How Brew Dr. Kombucha’s path lead to booze
Artwork by AYUMI TAKAHASHI // ayumitakahashi.com
There are two types of people in this world: those who love kombucha, and those who love to point out how fucking gross it is. The gross part is that bubbling fermented horse snot, or “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY). Looking at the SCOBY is gross. Kombucha, the drink it makes, is not gross at all, and it’s got health benefits.
We asked Matt Thomas, the owner of Townshends’ Tea Company, what makes their kombucha so good and ended up learning about booze.
STAY WILD: Who is the Brew Doctor of your kombucha Brew Dr. Kombucha?
MATT THOMAS: Gregg Shetterly and Mo Osborn are our two brewmasters. They source all the tea and botanicals that go into every batch, and work out the right ratios of ingredients. We chose the name “Brew Dr. Kombucha” and our bottle style because kombucha is truly a health beverage. We want the name and package to communicate that. The bottle is like a new take on an old-time apothecary bottle, and together with “doctor” in the name, it helps communicate the message that this stuff is both good for you and expertly crafted. Our method to making kombucha is a no-shortcuts approach, and we use only high-quality, organic ingredients.
Why does your kombucha not taste like fermented horse snot? Is it because the tea mellows things out?
We were a tea company for five years before we were a kombucha company. We know how and where to find great teas, and how to blend those teas properly with aromatic botanicals like sage, lavender, and hops. A lot of commercial kombucha is made by making a “plain” batch with only a cheap green or black tea, then flavoring that with juices to create different flavors. We call that “commodity kombucha.” Our flavor profiles are created from the very beginning of the process, when we mix the teas and botanicals together. Nothing is added at the end. The difference is very distinct. Commodity kombucha can taste overly sweet because of the juice that’s added, or overly sour from being cheaply made and over-fermented. Another benefit of our method is that our kombucha is truly 100% raw and has the most naturally occurring probiotics possible.
What are some examples of “botanicals” that go into your kombucha?
“Botanicals” is a catch-all word for all the herbs and dried fruits that we blend with tea leaves in our recipes. For example, our Clear Mind kombucha is made from a high-mountain-grown Chinese green tea along with dried rosemary, sage, mint, and dandelion root.
What’s up with your new line of Thomas & Sons boozes?
Don’t all paths lead to alcohol eventually? For real though, Townshend’s goal has long been to push tea forward into its best and most creative expressions. We were looking at the “What next?” question and saw an opening in the craft-spirits world for tea. It was an exciting new challenge from a production standpoint. We have learned a lot about fermentation science over the years making kombucha, and found we already had a lot of the equipment it would take to make spirits a reality. Basically we are taking a kombucha fermentation, driving it forward to produce a meaningful alcohol content, then distilling that. We found a still that was ideal for capturing the delicate aromas of the botanicals we work with, and the result has been deliciously satisfying.
What kinds of spirits are you making and where can people get them?
We have released a line of four tea spirits. All of them are crafted with teas from Townshend’s tea list. No. 2 Sweet Tea is made from our single-estate Ceylon black tea. No. 5 Smoke Tea is made from pine-smoked Lapsang Souchong black tea. No. 16 Spice Tea is made from a blend of black tea, orange peel, and two types of cinnamon. And No. 50 Bitter Tea is made from our Kashmiri Chai recipe of strong black tea from India, black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, and mint. The first three are technically liqueurs and are 70 proof. The Bitter Tea is an amaro and is 80 proof. Additionally we have released one clear spirit that we are calling White Rose. It falls in the category of “specialty distilled spirits,” and tastes somewhere between a gin and a vodka. It’s like a gin made with white tea and rose petals instead of juniper berries. It’s fantastic.
We are in over 70 liquor stores in Oregon and are just now signing distribution deals for Washington. We are also seeing it added to specialty cocktail menus at a number of bars. All of these spirits are new and exciting and are being used to make some amazing cocktails around Portland.