Kombucha: On Tap in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore.

Much like a draft beer is to its bottled brethren, consuming Kombucha from the tap is considered superior to those in the know. And, now Portlanders thirsting for a Kombucha fix can get it at the source.

Tucked in a row of activspaces (garage-like spaces rented to entrepreneurs and artists) between two bustling neighborhoods in Northwest Portland, Ore., Lion Heart Kombucha founders, Amanda and Jared Englund brew their healthful elixir, a zesty fermented tea chock full of probiotics, digestive enzymes, B vitamins and amino acids. This tangy drink is the result of a 14-28 day fermentation process that produces a yeasty cloud of nutrient-rich live cultures atop a base of oolong or green tea.

imageCustomer demand pushed the couple, who have 18 months of commercial brewing to their credit, into opening the diminutive Brew Room, as Amanda dubs it. Here, customers can walk in and fill a bottle of fresh, on-tap Kombucha, with seasonal flavors shifting from summer’s Watermelon to fall’s Pear Ginger or winter’s Chai. Getting it at source is more economical for the consumer, and for many of Lion Heart’s loyal customers, it’s a chance to hob-knob with the Englunds and learn the finer points of brewing.

A Successful Experiment

“It was sort of an experiment. We are modeling it [the brew room] after what other breweries do,” says Jared, who explains the practicality of the business move as well. “We killed two birds with one stone. We needed an office and a storefront. The brew room provides both in one stop while eliminating two middlemen.”

imageThe ‘brew room’ officially opened for business in late January, and the Englunds have welcomed a steady stream of Kombucha lovers to the cozy storefront populated by a cooler stocked with pints and half-gallons, two taps of seasonal Kombucha, and a small selection of home brewing essentials. A couple of tables and chairs fill out the 120-square foot space. Extra curious customers can take a couple steps to the west, and observe the brewing process next door.

The Brew Room doesn’t supplant the Englund’s robust distribution of bottled Kombucha. They sell to a wide range of grocery stores, tea shops and other retail locations in Oregon. They are keeping to a commitment to only sell to locally-owned retail operations.

A small operation, Lion Heart brews 50 gallons at a time for an average of 160 gallons per week, which keeps their product consistent, according to Jared. Kombucha is a finicky beverage, demanding a warm temperature, decent air circulation and uber-clean stainless steel fermenters.

Their product badge of honor is the use of local Oregon-grown ingredients whenever possible. Think Oregon strawberries, lavender, lemon balm, and pears and apples from Hood River. If it isn’t grown in Oregon – the tea that forms the base of all their Kombucha, for example — they get it from a local distributor. Five standard flavors make up their product mix — Pomegranate Love, Oregon Strawberry, Lavender Lemonade, Ginger Fizz and Hero’s Blend — mixed in with more than a dozen seasonal rotating flavors.

imageThe Englunds envision a sustainable and fair-minded future for Lion Heart. Aiming for “solid regional distribution” north to Seattle and south to California, they vow to keep growth modest yet healthy as to leave room for other small brewers to make a living at selling their beloved beverage. At the forefront of the industry, they acknowledge they are creating the rules and etiquette and take that responsibility seriously. They donate their time and expertise to budding Kombucha entrepreneurs and see competition big and small as widening the playing field for all. 

A bigger brew room is in their sights as well so they can offer more home-brewing supplies and add a few more taps.  Further down the road, they are envisioning a tap room, according to Amanda — a sit-down place for Kombucha lovers to expand their palates and taste what Oregon has to offer.

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