Starting Out: J’s Kombucha, St Paul, Minnesota
This is the eighth in the series of Booch News posts telling the stories behind new commercial kombucha brands. The inspiration for ‘Starting Out’ was NPR’s ‘How I Built This‘. While J’s Kombucha was established over two years ago, the podcast interview shares interesting details about the early days of the business. Every kombucha company launched their brand in a unique way, and their story has lessons for us all.
Jason Wagner became interested in kombucha over a decade ago when he discovered it helped progressively alleviate his oldest son’s severe allergies.
Having learned of the allergy-immune system connection, I had reason to believe strengthening his gut health would improve his immune system, and this in turn would hopefully lead to less severe allergic reactions. Since he was allergic to dairy and other common foods that naturally contain probiotics, I needed to find an alternative source that a picky four-year-old would also enjoy – the answer was kombucha! We started brewing kombucha that spring and by the end of the year my son’s allergic reactions had begun to fade from our daily routine. Tests would later reveal he had shed all but a handful of his allergies. While kombucha isn’t an antidote for those who suffer from severe allergies, I have little doubt that it played an integral role in improving his gut health when few options were available to him. As time passes, my appreciation for kombucha continues to grow along with the size of the batches, and the possibility of sharing J’s Kombucha with new friends.
In 2019 he left his job in publishing and launched J’s Kombucha.
Large-scale from the get-go
Jason decided to go big from the get-go. Rather than the more common path many new brewers follow, from home to a small commercial kitchen, to progressively larger facilities and fermentation processes, he scaled both facilities and processes from the start.
This meant investing in a dedicated 2,000 sq. ft. production facility. He also chose to use Stout Tanks Symbiosis brewing vessels that enables the production of kombucha below the 0.5% ABV threshold. In fact, his initial batches tested at 0.17%. Stout’s
Kombucha-specific shape provides a balanced environment for both the Saccharomyces yeast and the Acetobacter bacteria strains. Ethanol is metabolized to acetic acid much faster, promoting faster and more complete fermentation. Balance of symbiosis is shifted toward bacteria, reducing overall alcohol production, and yielding better flavor profiles. Individual trays provide contact to oxygen, allowing the aerobic bacteria to metabolize ethanol to acetic acid, sugars to lactic acid, and glucose to gluconic acid.
J’s Kombucha also signed a distribution agreement very early on with Hohenstein’s, who send craft beer throughout southeastern Minnesota. The kombucha is widely available in and around the Twin Cities. They sell around 10,000 cans a month.
J’s Kombucha has been following a rigorous food safety plan designed to meet Safe Quality Food (SQF) requirements.
Purple haze all in my brain
Lately, things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny but I don’t know why
‘Cuse me while I kiss the sky.
Alongside GTs Cannabliss, Purple J’s is one of the few examples of kombucha infused with the psycho-active THC, instead of the more common CBD infusion. The current product includes 4.2mg of THC, with plans to introduce a stronger 10mg variety. It was made possible by legalization in Minnesota, permitting sales of THC marijuana to people over 21.
Formulating the beverage presented unique chemical challenges to emulsify the THC with the kombucha.
It was also necessary to form a separate business for certification and banking needs.
J’s comes in various flavors, created with a secondary fermentation with freshly cold-pressed fruit juices.
- Mango: Creamy, refreshing mango cascades fizzing with tropical aromas, bright tones, & a smooth vanilla finish. Seasonally available December to May.
- Raspberry: One of our most approachable flavors. Its bold color & brilliant fruity flavor profile are positively delightful; this is the go-to kombucha for first timers.
- Lime-Mint-Ginger: An intriguing, singular interplay of cool, citrus, & spice that abides by a delicious ever-changing flux.
- Blackberry: A smooth, understated, crowd-pleasing classic — get swept away by the bubbly cool notes of sweet summertime blackberries.
- Raspberry-Lime-Ginger: Stellar flavor constellations unfold as raspberry, lime, & ginger coalesce in a multitude of enchanting harmonies. In March 2023, J’s Raspberry-Lime-Ginger received silver in the Kombucha Brewers International Kombucha Kup.
- Ginger: A world of flavors is forged within the zesty glittering confluence of spicy, warm, sweet, gingery fizziness.
- Nectarine: A luscious, creamy, velvety sensory euphoria of enchanting aromas amid a backdrop of sweetly swirling, tangy nectar. Seasonally available June to November.
The product is available in kegs, growlers, and cans. A 1/2 barrel keg (124 pints) currently sells for $290, down to a 64oz growler for $6. However, most of the sales are in 12oz cans, selling online at $39.99 for 12.
Jason has embraced cans as the preferred way to package his brand:
Why are cans great for kombucha? Kombucha cans are completely shielded from light and oxygen. With proper storage kombucha cans can last many months with no SCOBY growth. You can also bring them anywhere that glass is not allowed.
To hear the story of J’s Kombucha in Jason’s own words, listen to the podcast.