Authentic and Responsible Kombucha
We get asked a lot about the process of making Brew Dr. Kombucha. We love to tell our story, so we thought we’d put together a brief virtual tour of our brewery. Along with the photos below is a fairly in-depth description of how we do what we do, including how we stay true to producing authentic kombucha while managing the alcohol that is created in kombucha fermentation.
We started making kombucha in the kitchens of our then two Townshend’s Teahouse locations in 2008. We expanded into the basement of our Portland Teahouse for about a year, and then moved into our first brewery space in 2009. In early 2016 we completed a big upgrade into 60,000 total square feet of production space. Every part of the Brew Dr. Kombucha production process is done in house, leaf to bottle.Pictured below is the brewing area. Here we blend our recipes of organic tea and botanicals to create each of our 11 current flavors. We put all our ingredients loose into these 4,000 gallon brew tanks. We add 200 degree water and dissolved organic cane sugar, and steep essentially a really big pot of sweetened tea for about a half hour. That allows enough time for the flavor of all the dried herbs, roots and fruits to come out. This is really the most important step. We use the same high-quality organic tea and botanicals in our kombucha that we serve to guests at our teahouses. This is where our entire flavor profile comes from. We don’t add juice or flavors after fermentation. We’re tea people and we take a very “tea” approach to making kombucha taste great. Once we’ve got a great tasting tea we pump it over into the fermentation room.
We started out in 5-gallon fermentation containers, then we went to 75 gallons, then 250, then 900 gallons. The fermentation tanks in the next photo hold 9,200 gallons each. We pump about 7,000 gallons of our brewed and sweetened tea into one of these tanks that is already holding about 2,000 gallons of previously finished kombucha and a giant, 12-foot wide SCOBY. The tanks have cloth-topped large vent ports on top and we keep the air moving constantly while holding a room temperature of 82 degrees. Our batches take around 2 to 3 weeks to ferment. We test for pH, sugar and flavor to know when is the ideal time to stop fermentation. Once we are satisfied a batch is complete, we pump the kombucha over to a chilled holding area.
The next stop on our brewery tour is a room full of 8,000 gallon chilled holding tanks. The finished kombucha is pumped into one of these tanks and quickly refrigerated down to around 33 degrees. At this point it is ready for alcohol adjustment. We ferment kombucha in an authentic, traditional way. That’s how we believe raw kombucha should be made, and we believe it’s how our customers expect it to be made. Because we use a traditional process, the kombucha at this point has an alcohol content anywhere from 1% to 3% alcohol by volume.
In order to make authentic raw kombucha that abides by alcohol regulations, we utilize a technology that removes alcohol from liquids without the use of excessive heat. The machine pictured below is called a Spinning Cone Column. It is a method of distillation and as such our kombucha brewery is a licensed distillery as well. Okay science time–here’s how it works: Our kombucha is pumped into the top of the column. Inside the column, the atmospheric pressure is reduced to the point where ethanol (aka alcohol) atomizes at a very low temperature, around 100 degrees. The column is heated to that temperature and as the kombucha trickles down the levels inside the column, the ethanol starts to atomize or turn into a gaseous state. Clean steam is fed into the bottom of the tank. As it travels up through the column it attaches to the ethanol and carries it out of the top and into a secondary chilled column where it turns from gas back into a liquid state. The kombucha passes out the bottom of the column, never heated past about 100 degrees and thus maintaining all of its live and active probiotics. The only difference is the ethanol has been removed to the point where the kombucha now has an alcohol content of around 0.1%. Now we’ve got authentic, raw kombucha with naturally occurring probiotics that is legal to sell as a non-alcoholic beverage.
The byproduct of this method of non-heat driven distillation is a lovely high-proof distillate that is made entirely of organic ingredients. As such, this unique solution to solving the alcohol issue in raw kombucha provided us with the opportunity to start the world’s first Tea Distillery. We named it Thomas & Sons Distillery after our Founder and his three boys. This is the distilled spirits arm of Townshend’s Tea Company. We make a line of 8 craft spirits that are available at ezras.com. View the full line of products at thomasandsonsdistillery.com
Once the kombucha has had its alcohol removed, it is put back into a chilled holding tank until we are ready to bottle it. Below you can see our current bottling line. As of May 2017 we are producing around 350,000 bottles every week and we expect to be making about twice that by the end of the year. Because we have gone to the trouble of removing the alcohol, we need to keep our kombucha cold enough that further fermentation doesn’t occur. Therefore we utilize a bottling process similar to craft beer. Our kombucha is put into chilled “brite” tanks where it is gently carbonated overnight. It is bottled at 33 degrees and moved into cold storage immediately afterward. This way we ensure our distributors and retail partners get consistent, non-alcoholic kombucha. Bottle conditioning (also called “secondary fermentation”) where you would leave the kombucha at room temperature for some days after bottling in order to carbonate, creates an inconsistent level of fizziness as well as increased alcohol content. It also creates the little globule you see in some kombuchas–that’s a little SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which is the cellulose mat that grows at the top of every kombucha batch. Some customers ask us why our kombucha doesn’t have “that slimey floaty thing” in the bottle and we use that as a chance to educate them on the difference between bottle conditioning and our method of consistent carbonation with a controlled alcohol content.
That’s how we make every bottle of our beloved Brew Dr. Kombucha. We hope you agree that our ‘no shortcuts’ approach is well worth the effort. We are committed to keeping our kombucha an authentic, raw beverage that is full of the naturally-occurring probiotics our fans expect. Cheers from the whole family!