Kombucha: It's that fizzy, slightly sour drink you see as a beer alternative in breweries, in the health-food section of the grocery store, and at just about any wellness-driven cafe or restaurant. Some doubters think that kombucha is only for yoga instructors and hippies, yet the drink has become so popular that it's not unusual to hear of people brewing up their own at home to offset the cost of guzzling buckets of it. Made with fermented tea, kombucha has a taste that ranges between sour beer (minus the booze), tart candy and unsweetened soda, and it can come in just about any flavor under the sun, with caffeine or without.
Here are places in metro Denver that make it, sell it and let you try it.
American Cultures Kombucha Taproom
3233 Tejon Street
Danielle and Noah Brooks started their Denver-based company in 2015, after getting the idea while whipping up ice cream and kombucha sundaes for their three sons. The dessert proved so popular that the couple bought a 1948 International Harvester and turned it into a food truck serving Happy Leaf Kombucha on tap and locally made ice cream at events across the Front Range. After that took off, the Brookses opened the American Cultures Kombucha Taproom in Highland, where they could showcase such brands as Happy Leaf, Rowdy Mermaid, Cliffhouse and Upstart. In keeping with what got them started down this road, they still offer kombucha floats made with ice cream from Arvada's Scrumptious and the Baker neighborhood's Sweet Action Ice Cream.
909 Walnut Street, Boulder
It's not every restaurant that brews its own kombucha, but Arcana is not just any restaurant. Bartender Gabe Oliver-Kose loves fermenting things, and he'd been making kombucha off and on for years when Arcana opened in 2016. He started making ginger kombucha for the restaurant and included Gabe's Brunch Booch, a kombucha beverage laced with amontillado sherry and a sprig of mint, on the original brunch cocktail menu. "I thought it would be fun to do a brunch cocktail, and I had heard of people doing it before with ’bucha, but pretty irregularly," Oliver-Kose says. "I also wanted a low-alcohol cocktail so you could enjoy the kombucha without ruining the probiotics."
You don't need to hit Arcana to try Oliver-Kose's concoctions, though. He makes a fermented ginger beer, OliKo Ginger Beer, that are available at such spots as Hop Alley in RiNo, Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen in Five Points, and shops around town.
P.O. Box 233, Jamestown
Using fair-trade organic sugar and teas from India, Sri Lanka, Africa and Guatemala, this Jamestown venture makes kombucha that not only tastes good, but can make you feel good about sipping it. Since 1985, Rüdiger Schmidt has been making kombucha, using his German mother's culture and recipe. He started out in Guatemala, where he met his wife, Kate Dobbertin; in the late 1990s, they came to Colorado, where he built a cliff house for his son, Julien.
As for his kombucha, it really took off in 2005 when the Jamestown Mercantile Co. Cafe started carrying the stuff. Since then, the tiny company has grown into a successful family business; Schmidt and Dobbertin make small-batch kombucha in a commercial kitchen in their home using water sourced from the upper St. Vrain River, along with organic ingredients such as ginger, peach, turmeric root and hibiscus flowers. Because Cliffhouse Kombucha is so small, you won't find its products everywhere, but you can try it at the Mercury Cafe, Nooch Vegan Market, American Cultures, and School House Kitchen and Libation in Arvada.
Happy Leaf Kombucha
5700 West 25th Avenue, Edgewater
Of all the locally made kombucha, Happy Leaf is the one you see around the most. Bottles of it show up in both grocery stores and fast-casual joints; breweries and bars often have it on tap. The popular company got its start in 2013, when founders Jenni Lyons and Mike Burns decided to take their kombucha to the Cherry Creek Farmers' Market, where it's still sold today; it's in eight other markets, as well. Lyons started making kombucha because she thought fermentation was fascinating and there weren't many kombucha options at her local store. Eventually she showed Burns how to make the stuff, and Happy Leaf was born. The Edgewater taproom is the perfect place to try all the flavors, including cranberry lavender, grapefruit citra, orange basil and hibiscus lemon ginger. Happy Leaf has also started canning those flavors.
A Type 1 diabetic, Becca Schepps looked hard for a low-sugar, fresh-tasting and flavorful drink. The moment she tasted kombucha, she knew she'd found the solution. She was soon brewing it, and in August 2017, Schepps started Mortal Kombucha, a Boulder-based company. The name reflects the fact that the beverage is alive; as the website states, "Take care of it and it will take care of you." The winning flavors include hibiscus, apple-ginger spice, sour ginger, blackberry-sage and Marge Simpson, with lemon, orange and salt. Find Mortal Kombucha online, at most Lucky markets and the Highland Square Farmers' Market, Biju's Little Curry Shop in RiNo, Cured in Boulder, Nooch Vegan Market in the Baker neighborhood and a handful of other shops in the metro area.
Nixon's Coffee House
Four metro locations
Though it's become normal to see bottles of kombucha for sale at a coffee shop, being greeted by seventeen taps of the stuff isn't as common. At the Washington Park location of Nixon's Coffee House, Brad Nixon offers seventeen examples of kombucha from across the state, including Elevated Elixirs out of Aspen; Turtle Mountain Fermentery and Soham Kombucha, both from Fort Collins; and Mortal Kombucha, to name a few. Order a cup of the ’bucha or a tasting flight, a great way to test new flavors and makers. "We are excited for kombucha on tap," says Nixon. "The Denver market is great for brewers in general, and kombucha is one of those things."
Nixon opened the Wash Park location of his coffee shop in 2016 and decided to make kombucha a feature there about a year later. He sells kombucha at two of his other locations, in Englewood and Littleton, though not to the extent that he does at the Denver spot. "I drink coffee in the morning and kombucha in the afternoon," says the owner. "It's a vitamin pack and a probiotic, so it's good for your gut and stuff, and some really gets you going because it's packed with vitamin B."
2416 30th Street, Boulder
Rowdy Mermaid boasts that there's "Colorado snowmelt" in each bottle of its organic kombucha, and that's a legit claim, given where the Boulder-based company's water comes from. Jamba Dunn created the drink in an effort to please his three-year-old daughter; what got started in a garage became a commercial venture in 2013. The initial idea, says Dunn, was to make a kombucha that was less vinegary, less sweet, and that featured plenty of local herbs and flavors. And the name? That came from a trip to the hot springs when Dunn told his daughter she was being a "rowdy mermaid."
Today Rowdy Mermaid churns out six flavors, including alpine lavender with elderflower, savory peach with thyme, and strawberry tonic with chicory, hibiscus and dandelion root. Each batch is made small and follows the season. The caffeine-free tea used to spike the beverage comes from a small farm in Bangladesh, and all production is done using wind power. Taste it at the Rayback Collective, 2775 Valmont Road in Boulder, or find it at there... in LoHi, Aloy Modern Thai downtown, The Preservery in RiNo, Blackbelly in Boulder, and many more locations.
10047 Park Meadows Drive, Lone Tree
This "kombrewery" got its start in April 2016, when Marc Gaudreault was making kombucha at home as a gut-health aid that also helped curb his sugar and alcohol intake; he found making the beverage proved a great stress reliever from his corporate job, too. One day his neighbors (now silent partners of Trubucha) tried the kombucha and were hooked, inspiring Marc and his wife, Oksana, to found Trubacha.
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Today the non-pasteurized, non-GMO drink is available in nineteen flavors; it can be found on tap at about fifty spots, including Zuni Street Brewing, Teatulia Organic Tea Bar and Declaration Brewing Company, as well as at sixteen farmers' markets. At the Lone Tree taproom, you can not only find all the flavors, but mix and match your kombucha as you see fit...a unique treat.
3095 Sterling Circle, Boulder
Founded in 2011 by Caleb Hanson and Brian McKinney, this Boulder kombucha company now runs a taproom and 5,000-square-foot brewery that supplies outposts in nine states. It didn't start out this big, though. The two men met while working in tech and used to run together most mornings. Despite the common notion that kombucha is a "hippie-dippie drink," the pair would down bottles of the stuff to recover from their run. Slowly they began noticing that their drink of choice wasn't unusual; many project managers, engineers and other professionals had a bottle on their desks. So they decided to make their own version that's not too sweet or tangy, something you could drink like soda but with the goodness of kombucha.
McKinney and Hanson began taking their home-brewed kombucha to friends' parties, shops and restaurants; by 2014 it had gotten enough of a following to allow them to take the company commercial. Now you can stop by the taproom and try one of five kombuchas, including mint green, rosebud, lemon ginger, berry black and chai spice made with Sherpa Chai. Upstart is also found at the Pig Train coffee shop in Union Station, City, O' City in Capitol Hill, Salt in Boulder, and many other establishments around the state.