Upstart Kombucha, Boulder
Those who make their own compost from chicken manure and also brew their own beer are very likely to also drink kombucha. For this reason, I was excited but not at all surprised when Andrew wanted us to visit Upstart Kombucha to prepare for out Great Boulder Beer Tour.
Upstart Kombucha is located in an industrial area close to downtown Boulder amid many small breweries and other local businesses. The three dedicated guys involved – Caleb Hanson, Josh Garner, and Brian McKinney – each come with different skills and backgrounds, but during our visit they demonstrated how well they have come together to produce their product.
One co-founder, Josh Garner, comes with experience producing both kombucha and craft beer in the Portland area. He has developed the recipes for Upstart’s four varieties.
So, what is kombucha? I have never discussed it here on ABV, and while many of you probably drink it regularly, it is a pretty fascinating beverage.
Kombucha, historically consumed in areas of China and Russia, is a fermented drink made from tea, bacteria, yeast, sweetener, and additional flavors. It is created by the wizarding forces of yeast and bacteria living in partnership. This magical sludge is referred to as a SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
The bacteria is part of the acetobacter family and the yeast varies; saccharomyces, or Brettanomyces are suitable candidates, as well as others. The bacteria and yeast form a floating island of fermentation, multiply rapidly, and also produce an impressive amount of cellulose. If all this microbial talk grosses you out (come on! It’s cool!), the commercial product produced at Upstart comes filtered, so it will be floaty-free.
Upstart Kombucha is unique not only in their filtration system but also in their ingredients and brewing practice.
According to Josh, one unique part of the Upstart process is that each variety is brewed different from start to finish. Whereas many kombucha producers will create one base beverage and add flavoring, Josh maximizes flavor by putting ingredients into the kettle – ginger, berries, herbs.
Also setting them apart from other producers is their focus on flavor. This may seem like a no-brainer, but kombucha is claimed by many drinkers to have significant health benefits (research is inconclusive) and is sometimes used primarily for that purpose.
My favorite was the Herbal Green with a refreshing tartness that mingled with the peppermint and rosemary. There is a very delicate balance of tart and sweet and these guys have nailed it. You’ll find no off-putting vinegar flavor or artificially sweet notes. It is more light, crisp, and refreshing than any other kombucha I have tried.
Andrew liked the Berry Black which is produced with cherries, blueberries, and currants. It also incorporates rooibos, a member of the legume family used in many of my favorite teas.
The Rosebud is quite complex and very enjoyable, made with white tea. And for those who enjoy citrus, try the Lemon Ginger. The gains of paradise and bright lemon are reminiscent of a Belgian witte.
Upstart Kombucha is currently distributed throughout Boulder, Vail, Longmont, and Denver. Their blossoming operation is growing and I hope to see them available in more areas while still keeping their friendly, crafty vibe.
When it comes to Minneapolis, Josh is a fan – at least of the skyways. So maybe he’ll throw some kombucha our way in the future.