by Brandon Fox
My family calls it my witch’s brew. Sometimes they call it Snape’s cupboard. Since I started making kombucha a couple of years ago, there’s a cabinet in my kitchen that reeks of vinegar. (Well, I’m making vinegar in there, too.) The aroma, combined with murkiness and strange things floating in jars, freaks out my children.
I love it.
A lot of people started off drinking GT’s Synergy kombucha — it was first on the market and it tastes pretty terrible. Homebrewers knew they could do better and fortunately, some of them turned pro.
Ninja Kombucha is the first truly local, Richmond-made kombucha. You may have seen people carrying cups and growlers away from its four-tap stand at either the South of the James Market or the Byrd House Market. Another on-tap brand that appeared in local stores first, Barefoot Bucha, is made in Nelson County, but that’s not quite the same thing. Right now, owner Brett Nobile, along with chief operations ninja Rachel Green, have seven fermenters going full-time, but need more.
“It’s flying out from under our feet,” says Green. “We can’t keep up with how [much] people have been getting excited about it.”
Ninja Kombucha is limited by the size of the fermenters and the time it takes for the process. Green says they first start with sweet tea and add a gelatinous clump of yeast and bacteria — the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) — to the mix. This starts the fermenting process, which takes a week or more, and then after transferring the plain kombucha to kegs and flavoring it with herbs, fruit and other botanicals, it takes a few more days for a second fermentation to recharge the drink’s effervescence.
The many claims about the kombucha’s health benefits haven’t been proven. However, if you like a non-alcoholic (it clocks in under .05 percent) tart, slightly sweet, gently fizzy drink — and maybe have a thing for vinegar — you’re in luck.
Triple Crossing Brewing co-owner Adam Worcester noticed on a recent trip to North Carolina that every brewery he visited also offered kombucha. That wasn't the case in here Richmond. He decided to do something about that.
This Saturday, June 13, starting at 7 p.m., Triple Crossing is throwing a party to celebrate permanently putting Ninja Kombucha on tap at the brewery. Karla and the Brotherhood will be there to entertain with a little music, and Green and Nobile are getting two flavors ready to serve consecutively: Grasshopper, a blend of hops, ginger and lemongrass, and Kunoichi, their most popular flavor, which combines peach and mint. You’ll be able to buy it by the glass or growler.
And for you DIY types who might want to try your hand at making your own kombucha, here are step-by-step instructions from Ally Kirkpatrick, the person who taught me how to make it. The only trick is getting your hand on a SCOBY. You can make your own, but I suggest asking around — I bet you have a least one friend with a little witch’s brew in her cupboard that you didn’t know about.