Kombucha is a long established beverage with a lot of passionate fans, and in recent years a number of breweries have branched out to add it to their portfolios. With a consumer bent towards “better for you” drinks and an interest in probiotics and flavor diversity both traditional and hard kombucha are gaining momentum in the general consciousness.
Beer Edge editor John Holl spoke with the Walker Brothers team – Luke and Sam Walker, along with co-founder, Caroline Howard about what is new and on the horizon for hard kombucha.
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John Holl: What do you see as the current strengths in the kombucha industry?
Walker Brothers: Consumers are increasingly gravitating toward functional beverages and kombucha has long been known for its probiotics and beneficial acids – both of which are great gut health. While brands in non-kombucha categories are adding pro/prebiotics to their beverages, these occur naturally within unpasteurized kombucha, making it more appealing to certain customer segments.
John Holl: What are consumers looking for and what are they responding to?
Walker Brothers: Within our own lineup, we find that consumers gravitate most toward products flavored with familiar ingredients, but with a twist. For example, we recently introduced Blueberry Juniper, a hard kombucha flavored with cold-steeped blueberries and juniper berry juice. The combination of the familiar (blueberry) with the more exotic (juniper) has been a home run so far.
John Holl: Is there innovation in the space and if so where is it happening?
Walker Brothers: We definitely think so! We find that innovation is in collaborating with others because historically that’s not been the case. Right now, our most innovative aspect is our barrel-aged series and coffee series. The barrel-aged series is inspired mostly by sour beer—we age our high gravity kombucha for at least 8 months in a barrel (be it spirit or wine) and allow it to dry out while it takes on the complexities from the wood and longer fermentation. We also get to highlight local producers, most recently Arrington Vineyards for our Tell Me I’m Pretty bottle release.
For our coffee kombucha – a part of our seasonal series – we partner with different roasteries to create it and were originally inspired by a Danish brewery that made a coffee raspberry berliner weisse. In terms of innovation, another company that we really align with is Harvest Roots in Birmingham, AL – they’re another example of someone who is pushing the category collaboratively and sourcing both creatively and ethically.
John Holl: For traditional drinkers of other alcoholic beverages where does hard kombucha fit in? What are the occasions where it works best?
Walker Brothers: Hard kombucha fits in almost within a category of its own—it’s easy to drink and easy on your body, especially if you’re looking to imbibe in something lighter than beer or wine and don’t want to sacrifice flavor. It’s functional, delicious, and being that hard kombucha is more acidic, it’s easier to bring out the natural flavors you’re utilizing, versus relying on flavor additives. With food, you can treat it the same way you’d treat a light, effervescent wine to pair with foods and match it accordingly depending on the kombucha’s flavor profile. In addition, it’s really versatile socially – it can be sipped or is also high on the “crushability” index and makes for a beverage that can easily be shared and connected over.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clairity.