For almost as long as humans have been living in a societal structure, we’ve been using fermentation. King Hammurabi of Babylon put rules on beer-making 4,000 years ago, and Ramses III of Egypt consecrated the gods with more than 400,000 jars of beer.
But while most of the images connected to the idea of fermentation include beverages that get their drinkers tipsy, there are others, such as sourdough bread, which produce a certain flavor and provide health benefits beyond trying to drown our sorrows.
Which is where Aaron Roberts and Rebekah Alcott come in, with their new business Canvas Kombucha Brewing Co., which hopes to fill a gap in the local market for the health conscious, fermentation-loving consumer in the Flathead.
Roberts began brewing kombucha – a fermented, effervescent drink made from green or black tea – about seven years ago while living in Bend, Oregon. Brewing was a major activity in Bend, and Roberts said he was drawn to kombucha because of its complexities.
“Beer’s pretty straightforward for the most part,” Roberts said. “Kombucha just intrigued me. It’s healthy, and I can make it and drink it and feel good.”
Kombucha is a relatively new business in Montana, with Bozeman recently welcoming a new brewery. Kombucha, which is also known as “mushroom tea” although mushrooms aren’t involved, began gaining popularity in the United States in the mid-1990s, largely for the health benefits it boasts.
The moniker of “mushroom” stems from the SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, which floats atop a batch of booch. With the rubbery consistency of a thick jellyfish, the cellulose SCOBY is the life of the kombucha, and can be used and shared repeatedly, like a sourdough starter.
The SCOBY provides the bacterial and yeast, and the whole mixture gets to work fermenting for a few weeks before it is ready for consumption. After the general kombucha is made, flavors can be added.
Canvas Kombucha touts the health benefits of its beverages, which it says contain probiotics, various vitamins, live yeast enzymes, antimicrobial and antifungal effects, and others.
The young company is brewing its creations out of the kitchen at the Apple Barrel on U.S. Highway 2 near the airport, but also has a fill station at Ceres Bakery in Kalispell, where patrons can bring their own containers – preferably glass – to fill. There are also cups available.
Alcott, who largely runs the business side of the company while Roberts is the brewer, said Canvas will be adding another fill station, this one in the Montana Coffee Traders downtown Whitefish location, by Memorial Weekend.
The idea is to get their brews into enough places that they gain enough notoriety to be able to expand their endeavors to other small towns like Whitefish, she said, rather than major city markets.
“Those places just feel good,” Alcott said of small towns.
Along with the community appeal, Canvas also plans on collaborating with local artists, to show their work in a studio within the tasting room so the artists can avoid costly gallery fees.
Art comes in all different forms, Alcott said, including liquid.
“With [Roberts’] kombucha, it’s not just a health tonic, but more of a work of art,” she said.
With the help of brewing assistant Shannon Rubow, Roberts has created several unique and inspired flavors for the brew, such as grape with thyme or watermelon.
The kombucha brewed with hops tastes like a strong IPA, Roberts said, but without the alcohol. Rubow in particular is looking into creating an alcoholic kombucha, but that is still in the very beginning stages, Roberts said.
The company intends to add more filling stations as it grows, and may begin bottling its brews for sale as well. Alcott said they are willing to work with most anyone who requests a tap, from yoga studios to restaurants.
Eventually, the company would like to relocate to one of the cities in the county. Until then, Canvas Kombucha will try to continue growing organically, brewing drinks that have made unbelievers into fans, Alcott said.
“People would say, ‘I don’t drink (kombucha), but yours is good,’” Alcott said.
For more information on Canvas Kombucha Brewing Co., call 406-212-6910 or visit the company’s Facebook page.