Kombucha is fermented, carbonated and brewed in bright tanks. It can be infused with many flavors and has been around for thousands of years. It sounds a lot like beer, but it’s actually quite different. Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea that is mixed with sugar and SCOBY, a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The drink is said to have various health benefits, including improved gut health.
Although kombucha has been brewed for over 2,000 years, the tea made its commercial debut in the Shenandoah Valley back in 2010, when a local business, Blue Ridge Bucha, decided to take their at-home operation public.
Driving up to their future commercial space, visitors might be a little confused. Located in Waynesboro, the modest green building boasts a “Pepsi” sign, which their co-founder Kate Zuckerman finds to be a little ironic. Inside, the other co-founder, Ethan Zuckerman winds through stacks of plywood and other carpentry materials, but is eager to explain how every part of their new brewery will pan out.
After Blue Ridge Bucha began their quest selling what Kate, calls “community supported kombucha” each week around 100 customers would receive a six-pack of their refillable kombucha bottles. Since then, they’ve sold their product in over 50 locations in the Mid-Atlantic; including stores like Midtowne Market right here in Harrisonburg.
Most recently, they made their debut in the Student Success Center at JMU, where the kiosk called “Food Local” brings locally grown and produced food to students.
“What’s really cool is that JMU is providing opportunity for local food producers to connect with students,” says Kate, proud of the new partnership.
Local businesses are not the only ones excited about the collaboration with the university. Students know that locally grown and produced products may be a more health-conscious decision when it comes to eating on campus.
“JMU is really good in that they offer healthy options on campus, cause a lot of schools don’t have that,” Senior, Catie Symalla, said.
Blue Ridge Bucha isn’t the only local company to represent the growing trend. Mountain Culture Kombucha, founded in 2012, also values the importance of local food production and consumption. Since their first partnership with Friendly City Food Co-Op, a local, organic grocery store located downtown, they have seen an increasing amount of business in Harrisonburg.
“People seem to actually care about where their food comes from,” says their founder, Peter Roderick.
While kombucha may have first catered to those who sought the health benefits, recently more breweries have started to catch on. Pale Fire Brewing and Brothers Craft Brewing are now selling Blue Ridge Bucha, while Mountain Culture Kombucha can be found in Three Notch’d Brewing.
According to Kate, selling kombucha brings more customers to these venues, allowing everyone to have a craft experience.
“More and more people are getting tuned in to going out to breweries in groups, but not everybody drinks,” she says. Kate sees the drink’s presence in breweries sustaining their industry in the long run. Roderick also attests to the growing industry, explaining how it’s now much easier to convince breweries to buy kombucha by the keg, a departure from only a few years ago.
Mountain Culture Kombucha is also in the process of moving their production from a residence to a commercial space. The Kombucha industry is quickly growing and changing from its homegrown roots and residence to a more commercial setting.
And while these two companies may be expanding to new stores, breweries, and even to college campuses, they will, according to Roderick, continue “creating revenues that are local and stay local.”