Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Real People Wednesdays: Meet Nate Uri of Prohibition Kombucha

Happy Wednesday readers!

I met Nate while exploring the local treats at the last North Coast Nosh. I was skeptical about trying his kombuchas because I often find them a bit overly sweet and sour but I decided to be optimistic and took a sample. I can't describe how happy I was that I decided to bite the buillet and give it a try. It was like nothing I have ever tasted before- it was elegant, smooth, and extremely balanced. He had explained to me that he takes pride in the way he creates his kombucha. He focuses on creating a graceful tea forward product. The balance comes from his attention to detail and sharp pallette. Ever since that night I have gone out of my way to get my hands on his kombucha. I really like that it's available on tap and that it has a lower sugar content than most other bottles kombuchas. Prohibition Kombucha is available at local co-ops and groceries, along with at the Verdant Tea House on Franklin. After reading this I would have a hard time not wanting to run out and grab a bottle myself and I hope you all feel the same!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and how it all started.

I had been working in Tech for many years and desperately wanted out. I mean, it pays really well, but being strapped to a computer 10 hours a day producing something I couldn't touch with my own 5 senses became really unfulfilling.

I've been cooking since I was four years old growing up in Tokyo, and got really serious about it when I moved back to the U.S. in late 1992. Having also had the incredible fortune of being exposed to high end cuisine & wine in Europe and the cheapest, greasiest, street food all over Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand, I've simply always been curious how to make everything myself and to share that knowledge and experience with others.

I've worked as a wine taster, commercial brewer (won a GABF Gold Medal ahem-ahem), food educator, and a TV cooking show host for Fired Up Food on Outside TV. I also have my own craptacular internet cooking show called Hot Date With Nate .

With Prohibition Kombucha I finally discovered a chance to combine everything I've learned into one really great project - and that I could make a real difference. The Twin Cities had never been exposed to this kind of Kombucha, served on tap in grocery stores and cafés, and certainly nothing that tasted like this.

I'd been friends with David Duckler of Verdant Tea for a couple of years and he was very intrigued by the idea of a totally different Kombucha. He'd taught me so much about Chinese tea - culturally, technically, and aesthetically, and it was a natural fit that we work together given the incredible Kombuchas that Verdant's teas can make. We partnered on the project and started producing and serving it at Verdant Tea last year and haven't looked back.

2. What is kombucha and it’s process?

Kombucha is a living, fermented tea-based tonic. There's a starter culture, similar to great Belgian beers, and sweetened tea is turned into Kombucha over a period of anywhere from 7 days to 6 months.

The process is surprisingly simple. Take cooled, sweetened tea and combine it with "extra-ripe" Kombucha from your last batch.

The art and craft lies in what teas you use, how much starter sugar, and how you ferment and age your Kombucha.

3. What inspires your kombucha?

I was living in Portland, Oregon - home of some of the best Craft Beer, Cocktails, and unreal Wines in the U.S. when I ironically decided to take an extended break from alcohol. What I missed more than anything were the flavors, textures, aromas, and aesthetic experience of drinking alcoholic beverages.

I'd "stooped" to trying Kombucha at Townshend Tea Company where they serve their Brew Dr. Kombucha fresh on tap. It was nothing short of a shocking experience. My shock was not only how much it didn't suck, but actually how complex and interesting it was. That was when I decided to bust out the SCOBY my friend had sent along with me and start brewing Kombucha.

My friend and partner, David Duckler is the owner Verdant Tea in Seward, Minneapolis. The tea he direct imports from small family farms had many wine-like aromas, beer-like maltiness, and the luscious silky texture of perfect cocktails. I was curious to see what would happen if I made Kombucha out of the world's best tea, and Prohibition Kombucha is the result.

It drinks far more like a sparkling wine or cocktail than a health drink, and that's exactly our guiding principle.

4. We have been seeing an increase kombucha brands, What makes your kombucha unique?

While most Kombuchas are focused on Health & Wellness - selling a tonic intended for detoxification and probiotic supplementation, we're focused on using Kombucha as a framework and process to explore flavor, texture, and aroma.

Kombucha can be like fine wine or a killer cocktail when you apply brewing and winemaking techniques and only use 20-foot truckloads of the finest ingredients available. 

We are passionate about making something that tastes and feels amazing and we spare no expense in sourcing inputs.

The fact that Prohibition Kombucha is still a traditionally-made Kombucha and has less sugar than most other brands on the market are actually just delightful coincidences.

5. Could you share with us some of the benefits in drinking fermented teas?

It largely depends on the Kombucha you are drinking. If you're looking for a probiotic supplement, check the back of the bottle or call the company and ask what strains of yeast and bacteria are alive and kicking in the bottled product.

If you're looking for a detox supplement, find the lowest sugar, longest aged product. It's going to be sour, funky, and dry but it'll have the acids that are purported to support detoxification.

The honest truth is, there is no established scientific evidence that Kombucha itself has a measurable and significant effect on health. Meaning, the jury is still way out.

What I can tell with absolutely certainty is that tea is extremely healthy. Tea is chock full of antioxidants and amino acids that both activate and calm your nervous system (caffeine + l-theanine) and keep inflammation, obesity, and even cancer at bay. But that's only from the tea. Further, it's been established that fresher, higher quality teas grown on healthy soil in pristine environments have far higher levels of antioxidants, amino acids, and alkaloids. 

The other certifiable health benefit is the same as using vinegar and citrus in your cooking: combining acidic foods and beverages with your meal can significantly reduce the glycemic load of your meal - which has been shown to slow down nutrient and caloric absorption keeping you more full and less fat.

And, if the Kombucha you are drinking is unfiltered and cloudy, it will have a lot of B-vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, and copper from the yeast and bacteria cells in suspension. So, it's a kind of a multivitamin!

6. Where do you get the tea?

All our teas are from Verdant Tea, sourced directly from the families that farm, forage, and process the tea. Most of these plots are 10-15 acre farms or private forests and are far away from the disruptive pollution of large cities.

If you'd like to know more about the teas we use, just take a gander at and you'll probably learn far more than you wanted to about the teas that we use at Prohibition.

7. How does the kombucha process work?

After the fresh, cooled sweetened tea has been combined with the extra-sour, active Kombucha, it's left to sit in a dark spot with a breathable cover so the bacteria inside can do their work.

Basically, the yeasts eat the sugar to produce alcohol and flavor compounds. Some of the bacteria use the alcohol to make acetic and other acids. Some of the other bacteria use the sugar directly to make all kinds of other acids and the "mother" that you see on top which is actually and edible cellulose generally known as "nata de coco". 

That said, each Kombucha has a different set of Yeasts and Bacteria in their product, and so each product has different production needs. I can't stress how different each Kombucha is. Some have 20+ species of organisms and others 1 or 2.

After it's fermented, it can be further aged or kegged/bottled either plain or with botanical or juice additions for flavors. Then it can be re-fermented again or simply poured down your thirsty throat! 

8. I have noticed you have started to sell bottled versions of your tea, was that hard to accomplish? Is any of the nutrition sacrificed when bottle the product?

Oh yes, it's been difficult! It's been mostly an economic issue. When we started Prohibition Kombucha, the main idea was to only sell kegged kombucha on tap as a bulk product in grocery stores and in cafés, bars, and restaurants.

You'd be shocked how expensive bottles, labels, processing, and shipping are, and we put all that money into the ingredients and brewing process instead. Optimizing our production so as to not sacrifice quality while cutting costs so we can afford to bottle has been a worthy challenge.

As we've grown and learned more, we've found solutions for these problems so we could respond to the overwhelming demand for a bottled product.

The great news is that the product in the bottle is exactly the same quality as the product in the keg. We bottle it under pressure and package it in amber glass so that light won't destroy the fragile nutrients and antioxidants in the tea. 

The only downside is that the bottles are a bit more expensive.

9. How long has your product been on the market and what interesting marketing tools have you used to get your kombucha out to the public?

We started selling it just about 1 year ago at Verdant Tea in September 2013. We used Twitter and Facebook a lot to get the initial word out and to tell people about special flavors, promotions, and cool things like Kombucha Floats.

Verdant Tea, where Prohibition is produced, has also been host to amazing other companies like Sweet Science Ice Cream, Real Deal Chocolate, and the iconic Birchwood Café. We've gotten a lot of cross-promotion from sharing a space and having events together.  Awesome blogs like Heavy Table (and PRT Living!) and the massive crowds at North Coast Nosh have all been key in getting the word out.But, the real secret is old-fashioned word of mouth from happy customers.

10. What is the ultimate goal for your tea and what do you think is next for Prohibition?

Our ultimate goal is show people that Prohibition Kombucha is a beautiful, complex, and tasty beverage - that it's something worth drinking on its own merits, not just as a soda substitute or a health supplement.

We've got a lot of new flavors and some really amazing (even hilarious) products coming down the pipeline. But, we first hope to see our Kombucha in more chill chests around the Twin Cities and at killer bars starring in cocktails.

11. Is there anything else readers should know about Prohibition?

We're hedonists. You should really add great alcohol to our Kombucha and serve it with homemade, local food with your favorite people. We firmly believe eating and drinking well, relaxing, and living a pleasurable life are crucial to leading a healthy life.

Some Rough Cocktail Suggestions:

Pink Robot + London Dry Gin (Miller's is great) + Grapefruit Peel = WTF Delicious. 

White Elephant + Cognac + Sweet Science Vanilla Ice Cream + Cocoa = Bitters = Jaw Dropping Adult Milkshake.

Ginger Vesper + Reposado Tequila + Orange Bitters + Simple Syrup = Dry Verano Old Fashioned.

Mix of any of our Kombuchas 50-50 with a light beer (like Lucid Air and Goslar) for a stunning Radler/Shandy. You can keep drinking them all day since they're low enough ABV, but they won't weigh you down because there's so little sugar.
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