Recommended Podcast: Harvest Roots Ferments
John Holl at Beer Edge has a fascinating hour-long interview with Pete Halupka, founder of Harvest Roots Ferments in Birmingham, Alabama.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Pete shares his decade-long experience with fermented and foraged foods that led to a focus on premium kombucha, since “people drink beverages faster than they can eat a jar of sauerkraut.”
Pete explains how he transferred his love of homebrewing into a thriving business. He acknowledges his debt to the craft beer community, “not only microbially, but also in terms of trends and what people want.” He details the science of brewing ‘booch, explaining his six-week-long kombucha fermentation process in terms that beer brewers can relate to. Here is a passage from the podcast where Pete discusses the relative value of the SCOBY to fermentation compared to starter liquid:
I am of the opinion that on a commercial level, the SCOBY doesn’t do as much as the beautiful cultural association we have with it entails. On a home scale, the SCOBY might be more important than if I’m making hundreds and hundreds of gallons at a time. What is most important about making kombucha is the amount of cultural pitch. Think of the sourdough starter. That is what is important. I do not believe the SCOBY is the sourdough starter. It’s a helpful tool in commercial production to drop the pH. And I also believe the culture that you’re developing–which by the way, takes many years to develop–needs that SCOBY to interchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in the kombucha. So the SCOBY lets in a certain amount of oxygen to the liquid as it is fermented aerobically, which means open air. At the same time, it also releases CO2. So it’s this hybrid anaerobic/aerobic environment that many kinds of brewers have many different techniques to deal with–needing oxygen but also limiting oxygen.
Pete explains how premium brands can co-exist with the major trends in the industry. He detects a ‘third-wave’ where kombucha intersects with trends toward low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks, seltzer, the sober curious, and more.
More than anything, Harvest Roots is a customer-focused company:
We put our heart, ethics, and aspirations before the numbers. This is core to our success as a company. We’ve learned to balance both.
He firmly believes that if people don’t want to drink their kombucha, it’s just not good enough. They do what is needed to improve. As a small company, even with revenues over a million dollars a year, they can stay agile and put the customer’s needs first.
He values the opportunity to meet customers face-to-face in their taproom. A highlight of the podcast is when Pete role-plays how he would introduce a “65-year-old guy from rural Alabama” to kombucha. Each customer is uniquely valuable. The reality is that most customers will consume two or three cups of kombucha vs. five or more pints of craft beer. They offer 15 taps of kombucha, seasonal flavors on draft and in bottle, and tea service to keep people coming back.
Check out the podcast on the Beer Edge website or wherever you get your podcasts.