The craft beer industry isn’t the only thing brewing these days.
One afternoon in the fall of 2012, Townes Mozer decided to try a new method to get the word out about his Charlotte, N.C.-brewed kombucha tea. He packed kegs of the effervescent drink and took them to Oktoberfest, a beer-centric festival held north of the city.
Tucked in a tent among craft beer breweries from around the state, Mozer filled glasses of his own chilled, non-alcoholic, small-batch brew and answered questions about his company, which is named after his dog Lenny Boy. Earlier that year, Mozer had opened a taproom in his South Charlotte microbrewery where people could spend Sunday afternoons enjoying the sweetened, fermented tea from the tap or they could fill growlers of the drink to take home. To the festival’s craft beer drinkers, the setup sounded familiar. “We’re offering a craft-brewed and fermented beverage,” says Mozer. “We have the same kind of mindset as these beer brewers.”
Kombucha teas, which are created from a culture of bacteria and yeast and often are called mushroom teas, have origins that have been traced back thousands of years to the East (China and Japan), and Europe during the turn of the 20th century. The organic drink, however, haas become popular only in the last decade. Devotees to kombucha, which contains B vitamins and often probiotics (depending on its pasteurization), profess the drink aids with everything from weight loss to liver function. But its relative newness to the market means that few tests or trials exist to substantiate those claims.
That, however, has not limited its popularity. With Hollywood celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry touting its benefits, large companies like Red Bull and Celestial Seasonings jumped on the trend in the early 2000s. They and others began distributing their brands in a variety of flavors, and large national stores such as Whole Foods Market stocked their shelves with the concoction.
Recently, kombucha, like much of the food and drink industry, has taken a locally focused turn. Devotees of the brew have begun to look to smaller, regional spots for craft versions of the organic drink. “We sell more in one Sunday afternoon in our taproom than we do outside of Charlotte in a week,” says Mozer, whose Lenny Boy brew can be found in Whole Foods stores and other grocery stores around the state of North Carolina. “At this point, I’m more interested in diversifying our selection than expanding regionally because so much of our support is local.”