Huckleberry-Mint, Cherry-Cinnamon-Cayenne, cool Strawberry Rhubarb, and more

Story & photo by Lido Vizzutti 
Bring up kombucha among friends, and you’ll likely receive unwavering and tenacious reactions: from snarled faces to smiles, from tirades of disgust to soliloquies on mind, body and spirit.

While the ancient, fizzy, acidic drink has origins dating back centuries, its impact in the modern beverage world is only now being tapped with explorations in flavor combinations, barrel aging, kombucha beer and cocktail or mocktail concoctions.

Enter Rebekah Alcott, founder, and Aaron Roberts, co-owner, of Canvas Kombucha Brewing Co., who are diving into all of the above with an artistic and eclectic assembly of kombucha.

Flavor availability — including Huckleberry-Mint, Cherry-Cinnamon-Cayenne, cool Strawberry Rhubarb to spicy Meyer Lemon-Ginger and hearty Cardamom Spiced Apple — is dictated by season, freshness and the ability to get high-quality, organic and local ingredients.

Depending on the fermentation and the balance of additional components, the profile of kombucha can swing between smooth, fruity and sweet to mouth-tingling vinegar.

“Ours is definitely more mellow,” Roberts said. “It’s more palatable to everybody.”

“We do a lot of spicy flavors, which you don’t see a lot in kombucha places,” he added.
Creating delectable drams of kombucha is already a challenge in balancing flavor with the science of symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), but Roberts is expanding Canvas’ portfolio even further with barrel aging and kombucha beer.

“We get barrels from (Glacier Distilling Company). Our first was of their Wheatfish Whiskey,” said Roberts, describing how aging and resting kombucha in oak barrels infuses it with a sweet, whiskey, oaky flavor.

Roberts uses Glacier’s Oro y Plata barrels — a spirit distilled from agave and finished in oak barrels — to create his “Champagne Drip.” The result is a singular, caramel, roasted, tea flavor with subtle agave, whiskey, vanilla and oak, wrapped inside an effervescent, buttery mouthfeel. A kind of buttery champagne, as described by H.A. Brewing’s Chris Neil.

Although similar to brewing a kombucha tea, kombucha beer is tricky. Due to the bacterial elements, kombucha ferments warmer. Kombucha can only ferment simple sugars, whereas the malt-sugar solution for beer contains some complex sugars.

“Beer likes CO2 and it hates oxygen during fermentation,” Roberts said. “Kombucha is the opposite. It loves oxygen and doesn’t like C02. It needs a certain parts per million oxygen count to get the correct fermentation going.”

Utilizing citrusy hops and some proprietary techniques to overcome the biological issues in brewing kombucha beer, Roberts invented what they call an IPK (India Pale Kombucha). The Kombucha beer — both in its alcoholic (8.8% ABV) and nonalcoholic form — drinks more like a hoppy, complex cider with little vinegar taste.

On the mixology front, Alcott, a former bartender at the Red Room in Whitefish, is highly versed in using kombucha as a mixer.

“Kombucha is one of the most versatile cocktail mixers of its kind,” Alcott said. “Professional bartenders and mixologists pride themselves on creating something new through recreating old classics, which can make kombucha a bartender’s secret weapon.”

The Red Room, in the basement of Latitude 48, continues to offer a rotating Canvas Kombucha creation chosen by the bartender as the night’s cocktail special.

Canvas Kombucha is currently waiting on its brewer’s license, so it currently can’t sell alcoholic beverages, but people can taste upon request.

What is Kombucha? 

Kombucha is a fermented and sweetened tea often made with black or green tea. A symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) is added to a solution of tea and sugar and left to ferment. Yeast consumes the sugars (and tea components) to create Co2 and ethanol. The bacteria then consumes the ethanol and converts it to acetic acid, among others.

Recipe: Mint Huckle-Bear (CBC Creation) 

    • 2 oz Spotted Bear Spirits Vodka
    • 3.5 oz CKBC Wild Montana Huckleberry-Mint Kombucha
    • Top with 1 Tbsp. frozen huckleberries

Stir vodka and kombucha with ice; add frozen huckleberries.

Recipe: CKBC Margarita

    • 2.5 oz “Champagne Drop” kombucha (a kombuch abarrel aged in Glacier Distilling Company’s Oro y Plata barrels)
    • 1 oz. Burning Mango kombucha (mango, habanero, tangerine)
    • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Begin with an iced glass rimmed with salt. In a separate glass, stir kombucha and lime juice and pour into iced glass. Garnish with a large slice of orange and a dash of fresh-grated cinnamon.

Where to get it

Canvas Kombucha’s tasting room and retail store is moving downtown this summer to 325 Central Ave., where it will have an expanded menu. It will remain in its Whitefish Mountain Mall location until the move. For a list of purchase locations and flavors on tap visit www.canvaskombucha.com or call 406-212-6910.