Making kombucha, and enough to share

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by Eric Ginsburg

Kombucha can be an expensive habit — especially if you don’t have a job, let alone with two kids to support.

When Julie Welch lost her job in May, she knew that she wanted to pursue things that work hadn’t afforded her the time to pursue. Given her daily kombucha habit, which she referred to as an addiction of sorts, Welch decided to start brewing her own.

The idea was to make enough for personal consumption, both a practical move to save some scratch and a practice she enjoyed. Over the next few months though, with the encouragement of her friends, Welch began selling her concoctions and developing plans to turn her hobby into a method of self-employment.

Now she brews and bottles six gallons of it every week. Some of that is for her own consumption, but Welch sells the rest to her neighbors in Glenwood. She operates out of a certified kitchen and just churned out the first batch of labels using a different drawing by her kids for each of her kombucha varietals.

Kombucha is often called the miracle tea or the mother tea, Welch said, and appears to date back to the Tsin Dynasty in 212 BC in China. She also found mention of its consumption by samurais who said it provided strength and longevity while fighting. For Welch, the appeal is more about kombucha’s detoxifying properties. Plus she’s noticed that it helps keep her skin clear.

The drink, which is made from a living culture with bacteria and yeast, also contains the tiniest traces of alcohol. It’s not enough that is requires any additional licensing on her part, but it does mean plenty of sober folks steer clear.Plenty of people are a little squeamish about the beverage, which is really just fermented tea, Welch said. But some at least, including a few of her family members, are coming around.

“Kombucha is such a foreign-sounding thing, which I think is why people are hesitant to try it,” she said. “The word ‘fermentation’ carries a lot of weight.”

DSC04385But for others, the taste, antioxidants and health benefits outweigh any initial reluctance. That’s why Welch started drinking it regularly herself, especially because she liked the way it made her feel, and it is part of a deeper approach to living sustainably and eating healthy.

All of the ingredients she uses are organic, be they from a local grocery store or directly from her 1,800 square-foot garden. Welch grew up on a working farm in an Indiana town of 800 and ultimately hopes to move to a farm in the local area, continuing to support herself off kombucha and growing food.

In the meantime she is working odd jobs to support her family, but being self-employed would fall in line with leading the local, sustainable lifestyle she wants to foster, Welch said.

She can imagine the business getting much bigger, being sold in stores in the region, and now that the labels are taken care of she plans to increase her production capacity. But she never envisions taking on the major commercial producers, and she intends to keep it close to home.

That’s why she named the company Small Batch Kombucha.

Welch’s offerings rotate with the seasons based on what’s available, so she is regularly coming up with new flavors including a recent ginger-blueberry creation. She has staples as well, namely a lemon-ginger and an orange-pomegranate, and Welch also makes customized batches.

“Part of this for me is playing mad scientist in the kitchen,” she said.

Contact Julie Welch at [email protected] or find Small Batch Kombucha on Facebook.