What IS Kombucha or, more importantly, you might ask yourself … why? That’s the question I set out to answer when I was invited by the good people at Rowdy Mermaid to stop on in for a taste. I’m always up for a culinary adventure but I have to admit that on the way over I was a bit skeptical. I had never really had a full serving of Kombucha before and my only recollection of this strange brew was taking a few swigs offered by my girlfriends who were so into it that they seemed (at least to me) to be in some sort of “Kombucha craze.” Hmmm, not exactly impressed – out of the bottle it tasted kind of weird and wild, not necessarily in a good way. But all of that is destined to change.
UPDATE – this tasting room is now closed. Keep a lookout for their next location to open up! The Gunbarrel Brewery Co. has a selection on tap.
As you arrive at Rowdy Mermaid, you’re greeted by a cheerful open, indoor/outdoor space that is cleverly homey with a craft-brewery type of feel. The bar is cozy and sits just in front of the brewing area so you can look beyond and see the tanks where next week’s brews are fermenting. To the right, and up one step, is a small table accented by a cheerful painting on the wall and a crafty red chandelier-of-sorts, which then opens up via a garage door to the outdoor area and a really nice hang-out spot. There’s also a small sofa behind the bar to sit and chat with friends. It’s inviting.
As I toured the small brewing room with founder Jamba, I could see clear boxes of exotic ingredients, neatly stacked and labeled on the shelves in the corner – Chrysanthemum flowers, Pennyroyal, Gotu Kola, Roses, Fennel, Reishi, Chaga and quite a few more. My interest piqued, I watched Jamba gently paddle some of the largest tea bags I’ve ever seen as he explained the custom made setup for this scale of brewing. We talked about the history and perceived benefits of Kombucha and even some of the pitfalls when working at this scale – especially the use of yeast and bacteria as live cultures in the fermentation process. Jamba is clearly passionate about getting it right and and speaks enthusiastically about the detailed chemistry involved in the process as well as embracing the application of science in quality. Jamba seems highly committed to collaboration and contributing a broader academic scientific method of Kombucha as well as the art of the beverage itself.
Ready for the tasting, I was greeted by Samantha, who was enjoyably friendly and knew just about everything there was to know about Kombucha. Generally speaking, Kombucha is a slightly effervescent, chilled fermented beverage made from tea and other flavor ingredients that is (or should be) non-alcoholic, cool and refreshing.
From left to right, I started with Autumn haze – it was light and bright with hints of apple and a yellowish gold color.
Then, the Deep Forest – also hints of apple but rounder, with butterscotch tones.
Third was the Savory Peach – an ever so slightly smoky version of the previous two replacing the hint of apple with peach, of course. At this point, I am generally enjoying the slightly effervescent, chilled beverage that is Kombucha. That’s a great step forward but I wasn’t sure that the differences between the first three really warranted all these different versions on tap.
But then, I tried the Rowdy Belly and it just about knocked me upside the head with an indescribable but undeniably excellent punch of flavor.
I also enjoyed the Smoky Badger – flavored with cinnamon, hibiscus and chipotle with hints of peach and a small hint of spice from the chipotle that snuck up at the end but was perfectly balanced.
Finally, the Strawberry Hibiscus punched with flavor – very pink, very strawberry and absolutely refreshing.
This is a place you can visit frequently and always find a new flavor on tap. You might even enjoy the sounds of The Emmitt Sisters / aka SamSara) on a festive afternoon. I can imagine the day where there is not only a choice between soda or beer at my favorite local restaurant but another choice, Kombucha on tap. Zeal has already leapt on the trend and I can see other restaurants following suit in the near future.
The big question is whether Kombucha is simply a craze or is it here to stay? There is little to no scientific data to support any health claims about Kombucha you might read on the ‘net but, I did feel energetic, refreshed and hydrated afterwards. Maybe even off to the gym (can’t say that after a pint or so of beer). Since that first visit, I have taken my mother-in-law to the Rowdy Mermaid for a tasting and been back a couple of times – leaving with more than one growler of goodness.