, visit her Instagram page @sideyardshrubs, or farmcartorganics.com/sideyard-shrubs