Morgantown’s first kombucha brewery opens downtown.
Businesses up and down the streets of Morgantown offer locals and visitors alike plentiful options to sit and sip on a variety of cold craft beers or refreshing regional wines.
Now, locally sourced kombucha can be added to their tap lists, thanks to business and real-life partners Carissa Herman and Andrew Rhodes.
Herman’s and Rhodes’ company, the Neighborhood Kombuchery, operates as a brewing facility in downtown Morgantown that is making draft kombucha readily accessible to thirsty patrons who are in search of a low-sugar, gluten-free alternative to soda, beer, or wine.
The beverage, which is chock full of probiotics and provides digestive and immune system support, is estimated to have originated in northeast China around 220 B.C. Its resurgence in recent years, though, coincides with the growing popularity of and demand for healthier food and drink options.
“Kombucha has rapidly been gaining steam as a beverage product in the national market over the past decade, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” says Herman. “I’d like to see it become a functional food that future generations of West Virginians grow up with.”
Herman and Rhodes first started exploring kombucha’s fermentation process with homebrew kits. “Kombucha can be intimidating for those who aren’t exactly sure what it is,” says Herman. “But kombucha making is really no more complex or mysterious than beer or wine making, although there are a few differences in the science, ingredients, and process.”
Rhodes, who serves as the kombuchery’s chief fermenter, says that kombucha starts out as sweet tea made by boiling water, steeping tea leaves, and adding sugar. Brewers then add kombucha from a previous batch to introduce SCOBY— symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast— and start the fermentation process. The brew sits for one to four weeks as the SCOBY eats the sugar. Herbs, spices, or fruits are incorporated for added flavor. It’s a Brewtiful Day in the Neighborhood Morgantown’s first kombucha brewery opens downtown.
As Herman and Rhodes tinkered with this craft, brewing and consuming kombucha became a routine part of their lifestyle. Soon, the couple began to notice that other cities across the country were offering the beverage on draft in their bars and grocery stores. “That’s when we thought, ‘Morgantown should have local kombucha on tap. Why doesn’t it?’” Herman explains.
The duo’s kombucha habit quickly took shape as a legitimate business venture when they decided to enter their idea into the West Virginia Collegiate Business Plan Competition, which is open to all college students across the state, for the chance to gain financial, legal, and strategic assistance.
Herman and Rhodes, who both work full-time, spent their nights and weekends turning their affinity for kombucha into a complete business plan, and they won. “The competition and resources that came with the win were a major factor in getting us off the ground,” says Herman. Not only did their business get the boost it needed to get up and running, but it’s also been met with a positive response from the community since its launch. In September, the Neighborhood Kombuchery celebrated its grand opening at the Handcrafted Cooperative Fall Market in Morgantown, selling out of kombucha in a matter of hours.
“My favorite part was talking to both kombucha skeptics and raving kombucha lovers,” says Herman. “More than once, we received comments like, ‘I’ve never liked kombucha before, but I like this.’” Herman hopes that more of those skeptics give the Neighborhood Kombuchery a chance to change their minds. “I will issue this warning,” says Herman. “If you try it, you might love it.”
For now, the public can purchase the Neighborhood Kombuchery’s creations on tap at local food and beverage businesses. In the future, Herman and Rhodes may expand their business into a taproom where customers can relax and enjoy their tangy concoctions.
“I’d like to see the Kombuchery grow for and with this community,” says Herman. “The intent in bringing the idea of this business to life was to enhance the quality of life for those around us. We want people to know they can make, grow, and live locally in a way that is good for them and good for West Virginia.” @kombuchaneighbor on Facebook
Written by Kaylyn Christopher
Photos courtesy of Neighborhood Kombuchery