News & Issues April 2017
Rediscovering an ancient elixir
Couple’s health scare gives rise to kombucha-brewing business
By STACEY MORRIS
HUDSON FALLS, N.Y.
Ryan and Jennifer Bremser hold bottles of Simply Kombucha, the beverage they now produce commercially in Hudson Falls. The Bremsers started making the slightly fermented tea for themselves two years ago as Jennifer underwent cancer treatment, and the project grew into a business. Joan K. Lentini photo
It was two years ago that Ryan and Jennifer Bremser got the devastating news that Jennifer had breast cancer.
The diagnosis was a shock to the young couple, who were joyously raising their 4-year-old daughter Annabelle and 1-year-old son, Miles. But instead of giving in to fear or dread, the Bremsers chose a positive focus. They both agreed that being proactive in terms of treatment was a must.
But Ryan didn’t stop there. He spent every spare moment delving into various nutrition philosophies.
“Once you get news like that, you start re-evaluating things in your life,” he recalled. “I wanted to look at Jennifer’s diet. My first inclination was, ‘Why did this happen? What are we eating?’”
Though he said they had always made reasonably good food choices, his research led them to start regularly consuming kombucha, the fizzy, slightly fermented beverage whose fans say has medicinal benefits.
Intrigued by kombucha’s mixture of organic acids and probiotics, the Bremsers joined a growing legion of health-conscious consumers.
“When I realized kombucha could be made at home, I began home-brewing it,” Ryan said.
So, instead of making lemonade to deal with being dealt a challenging hand by life, he threw himself into crafting kombucha.
For Jennifer, who’s an assistant professor of psychology in the State University of New York system, the benefits of kombucha seemed clear enough.
“I knew that I would face 17 chemotherapy infusions over the course of a year, along with six weeks of radiation treatments because of the type of breast cancer I had,” she recalled. “I knew that this could take a considerable toll on my body -- and that if I wanted to continue to work full-time and be able to take care of my kids, I’d have to support my immune system as best I could.”
Jennifer has a doctorate in psychology and behavioral neuroscience, and the process by which kombucha might deliver health benefits made sense to her.
“As a neuroscientist, I was also interested in the link between the gut microbiome and physical and psychological health,” she explained. “I knew that the probiotics and prebiotics in kombucha would support the levels of healthy bacteria in my gut.”
Homebrew to business
Ryan began home-brewing kombucha for his wife with a simple recipe of turmeric and ginger – both for flavor and to ward off anticipatory nausea prior to treatments. The early stages of brewing included some tinkering with the recipe to get the acid profile perfected.
“It was a matter of finding the right time to stop the fermentation,” he explained.
Once he perfected the recipe, Ryan was content to keep his kombucha production on a small scale. Then word began spreading.
“I got my mom and sister into drinking it,” Ryan said. “And they began giving it to friends.”
Eventually the demand became great enough for Ryan to start producing kombucha on a larger scale, and a small business, Simply Kombucha, was born.
Necessity required moving the operation from their home to a commercial kitchen, where Ryan now produces up to 250 gallons a week.
“We have a 100-gallon brew kettle, which can make for a long day,” he said. “This is my sole vocation now, between production and helping to care for our son, who’s not in school yet. We have four large fermenters, and they’re always in different stages of the fermenting process.”
Though there’s no shortage of commercially brewed kombucha at specialty food stores and supermarkets these days, Ryan said Simply Kombucha’s small-batch method sets his product apart from the mass-produced varieties.
“It’s a hand-crafted product which is also raw and organic,” he said. “Because it’s full of probiotics, we call it living food for the living body.”
Ryan currently sells bottles of Simply Kombucha at the Troy farmers market on Saturdays and at the Schenectady Greenmarket on Sundays. In the summer months, he’ll also be at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market on Saturdays.
In addition, he delivers Simply Kombucha to growing list of retail outlets including Healthy Living Market in Wilton, Putnam Market in Saratoga Springs, Steuben Street Market in Albany, and the Glens Falls Co-op.
At farmers markets, Simply Kombucha sells for $4 per bottle and $12 for a four-pack. It’s now available in six flavors: ginger, lemon lavender, hibiscus Jun, ginger cayenne, lemongrass, and orange vanilla Jun.
Alive with taste
Ryan says kombucha’s main health benefits involve aiding in digestion.
“There’s definitely research out there,” he said. “It’s not necessarily linked to kombucha but probiotics in general. I think the best barometer is if you feel a benefit from drinking it.”
Jennifer believes the beverage made the process of being treated for cancer a smoother one.
“I didn’t see kombucha as a part of my treatment, but as something to support my body through the stress it was undergoing,” she said. “Kombucha reduces inflammation. I also knew the glucaric acid and antioxidants could help me support my liver and immune system.”
Kombucha gets its probiotic qualities from colonies of bacteria and yeast. People have been brewing it for centuries, going as far back as 200 B.C. in Asia and Russia.
“It starts out as brewed tea -- to which you add sugar or honey and then let it cool down,” Ryan explained. “Then you add a yeast and bacteria culture, plus older kombucha to acidify it. That’s the basic formula.”
Ryan said the yeasts in kombucha eat the sugar and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. There’s also a bacteria in the beverage that converts the alcohol-ethanol compound to acetic acid.
“The acetic acid is what helps break down food and aid in digestion,” he explained. “There are also anecdotal reports of it aiding in joint health. Essentially, kombucha helps replenish the good gut bacteria.”
He said many customers buy Simply Kombucha for its health benefits, but others say they just enjoy the taste of it.
“A lot of our customers give our kombucha to their kids instead of soda, and Annabelle and Miles love it,” Ryan said. “In order for kombucha to grow the good bacteria, you have to have sugar in order to feed the yeast and bacteria. We add the sugar or honey during the fermentation process, but it’s there as a food source for the bacteria and yeast. We don’t add any sugar post-fermentation.”
Ryan admits to drinking up to 64 ounces of his brew on some days. Part of it is his love of the product, but at times it’s also necessary for quality control.
“I find the best way to tell whether my kombucha is ready is by my palate,” he explained. “I’m at the point now where I can taste it and know if there’s an imbalance of bacteria to yeast. … It comes with experience.”
And with experience has come increased demand for the product, plus a larger vision. Ryan and Jennifer are currently looking at property in the town of Fort Ann to expand their facility to a dual space for production and sampling.
“We’ve found a place which will provide more production and bottling space, and we’ll also have a tap room where people can come in and try the different flavors of kombucha,” Ryan said. “We also want to combine the tap room with a farm store that offers locally sourced food and other products.”
The space is now the site of the Black Rooster fireplace store at the corner of Buttermilk Falls Road and Route 149, and Ryan says they hope to move in and have operations under way by summer.
And two years after Ryan brewed his first jug of kombucha at home, what about their original reason for making it?
“We coupled drinking the kombucha with the best cancer treatment we could find at Dana Farber,” Ryan said. “And after our most recent visit for a check-up, the doctors are confident she’s in remission.”
Visit www.simplykombucha.com for more information on Simply Kombucha, including a list of retailers that stock it.