A New Take on Tea
- photos by Anthony Jinson
Packed with probiotics, kombucha cocktails give drinkers a healthy buzz.
The funktastic fizzy drink kombucha has jumped from our grocer’s shelves into our cocktail glasses. And, I have to say, I’m ready to hand over my money.
“I wish there was a word for something that seems so simple but is really complex,” say Josh Wexler, owner of DrinKraft, a kombucha tasting cafe located in the North Village Arts District.
Maybe “deceptively simple” is what we’re looking for?
At its core, kombucha is fermented green or black tea, making the brew sound like it would be as mild as a fizzy evening chamomile. However, that idea dissolves with one sip — especially if you add gin or tequila.
The Drink for Everyone
These days, kombucha is seen in the hands of yoga moms, contractors, and law students. The few left with kombucha-avoidance may be skeptical of kombucha’s reputation of having an extremely tart, homebrew taste.
Josh makes the comparison between homebrewed beer and kombucha. If you’ve only had homebrewed beer, your experience as a beer drinker may come to an abbreviated end. The same goes with our probiotic-rich friend, kombucha.
Developing a taste for kombucha is similar to maturing a palette for alcohol. While you may start out drinking sugary punch at parties, you’ll eventually move onto, say, an oaky red wine.
When DrinKraft makes a carrot and ginger kombucha, there’s a lot of chopped carrot and ginger going into the vat. The solids are strained moments before packaging to give ingredients maximum hang time.
There’s no flavor rule book with kombucha. The vinegar-like drink will shift tastes from more tart to borderline sweet depending on fermenting time and ingredient volume.
A key difference between home and commercial kombucha brewing is the vetting processes. While a homebrewer may only rely on taste, commercial brewers like DrinKraft use a three-part vetting system that combines taste, a pH balance thermometer, and a refractometer. The three-part system helps to ensure consistent taste.
While you won’t get carded for kombucha because of the fermentation process, there is a small amount of alcohol present. In order to maintain all-age access, kombucha cannot surpass .5 percent alcohol content. Oh, and FYI — a fizzier kombucha will have a higher alcohol percentage.
A Shot of Tequila
Naturally high in antioxidants and good-for-your-gut probiotics, it seems almost counterintuitive to put a health drink like kombucha in a glass with infamous tequila. However, its inclusion is evidence to our culture’s shift towards a richer and more holistic lifestyle.
Nathan Todd, partner of Bleu Events and occasional hipster, approached Josh to use DrinKraft kombucha in the new Bleu concept, Pressed., a bar cultivating its own reputation for cocktail culture.
Pressed. uses DrinKraft’s elderberry and hibiscus kombucha in their signature Pampano cocktail. The drink combines kombucha, Milagro agave tequila, fresh citrus, and agave syrup.
Kelsey Parker, bar manager at Pressed., says the drink is hard to describe because of its complexity.
“You get quite a bit of the tequila flavor on your first sip. You’re going to say, ‘Oh wow, that’s definitely tequila,’” says Kelsey, “but as the tequila settles in with the flavor of the kombucha, it mellows out quite a bit. Starting on sip two, you’ll start getting the taste from the elderberry and the hibiscus and the fruitiness and the sweetness.”
The vibrant magenta kombucha is housed under the bar in an extra-large Mason jar. The surprise reveal gives the Pressed. guest a sense of exclusivity and curiosity, as if receiving a closely-guarded secret.
“Kombucha adds a little bit more fizz and a little bit more tartness,” says Kelsey.
The cocktail’s flexibility to switch out tequila for your preferred spirit without losing the kombucha’s core flavor makes the Pampano the perfect introductory kombucha cocktail.
You can transform any cocktail into a kombucha cocktail. Take a cosmopolitan, a classic and sweet cocktail with an often healthy booze presence. Kelsey makes her cosmos with orange liqueur, Absolut citron, triple sec, cranberry juice, and fresh lime. If Kelsey were to swap the cranberry juice for a cranberry kombucha, the drink would make even Carrie Bradshaw rethink her predilection for a traditional cosmo.
“Kombucha adds a lot of depth,” says Kelsey, “which is something you want in a craft cocktail, because it’s a full-flavor experience as opposed to chugging a gin and tonic down and ordering another one.”
While kombucha can play nice with any spirit, its best friend is gin. Gin’s versatile botanical varieties mix perfectly with kombucha’s undeniable earthbound flavors; bourbon or whiskey, by comparison, have a narrower flavor.
Shrubs, sweetened vinegar-based syrups, and drinking vinegars are introducing more fruit of the earth to the bar as well.
“A shrub is made from anything. It’s super simple. Take whatever — mango, jalapeño, peach, whatever — any fruit or vegetable,” says Kelsey, “and add a little bit of sugar, white vinegar, and then let it sit for 24 hours.”
Because of its ease to make, most cocktail culture bars create their own sweet vinegars. Both kombucha and shrubs give bars and their bartenders the ability to create a truly signature cocktail menu.
“It’s something to enjoy and savor, which is what we’re going for and what a lot of places are going for by incorporating kombucha into their cocktails,” says Kelsey.
All recipes make one
Pressed.’s Signature Pompano
1 1/2 ounces Milagro Silver tequila
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces DrinKraft elderberry and hibiscus kombucha
Add all the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with a lime or lemon wedge.
Pressed.’s Kombucha Negroni
1.4 ounces Tanqueray gin
1 ounce Campari aperitivo
1 ounce DrinKraft elderberry and hibiscus kombucha
Add all the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel.