It wasn’t that long ago when buying a health-conscious drink commercially in Alberta meant a blended juice or smoothie.
Quietly but quickly over the past few years, retailers have started stocking their shelves with another tasty option – kombucha, a fermented sweet tea packed with gut-healing probiotics, acetic acids and antioxidants. The majority of offerings on the market are from the U.S., but things are changing. From Grande Prairie to Calgary, a crop of creative Alberta entrepreneurs are nurturing a growing demand into successful kombucha businesses.
For the uninitiated, kombucha tastes like a sweet, tart vinegar that’s slightly carbonated. The base ingredient is organic tea. While there are unlimited varieties of tea, black and green teas are commonly used in kombucha. Like wine making, the type of tea affects the taste and flavour profile. Sugar is added to the tea and when it’s mixed with a bacteria culture known as SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) the fermentation process begins. Once the initial fermentation is finished, fresh or frozen fruit, purees, juice and even herbs and spices are added to flavour the kombucha.
Here are five kombucha makers in Alberta to check out for a taste of locally brewed goodness — grab your growler and go!
Wild Child Brew
After brewing for more than a year from their Blackfalds facility, this central Alberta company opened their own retail space in Red Deer in January. The “kombrewery” offers five rotating flavours on tap. The flavours are fanciful and fruity, balanced with an aromatic twist. Root beer spice or elderberry lavender anyone? Customers can bring in their own refillable containers or purchase one-litre Wild Child Brew mini-growlers.
No worries if you can’t make it to the brewing facility. A few shops around Red Deer, including Glow Juicery, a float centre in the same industrial park and bakery, offer this healthy brew.
Wild Tea Kombucha
While training for the 2014 Sochi Olympic games, former bob sledder Emily Baadsvik started drinking kombucha to boost her energy levels and maximize her nutrition. Having an aversion to dairy meant that Baadsvik’s diet wasn’t very probioticrich, so she turned to kombucha for its natural oxidants.
A year after the Olympics, Baadsvik and her business partner, Brigette Freel, purchased brewing equipment and moved into a manufacturing facility in Calgary’s Foothills neighbourhood. Wild Tea Kombucha’s approach is all about showcasing the drink’s versatility and having fun with kombucha. The names of their regular flavours – strawberry daiquiri, pineapple mojito and hard lime – are a playful riff on cocktails.
The pair also encourages customers to use kombucha as a vinegar substitute when preparing food such as chicken marinade. They also concoct sinfully delicious cocktails with their kombuchas, and are partnering with local breweries and distilleries to create tasty collaborations.
Effervescent Tea Co.
Brewing kombucha has been a family affair for Beaverlodge’s Lon and Nan Thiessen since 2015. The husband and wife duo operate Alberta’s most northerly brewery from a converted barn on the family farm. The state-of-the-art facility churns out three different flavoured kombuchas made from fruit puree and juices – raspberry, grape and pomegranate.
Effervescent Tea kombucha strikes all the sweet-tart notes one would expect from a drink made from green tea. Lon experimented with other tea varietals, but her personal preference leaned towards the sweet flavour and aromatic profile of green tea. Effervescent Tea is carried at 37 retailers, most located in the Peace River country.
One of the oldest commercial kombucha makers in Alberta (if you can call 2014 old), this Calgary-based company is synonymous with giving back to the community. Owners Conrad and Louisa Ferrel have committed to reinvesting 10 per cent of their profits to organizations like Mealshare and LeftOvers Calgary. If you’re wavering about trying kombucha, you can pick up single serving bottles of TrueBuch at retailers across Alberta. Traditionalists might opt for True Buch ginger or blueberry rooibos, but there are a handful of unconventional flavours to fill your growler with like vanilla chai, mojito mint and root beer.
After one sip of kombucha while attending a conference in the U.S., Victoria Lungard knew she was hooked. She was so impressed, that once she returned home to Chestermere, she set about learning everything she could about the fermented drink. That was back when there weren’t too many people in Alberta making kombucha.
Despite the increased competition in the market today, Happy Belly is still a pioneer in the kombucha business — it’s also one of few Alberta companies to use honey instead of cane sugar. The key to making a great tasting product, says Lungard, is sourcing fresh ingredients to time with the brewing process. Kombucha can be used in many dishes. Here’s an easy and delicious recipe from Chef Michael Christen of Season’s restaurant in Bowness Park, Calgary for you to try at home.