Kombucha. Maybe you’ve never heard of it. Maybe you’ve heard of it but aren’t sure what it is. Or maybe you’ve already stopped by the Nugget’s Raw Kombucha stand. You know—the one at the “top of the hill” at Saturday’s City Market, within smelling distance of the donuts? Nugget’s is available in several varieties–on tap, even–but this isn’t what you would get at your local brewpub. The stand and the people who staff it are as effervescent as their product and always willing to answer questions. Nugget’s is a labor of love for White Hall’s Peter Roderick and Kelsey Hickman.
The origin of the word kombucha is rather convoluted; though, as you might guess, it comes from eastern Asia. The drink itself is believed to have originated in northeastern China, before spreading to Russia and, eventually, to the U.S. Over the years, the drink has become incredibly popular in the States: in 2012, there was a 58.2 percent increase over sales in the same period one year prior, according to SPINS, a leading provider of syndicated market research. All of this was despite (because of?) a scandal in 2010, wherein a leading kombucha producer saw its bottles recalled; the percentage of alcohol in their product was allegedly too high.
If you shop at a natural-foods store or the corresponding section at the grocery store, you will notice that there actually several brands of kombucha out there—some mass-produced. According to Peter, he tried most of them but found that he wanted a different taste; so, to satisfy his palate, he decided to start brewing his own. And…how did he do that? Peter explains that he found a kombucha “starter” that had been “passed down for generations right here in Appalachia and started playin’.”
In 2009, after six months of experimenting, Peter came up with a brew that he liked and started sharing it with friends and family, several of whom were also disappointed with commercially-produced kombucha. Peter continued to refine his product, and his “client” base grew. In 2012, Peter was talking with Kelsey one day and said to her,“For some reason I kinda feel like putting myself through a whole bunch of headache, trouble, hassle and red tape to turn this thing into an actual business. What d’you think?”
“That’d be pretty freaking cool; let’s DO IT!” was Kelsey’s response.
From there, it became a matter of numbers. Up to that point, Peter had been brewing his kombucha in 10-gallon batches; they upped it to 20 at a time, then 100 after buying some new fermenters. Peter spent, by his estimate, 40-50 hours per week studying microbiology. The two of them spent about 20 hours per week brewing and bottling. Oh—and did I mention that Peter had a part-time day job and Kelsey was working full-time (plus) at Shenandoah Joe’s? In all, they figure that they were each working 80-90 hours a week. “Labor of love” indeed.
But clearly they do love it. As Peter says, “I think that we now have the best nonalcoholic Kombucha on the market. Period.” Go to the stand at the City Market and they are happy to give you samples of their homebrew. Currently they make six flavors—Original, Espresso, Gi-Mango-Mosa, Citra Hops, a seasonal brew (summer’s is Fresh Mint), Appalachian Harvest, and “The Ginger”. Nugget’s kombucha is “bottle-conditioned”, which means that they inject no CO2; the process produces that fizz all by itself.
What is the process for making kombucha? Though this can vary quite a bit from one brewer to the next, basically:
- Brew tea in a sizable container, adding sufficient sugar to start the fermentation
- Add a healthy SCOBY (Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast), as well as–hopefully–some starter tea from a previous batch.
- Cover the container with cheese cloth or other permeable covering
- Let it steep—anywhere from two days to a week or more
- One could then add flavor, if wanted and do a second ferment.
The result is a drink with “kick”. The aroma—and, to a lesser degree, taste—are sometimes described as “vinegary”. This may be due, in part, to the fact that the brewing process usually produces a tiny amount of alcohol about 0.5%) in the drink, so little that it is stilled classified as “non-alcoholic”. Many people enjoy the “zing” that the drink provides; local popsicle king James Rucker has even incorporated kombucha into one of his popsicles.
Kombucha has generated a good deal of excitement in the U.S. But even if you enjoy the taste, are there other reasons to drink kombucha? Says Peter:
I can tell you that Kombucha, in general, has been known for aiding in digestion and energy levels, cleansing the liver and kidneys, and alkalizing the body. I can also tell you from personal experience that I have more energy all day when I drink it, and my stomach feels better than without it.
Now, the $64,000 question: Why Nugget’s? Peter explains:
“Nugget” has been my nickname since I was about 11 or 12; many of my close friends have always used this name—more often than “Peter”. When it came time to choose a name for our product, we went through dozens of possibilities; “Nugget” was actually one of the first ideas we had. We tried really hard to come up with another name but kept coming back to Nugget’s Raw. Eventually we just called it a day and stuck with “Nugget’s”.
If you haven’t had any yet, why not give Nugget’s Raw Kombucha a try? In addition to the City Market, the product is available at a number of local stores and restaurants, including Integral Yoga Natural Foods, Milli Joe’s Coffee and Gelato, and the Shenandoah Joe on Preston Rd. See all of the locations and check out more info at http://nuggetsrawkombucha.com.
See the rest of Nuggets Raw Kombucha photo shoot with Fabian Productions HERE!