Local kombucha shop expands during the pandemic

Now they’re the first licensed hard-kombucha brewer in the state
Jessie Janes cuts the ribbon beside his wife Amanda at their brewery where they just started...
Jessie Janes cuts the ribbon beside his wife Amanda at their brewery where they just started making alcoholic kombucha.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 6:37 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Kombucha is a carbonated drink that is getting more popular every year, at least that’s what the owners of Zip Kombucha, Jessie Janes and his wife, have seen. They’ve added a little extra kick in their process and have become the first hard kombucha brewer in Alaska.

Janes said kombucha with alcohol in it isn’t new across the country, but it’s hard to find in Alaska.

“Hard kombucha has been slowly showing up at the liquor stores up here, and I never found one that I personally enjoyed, not one that I’d go out and buy myself,” he said. “I was trying to find something that was a bit more approachable, less herbal and something that’s still true to our kombucha product.”

It’s not a long shot to turn the trendy drink into an adult beverage according to another pair of local kombucha brewers, Nate Laabs and Rebecca Cullor at Acai Alaska.

Cullor explained that kombucha is made through a fermenting process — which is how other kinds of alcohol are made, but kombucha starts with tea. All the other flavors come from a second fermenting process, where you can add things like fruit and vegetables to change the flavors.

So technically, all kombucha is alcoholic. However, Janes and Cullor both confirmed that regular kombucha normally has less than half a percentage of alcohol, so it will give off a buzz about as strong as ginger beer.

Janes said they aren’t adding alcohol, they’re just adjusting the fermentation process with different variations of yeast, using one of their recipes as an example.

“Our Blood Orange Lager, we use a lager yeast strain much like they use in lager beers and add a little bit of extra sugar to bump up that alcohol level from that less than .5%,” he said.

He said they’re playing around with the process for new drinks, but it can range from 4% to 8% alcohol so far.

As for expanding during a pandemic, Janes said there were extra hurdles. He said slowdowns from coronavirus made everything from licenses to new supplies harder to obtain. He said expanding was part of the plan, however, COVID-19 was not.

It might be easy to assume that people like Laabs and Cullor wouldn’t be too happy about another source of competition stepping up their game in town, but it’s quite the opposite. They’re happy to see other small businesses growing in hard times.

“We don’t want to be the only game in town,” Cullor said, “We want variety. For those that want to have alcohol, it’s nice to have that option.”

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