By Kathie Stamps
The fermented tea known as kombucha is gaining new popularity, but this particular type of probiotic has been around at least 2,000 years in other civilizations. When a trio of friends in Louisville realized there weren’t any local options for bottled kombucha, they started commercially brewing their own in April 2016.
“We developed a serious passion for home brewing kombucha and promoting gut health in our friends and family before we ever had the idea to start a business,” said partner Corey Wood. “More and more research is emerging regarding the role that gut health plays in autoimmune issues, disease pathways and even mental health.”
The kombucha recipe centers around a culture called a scoby, which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Wood and his wife, Danielle Wood, and friend Ryan Cheong named their company Elixir Kombucha. They operate out of Chef Space, a kitchen incubator in Louisville. The equipment necessary for brewing kombucha in small batches is similar to that of brewing beer.
“Being in Louisville, a city with a thriving beer scene, we have been lucky enough to get advice about scaling from our friends at some of the local breweries,” Corey Wood said.
In just over a year’s time, the local bottled kombucha product is already available at 50 retail and restaurant locations, including Whole Foods Market in Louisville, Lucky’s Market in Louisville and Lexington, and Branch Out Foods in Paducah. Elixir Kombucha can also be found on tap at a handful of taverns and cafés in Jefferson County.
In a collaborative effort, all three partners brew, bottle, label and deliver to their house accounts. Danielle Wood is the flavor architect and culture farmer, using her background in wellness and nutrition to research the seasonal flavors and ingredients that can be incorporated into the product.
The owners flavor their scoby with organic fruits, juices, herbs and spices to create such labels as Lavender Lemonade and Pineapple Ginger, plus a Watermelon Jalapeno in summer and Harvest Cider in fall.
“The final product is a semi-sweet, semi-tart, bubbly, probiotic beverage that promotes gut health and a strengthened immune system,” according to Wood.
He is head of brew operations. Cheong is head of sales for the company and the only full-time partner for now.
The partners have chosen to focus on smart growth over fast growth.
“We hear horror stories about businesses outgrowing themselves before they have a focused and detailed plan for scaling and keeping up with demand,” Wood said.
Cheong has a background in food service and was an original member of the NuLu restaurant Garage Bar. “We are all foodies and love to cook, so coming up with flavor profiles is our idea of a good time,” Wood said.
“We are honored to have a crazy supportive network of friends and family. We are lucky to be in a city that supports small, independent businesses.”—Kathie Stamps