If you’ve never had kombucha, the appeal of a fizzy, sour drink made from fermented green or black tea might seem strange, but the drink has gained popularity in recent years for its sour-sweet flavor and its probiotic benefits.
Now, it’s on tap at breweries around the Flathead Valley.
Dark Side Fermenters founders Sam and Pete Avery started brewing kombucha when Pete, who was working at Kalispell Brewing Company, realized there weren’t many interesting beverages for non-alcoholic drinks at breweries.
“There wasn’t really any kind of fun or exciting option for people coming to the brewery who didn’t want to drink alcohol,” Sam said.
So the Averys set out to change that, creating kombucha with a rotating cast of exciting flavors, giving non-drinkers a treat as unique as the breweries’ newest beers.
“We were always focused on being a craft kombucha that was similar to a craft beer,” Sam said. “But without the alcohol.”
Although fairly new to mainstream American markets, kombucha has long been popular around the world. It is believed to have originated in Northeast China (Manchuria) around 200 B.C. The name “kombucha” is thought to have come from a doctor named Kombu, who reportedly brought the tea to Japan as a curative drink for the emperor. Traders brought kombucha to Europe in the early 20th century, where it became popular in places like Russia and Germany.
The drink’s rise in the U.S. came later, and was largely a grassroots movement. Enthusiasts brewed the drink at home until it made it into the domestic market in the mid-1990s.
Sam first encountered kombucha through her college roommate, who brewed it at home. But at the time, she said, “I was never brave enough to try it.”
Today, Sam is the creative mind behind many of Dark Side Fermenters’ exciting kombucha flavors. She comes up with new combinations with inspiration from sources like movies, myth and her favorite cuisines. Many of the flavors mimic those of alcoholic drinks, “kind of like a cocktail, but not alcoholic.”
“It was really fun when we decided to try it [making kombucha],” Sam said. “It’s a good medium for getting creative.”
Sam, who grew up on a cherry orchard and has connections with many local farmers, uses local produce to create new flavors.
“We were just seeing all this perfectly good produce that wasn’t getting used because there wasn’t a demand for it or it wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing,” Sam said. “We really focus on trying to use as much local produce as we can.”
Two new flavors make use of these sources. Rocket Summer, which features watermelon, pink peppercorn and ponderosa pine needles, is a popular summer refresher, as is Holy Hand Grenade, a blend made of carrots, ginger, lemon and za’atar.
Flavors like those are part of what makes Dark Side Fermenters’ offerings fun to drink. It sets them apart from kombucha brewers in health food stores, who focus more on the drink’s probiotic benefits.
Rather than marketing it as a health drink, the Averys make the tea a good alternative or addition to alcohol by playing with kombucha’s “dark side.” They’re bringing it into the social drinking scene and “encouraging people to go home and make a cocktail out of it,” Sam said.
“We’re doing kombucha differently,” she said.
You can try Dark Side Fermenters kombucha on tap at local breweries such as Kalispell Brewing Co. and Bias Brewing, or find it at the Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Whitefish farmers markets. For more information and a full list of locations, go to https://www.darksidefermenters.com/.