Road Tested || The Great PNW Kombucha Roundup
Did you think I'd forgotten, my dears? Oh no.
The kombucha scene has done nothing but proliferate since last I visited the Upper Left.
This time, I got an even wider sampling of its bounty, roping in beautiful booches from Bend, Bellingham, Seattle and, of course, Portland.
Would you like to meet them?
Throwing kombucha in an aluminum tallboy is a bold stylistic move. The beverage it contains is not so bold, thanks to alcohol-killing pasteurization. (If you like a headier booch, seek out Kombuchatown's 16oz. blue bottles.)
The Gold flavor, mixed with West African ginger ale (brewed on-site), is the biggest flavor of the bunch, with a zippy lemon undercurrent and a solid black tea base. Blueberry White is fruitier than I like, but the vibrant color won me over. And Green Jasmine shows the brewers' prowess by taming the tea's bitter perfume to the barest floral hint.
One of the best chai kombuchas I've ever come across is a labor of love by a father-daughter team. These are veteran kombucha enthusiasts who know the disappointment of purchasing a bottle that lacks that life-giving zing. They even put a "Pucker Meter" on each label, so you know exactly how much snap to expect.
While every batch of Oregonic Tonic boasts its own character, the chai is emphatically tea-forward, with an Ayurvedically ideal balance of spices. This newcomer to the Portland kombucha scene can be hard to find, but is eminently worth seeking out.
Two sips a day was all I could handle from this ridiculously potent brew. This kombucha lives up to the medieval mysticism of its branding--parchment-patterned labels flecked with runes, flavor names like Ouroboros and Męơdu, and a claim to "sense the intentions of the Invisible Alchemists within the Kombucha colony." (You gotta love these guys.)
I found this kombucha by accident at a little market on SE Clinton and 34th Street. The store owner couldn't even tell me where it came from...a little origin mystery that I surmise would make the brewers proud. But I can't tell you where to find it. The faeries tell me it's available at the Oregon Renaissance Fair.
The kids from Bend are taking over the streets. Throw a stick at Portland, and you'll hit a keg of Humm--I found it on tap at dance halls, pizza parlors, even gas stations.
The only thing stronger than Humm's marketing and branding is its commitment to promoting the small-time booch brewing community. Which is delightful. I only wish their booch weren't quite so kid-friendly--it lacks the funk that fuels my vibe.
Joe's Living Kombucha
The story alone would be enough to sell this booch--it's made by the parents of a little red-headed boy diagnosed with autism whose symptoms vastly improved when he started consuming kombucha. But despite being made with kids in mind, this booch is plenty mature. I liked the refreshingly sour, subtly funky lemonade flavor best.
Reunited, and it tastes so good. I first stumbled upon this impeccable champagney kombucha at a now-closed vegan bakery on NE Alberta Street, where they sold it by the glassful and told me it was all but impossible to find outside of its hometown of Olympia, Wa. They weren't lying. I spoke of it often, and wistfully, wherever I went; nobody had heard of it. And then, on a cloudy day last May, as Bryan and I made our first visit to Seattle's Central Co-Op, I suddenly felt a rumble in the force. Looking at him, I said, "I wonder if they'll have Magic Kombucha."
And. They. Did.
I get choked up whenever I try to talk about this booch. It's elegantly tart, ebulliently fizzy, and it tastes more alive than just about any kombucha I know.
SOMA kombucha is a truly fine brew, at once deep and drinkable. It also offers uncommonly conscientious flavors that you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else--kombuchas mixed with colloidal silver, green coffee beans, Korean jun, Tibetan crystals, things y'all ain't even know about.
But the best part about it is where you can drink it.
Within days of my return to Portland last month, no fewer than three people asked me if I'd visited the SOMA Speakeasy yet. So in the company of the lovely e.v., I made my way up to St. John and, once there, made my way down the stairs from N. John Avenue to a warm and fusty underground hidey-hole of raw foods, fermented potions, and eight kombucha taps operated on an honor system.
The beatnik spirit is born anew in SOMA Speakeasy's anteroom, equipped with floor cushions, Moroccan lamps, and a turntable flanked by stacks of vintage records. I could have hung for hours in that warm, windowless cave, shoeless and sipping like a gin mill cowboy, interviewing brains with my literary Sophie till I was all out of bread. (You dig?)
And now, say hello to my little (new) friend:
Ever since Seattle, my radar is nearly as hot for weird herbal sodas as it is for kombucha. At the People's Co-Op on SE 21st, a hand-drawn label reading "Turmeric Ale" caught my eye, and I brought it home, assuming it was some kind of riff on ginger beer.
Wasn't I wrong.
Wylie's is a little country concern brewing curious probiotic beverages from honey, herbs and roots. The foundation of their sodas is jun, a Korean culture that feeds solely off honey and green tea. (I hear that you're also supposed to play music to it and avoid swearing in its presence.)
Wylie's makes several beautiful jun brews, many based off American folk tonics--birch beer, ginger ale, kola, bee pollen soda. They also donate a portion of their proceeds to pollinator advocacy groups. This is a company, and a beverage, I'm going to be on the watch for.
Got the inside scoop on any of these folks? Know a PNW kombucha that we missed? Drop us a comment.