When most of us hear the word ‘brewery’, we bring to mind images and smells of cereal grains soaking in hot water, wort boiling, or even a large stainless steel fermenter happily bubbling away. And we wouldn’t be wrong, but there is a new kid in town to help broaden that mental image.
Happy Leaf Kombucha (3519 Brighton Blvd) is a new brewery in the oh-so-popular River North area, home to a bazillion breweries and The Source. But they brew kombucha instead of beer or spirits. Let’s start simple: kombucha is, essentially, strong tea that gets fermented by a SCOBY into a tangy sweet/sour slightly carbonated beverage that is often flavored. A SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) is a strange little puck-thing that looks an awful lot like something your blind great aunt makes for Thanksgiving: squishy/firm, gelatinous, pale-yellow, and smells sort of earthy/vinegary. Its this SCOBY that provides all the lovely pro-biotics that makes it so good for you!
Beer and kombucha are like cousins, from opposite ends of the country. They both begin life as a hot sugary base liquid. In beer, this is called wort. In kombucha, its called sweet tea base. Both are fermented, beer with (probably) Brewer’s Yeast and kombucha with the SCOBY, which is actually primarily lactobacillus and various yeasts. If you enjoy sour beer, your ears might have just perked up there because lactobacillus is one of the common souring agents for beers, hence the tart flavor of kombucha. Among the main differences between these drinks is the alcohol content. Obviously, beer has it and we like it that way. Conversely, kombucha has only a very small amount (normally less than 1%) because while yeast is present, it isn’t the main fermentation agent (the lactobacillus does the heavy lifting).
These similarities have not been lost on founders Mike and Jenny. Mike has a long history of working in the (beer) brewing world, with credits like Twisted Pine Brewery under his belt and Jenny is a health coach and holistic nutritionist. Together, they found a love of kombucha and started to brew it for themselves. Eventually, they started to sell their products at farmers markets… and they’ve only grown since then. They’ve even brought friend and co-conspirator, Trot, along for the ride. It all culminated in the opening of the Happy Leaf tap room, which has the distinction of being one of only four kombucha tap rooms across the entire United States. And while the space is presently somewhat modest, with 5 flavors of kombucha on tap, few chairs and lots of echos, will someday soon host 10 taps of kombucha, a kitchen inside, a juice bar, and eventually other fermented beverages. They are also considering offering yoga and a conference space too so that they may function more as a community than a simple tap room.
Happy Leaf is open 7 days a week for your kombucha needs. They have ‘buch (like the cool kids say) by the cup or growler, either 32- or 64-ounce, at the tap room. They can also be found on tap at other locations around town, such as Mountain Toad Brewing or in collaboration with Crooked Stave, as well as in sealed bottles in about 17 stores. Stop by next time you’re checking out The Source, make your mouth and belly happy.