How Kombucha is Gaining Ground as a Viable Enterprise

The beverage is staking its claim as the Front Range's 'other' craft brew

Colorado’s passion for brewing is well documented, as evidenced by its No. 3 ranking among all states for number of craft breweries. And that passion isn’t limited to beer. Kombucha, a fizzy, fermented tea reputed to improve gut health, is gaining ground as a viable enterprise for Front Range “bucha” brewers.

Rachael Walker, owner of Fort Collins-based Life’s a Buch, has been brewing for more than five years after scoring a batch of SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) from a co-worker while working at Whole Foods. Walker launched Life’s a Buch in Feburary 2018 at age 27; less than two years later, she’s making a living on her kombucha sales, brewing 700 to 900 gallons a month.

“We’re in a beer community, but a lot of people don’t drink,” Walker says. “It’s a great alternative for those who don’t want to drink alcohol, but still want to go out to the bars and hang out with their friends.”

She credits her success to supportive friends and community. “Everything that goes into making a small business is the support of the people around you,” she says. “The support has been insane.”

Walker sells her kombucha in tinted, 12-ounce glass bottles; they range from $3.49 to $4. Her kombucha is available at more than 20 locations on the Front Range.  Happy Lucky’s Tea House locations in Fort Collins offers Walker’s kombucha on tap. Environmentally minded consumers can bring in their own reusable growler for a refill.

Fort Collins is also home to two other woman-owned kombucha companies: Wild and Free, which opened in 2017; and Turtle Mountain, which has been brewing since 2014 and opened Fort Collins’ first kombucha taproom in March 2018.

Meanwhile in Boulder, Rowdy Mermaid, profiled in ColoradoBiz as a Colorado Companies to Watch winner in 2018, is working to produce “science-based” kombucha. Founder and CEO Jamba Dunn began his kombucha journey in 2013 when he set out to make a low-sugar, low-acidity and caffeine-free drink. “I wanted to make something controlled for my kids,” Dunn says.

In 2018, Rowdy Mermaid completed a $3.5 million Series A funding round with KarpReilly, a private investment firm. The funds are helping the company convert its beverage packaging from 12-ounce glass bottles to 12-ounce cans, which can be more efficiently recycled, and packed and transported with fewer resources. The company is also fine-tuning its supply chain to ensure sourcing of ecologically and humanitarian friendly ingredients.

Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha can be found at Natural Grocers, Whole Foods and many small businesses throughout the state, as well as select locations in the Western region. Look for Rowdy Mermaid’s newest flavor, Lion’s Root, made with pineapple, turmeric and lion’s mane mushrooms designed to improve brain function.

Dunn says Rowdy Mermaid is continuing to look beyond flavor profiles and focus on what set the brand apart in the first place – a commitment to creating tasty kombucha based in science to produce physical benefits for the body.

“We’ve been doing flavor based on function and plant-infused kombucha from the beginning,” Dunn says. “We have been trying to develop the functional kombucha category, which doesn’t exist yet, but which will.”

Categories: Company Perspectives, Magazine Articles