(WIVB) – When it comes to fermented beverages, beer comes to mind- but another fermented drink is steadily rising in popularity.
Kombucha is a fermented, slightly effervescent tea drink. Over the past few years, it has gained plenty of new fans, thanks in part to its purported health benefits.
Andrew Bannister opened Big Norwegian Kombucha in 500 Seneca this past May. It’s his second venture into commercial kombucha-making- he formerly was with Snowy Owl Kombucha.
“When I first started, I was selling it out of a tent on the roadside up the street, and most people we spoke to had never heard of kombucha,” Bannister said.
He estimated that only about 15 percent of people he spoke to in those days had heard of kombuca before.
Now, there are multiple large producers of kombucha in Western New York, as well as some smaller in-house producers.
“It’s becoming more of a household name and I think its due to a lot of media attention on gut health,” Bannister said. “It’s great that people are starting to make the connection between what they put into their body and how their body feels.”
Kombucha enthusiasts attribute a variety of health benefits to drinking kombucha, including helping with digestion, thanks to the probiotics it contains.
At Great Norwegian, the kombucha-making process starts out with sweetened green or black tea. A SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is added, and in about two weeks, the sugars are converted into organic acids, Bannister said.
Fruits and herbs for flavoring are added in a secondary fermentation process- but any not extra sugar.
“Several of our varieties are four grams of sugar per eight ounces- that qualifies as a pretty low-sugar beverage, an alternative to soda,” Bannister added.
Currently on tap at Big Norwegian Kombucha are “Blueberry Lemongrass”, “Original Green Tea”, “Pink Guava and Lime”, “Hibiscus Ginger”, and “Fruits of the Forest”, made with raspberry , blueberry, blackberry and strawberry.
The “Fruits of the Forest” flavor was made for a fundraiser with the Western New York Land Conservancy.
Bannister says the flavor is kind of like a SweetTart.
“For the beer drinkers, it kind of tastes like a kettle sour,” he added.
For any newcomers to Big Norwegian, Bannister said he would recommend the “Pink Guava and Lime” flavor.
“It surprises a lot of people,” Bannister said. “A lot of people have in their mind that guava is too sweet, but when we pair it with the lime and the kombucha, it’s kind of balanced with a little tartness and turns out to be a super delicious flavor.”
Big Norwegian also puts out seasonal flavors of kombucha, often sourcing local ingredients like grapes from Eden Valley for their “Concord Grape” seasonal flavor.
“We made some great connections at the farmers’ market where we were this summer,” Bannister said. “Part of it is buying local and supporting local businesses as much as we can.”
Bannister learned how to make kombucha years ago from his wife, Marissa.
“When I met her, she had this jar on the table, and when I asked what was in the jar, she told me it was kombucha,” Bannister said. “I had tried it before once, and when I realized ‘whoa, this is accessible to make’ I started fiddling with it.”
Making kombucha more accessible is a mission statement for Big Norwegian.
“We don’t feel that it needs to be a beverage just for the wealthy or affluent,” Bannister said.
Bannister, a native of Buffalo’s Old First Ward, said that he hopes it can help residents of the neighborhood, who are “disproportionately hit by diabetes and pre-diabetes” as a replacement for sugary beverages.
“Part of our mission is trying to get kombucha to everybody,” Bannister explained.
That goal is closer to being achieved thanks to a $5,000 grant Big Norwegian Kombucha was awarded in September through a small business contest by Ignite Buffalo and Ureeka.
The grant money allowed Big Norwegian to purchase two fermenters and three large bright tanks.
“We’ll be able to individually package our kombucha,” Bannister said.
Big Norwegian Kombucha is located inside the courtyard of 500 Seneca, a large, mixed-use building near Larkin Square. To enter, you can follow the signs behind the building on Myrtle Avenue.
Kombucha is available in a “Flight of Five” for $5, a single, 16 oz. serving to go for $6, a 32 oz. growler (with fill, $14, refills are $11) and a 64 oz. growler with refill for $18.
Big Norwegian is open from noon to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Click here for more information.