When it comes to fermented beverages, beer and wine aren’t the only game in town: Artisan kombucha is being brewed up by area purveyors — namely Peter Donovan and Tyler Beerman — eager to spread the fizzy gospel. Kombucha is an effervescent elixir made from an ancient recipe of sweetened tea fermented in a process that’s known by the unfortunate acronym SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). It has gained fame in recent years for its purported health benefits, which include detoxification; improved digestion, joint health, and immune system function; and even cancer prevention. Refreshing and B-vitamin packed, it also delivers a buzz — just not the one you’re used to with booze.
Donovan, aka the Kombucha Guy, has been making mixtures for more than 12 years. He started when he was living and working as an actor in L.A.: “Everything that I wanted and that I was taking separate supplements for — antioxidants, polyphenols — I realized that I could get it in one product. It was way less expensive, and I could make it myself.”
He moved to Ojai and starting selling it label-free in mason jars. But when he relocated to Santa Barbara two years ago, Donovan decided to get serious. He formed his company — Liquid Chi Kombucha — swapped the mason jars for proper bottles (with labels and everything), and scored some commercial kitchen space. His kombucha is sold at various locations around town, but you might know him best from his squatter spot on Santa Barbara Street, where he sits with his cooler just outside the Saturday Farmers’ Market. He digs chatting with people and hopes to be allowed into the market soon. But mostly, he just loves turning people on to kombucha’s many benefits — he even offers classes, teaching DIY-ers how to brew their own.
Beerman’s path to kombucha was a little more dramatic. When his life was upended after a car accident that left him hospitalized, incapacitated, and suffering from mild brain damage, he found that one of the only things he could control was what he put into his body.
His girlfriend spotted a bottle of kombucha at the grocery store. “It had all these words on it, you know, health, vitality, energy, antioxidants, probiotics, enzymes,” all those tempting buzzwords, he explained. “So I tried it. The first sip was okay, but by the second bottle, I was loving it.”
He returned to his corporate job but found the environment wasn’t terribly conducive to good health — as is the case in so many offices, there was no fresh air, and the snacks consisted of sodas and junk food. Ultimately, he quit the gig, quit drinking alcohol, and decided to make kombucha for a living. And together with once and future biz partner James Gillmore (the two ran a web development operation in college), he launched Conscious Kombucha out of Goodland Kitchen’s community kitchen.
Rather than focusing on selling individual bottles (although for now, they are bottling a small amount for sale at the Goodland Kitchen only), they are selling Conscious Kombucha in kegs (with a name like Beerman …) to corporate offices, bars, and restaurants. “Some people go into a bar and can’t drink; maybe they’re on medication, or they’re in a sober period,” Beerman said, noting that their first retail keg was tapped last week at Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro. “And in a corporate environment, it’s nice to provide a healthy, all-natural alternative to sodas” — not to mention a little boost in brainpower, come, say, 3 in the afternoon.
Liquid Chi Kombucha is sold at various locations around town and is available via delivery. For info, visit liquidchikombucha.com. For info about Conscious Kombucha, call (805) 886-5929 or visit consciouskombucha.com. Meet Donovan and Beerman — and try their brews — at this weekend’s Fermentation Festival.