Elixirs on Tap

Kombucha at the Butcher & Baker. Photo by Gus Gusciora

The kombucha craze has hit Telluride.

From the brothels and bordellos of wild Western times to the beer booth at next weekend’s festival, Telluride’s always been a thirsty little town. If you’re holding out till five o’clock (or your definition of that time) for an adult beverage, kombucha is a healthy and flavorful drink substitute, and more and more often, it’s coming out of a keg. “The popularity of kombucha on tap is sort of expected and it’s selling great,” says Megan Ossola, co-owner of The Butcher & The Baker. “We’re going through a keg every couple of days, which is faster than we sell beer.”

Fermentation is the key to kombucha’s probiotic benefits. The blend of tea, sugar, fruit juices, herbs, and more brews for seven to thirty days, but the resultant beverage sells quickly. In six months, The Butcher & The Baker runs through eighty kegs, rotating flavors along the way.

Kombucha on tap reduces packaging and transport. Like beer, people also prefer kombucha pints from the keg over bottles and cans that can affect carbonation and flavor.

The reviews have been as effervescent as the drink itself. Kombucha on tap claims a slightly sweet and fizzy flavor that is oddly addicting. Butcher serves up artisanal, craft-brewed kombucha from Denver-based clinical herbalist Manda Pendleton’s company “In Joy Integration.” Pendleton’s varieties of “cha,” as in kombucha, combine a thoughtful balance of taste and tonic. Each ingredient is handpicked to enhance flavor and target specific health concerns.

Immu-Cha is a smoky-tasting, blush-colored concoction of raw and vegan ingredients that support immune health. In Joy Integration’s Chas have what Pendleton calls botanical assistance, basically a selection of herbs added to assist the body in various functions from stress relief to adrenal support.

InDevotion Cha contains lemon balm and motherwort herbs, mild antidepressants meant to open the heart center. InVision Cha has herbs including ginkgo balboa to open the third eye and stimulate intellect. This recipe, built from the fermentation of black, tulsi, green, and rooibos teas, is enhanced with organic blueberry juice and especially pleasing to the palate. In Power Cha has rejuvenating ashwagandha and stimulating kola nut, that in combination with organic black tea, yerba mate, guayusa, and organic pineapple make a peppy beverage with energy-boosting effects.

Ghost Town, a small, funky café on Colorado Avenue, is another watering hole for kombucha on tap. Ghost Town offers GT Kombucha, a popular brand from California. According to Ghost Town owner Elena Levin, the kegs of kombucha range from gingerberry, which can be found bottled at your local market, to less common flavors like pink lady basil. “We carry a little of both, some you see at the store and some not,” says Levin. “They usually surprise-flavor us.”

Most of kombucha’s appeal comes from its flavoring. The drink may appear mysterious and foamy, but it’s quite a simple recipe, explains Joanna Grzeskowiak, owner of Telluride Juice Co.

The clumps and floaters in your kombucha are scobies, a cluster of bacteria resulting from the fermentation of tea, water, and sugar. The word scoby is an acronym meaning “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” Grzeskowiak brews an initial batch of kombucha in big, glass vats for three to four weeks to develop a living, thriving scoby. She then flavors her brews with fruits and herbs for three or four days, strains, force carbonates and serves, never in plastic, and always encourages re-useable glassware.

Grzeskowiak’s Telluride Juice Co. opened in the fall of 2017, but after winter 2018 she’s still looking for an ideal space to both create and sell her creative and fresh menu of locally made juices, elixirs, and kombuchas on tap, all crafted from raw and unpasteurized ingredients. “Juicing is physical and demanding,” she says of the challenges of her line of business. However, the result is worth the effort. “It’s been really well received and a lot of days we sell out.”

Two of her most popular kegs are kiwi/guava and pineapple/passionfruit. The Doc Holliday is another of her popular elixirs. The two-ounce serving consists of turmeric, ginger, lemon, raw honey, apple cider vinegar, and more. Keep a look out for more of Grzeskowiak’s liquid gold in a new space this summer along with the steady flow of kombucha coming from more and more taps around town.

—Elizabeth Guest