The evolution of health drinks has certainly come back full circle. As our knowledge, curiosity & hunger for more natural and whole foods that nourish & prevent grows more expansive - so too does our flora in our belly, evidently! When I started learning about gut health and not only understanding but seeing my own personal health increase when I nurtured my gut, I was further curious about the different types of drinks (as well as food) that you could consume to aid good gut. Lara & Matt from Ballsy have created some amazing kombucha concoctions as well as beautiful space to share & educate a more conscious lifestyle.... obviously TWO THINGS WE LOVE ! We caught up with Lara, one half of the Ballsy Wild Kombucha team to learn more about their business and check out this space ! Head on in if you're in Sydney.
1. Tell us why you started Wild Kombucha by Ballsy?
When Matt my husband and I sat down with this question we initially struggled to define the reasons as much of our journey has been organic. My background is in art and Matt's in medicine and we had been throwing around concepts of both working together and more closely with the natural world for some time. It was not until we spent a month in Maui and drank kombucha every day whilst doing yoga/yoga nidra/windsurfing that the seeds started to sprout. We felt that kombucha was part of a culture of vibrant health and consciousness in Hawaii and were inspired to start brewing it on our return. That's when I remembered that my grandmother once made it too! Very quickly we found that it appealed to my creative side and Matt was fascinated by the science and it's potential health benefits.
The path to having our own kombucha company has very synchronistically unfolded before us, so much so that we often joke that kombucha has consciousness and makes it's own decisions! Our friends loved the taste and we could see the potential for a fermented beverage that was probiotic, based on tea and was low in both sugar and alcohol. We also wanted to create an experience around it, which is why we wanted to serve it off tap and support the concept of recycling (bottles). The company Ballsy Brewing produces our Wild Kombucha signature product and has many ideas in it's wings. Ballsy is a play on both our surnames, Ball & O'Reilly as well as reflecting the traits required to launch into the beverage industry with no prior experience!
2. Fermented foods and drinks have become a much talked about item in the last few years - why do you think interested has piqued again for ferments ?
There is definitely a greater mainstream awareness of the importance of gut health in the community and I think people realise that fermented foods support the gastrointestinal system. We are all searching for an answer as to what diet/drink/lifestyle will give us optimum health and vitality and science is now finding that the products that support a healthy gut and will translate into these things. We've also seen a huge rise in the popularity of the craft food/beverage movement as people turn back to more traditional methods and away from packaged and engineered products, and the ancient art of fermentation fits into this beautifully.
3. How do ferments fit in with people trying to live a more conscious lifestyle ?
The right sort of ferments are both supportive and replenishing of our gut micro flora - we would now say that a healthy diverse microbiome will actually improve the quality of your consciousness, so nourishing it everyday is a vital part of a daily routine.
4. You recently opened a Kombucha Bar & Collaboratory - tell us about this space ?
Attached to our cellardoor style Kombucha Bar is the Collaboratory - a retail and meeting space to support conscious & local makers on all things art, food and medicine related. When we were looking for a production space we met lots of other start-ups that were looking for spaces to make, exhibit or sell their products and we always felt that it was extremely important for Ballsy to give back both environmentally and socially to community and the planet.
5. What styles of Kombucha's do you have on tap ?
We have 5 signature styles that are available around NSW on tap and we also create special brews only available in our Bar and Collaboratory space. Our signature styles are - native finger lime and ginger - yerba mate with pau d'arco, vanilla and lemon - straight ginger - hibiscus and rosella - turmeric, lemon and cayenne pepper, we also have a small bottled range for restaurants and create a special honey ferment with rare teas for Quay & Bennelong Restaurants.
6. Tell us a bit of the process of actually making Kombucha - is it difficult to do
Making basic Kombucha at home is easy! Brewing a consistently palatable living Kombucha the traditional way, to the right pH level and within the legal alcohol requirements is a little more challenging. Matt met with the late Professor Graham Fleet a food microbiologist at the University of NSW very early on to chat about the specifics of kombucha as a ferment. That led us to setting up a mini onsite testing lab with microscopy and gas chromatography to know as much as we could about our product.
The basic fermentation process requires a mother culture, which is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) which when combined with a sweetened tea and allowed to ferment creates a lightly carbonated acidic living drink with less than 1% alcohol. The difference from beer or wine which are usually pure yeast ferments is that the bacterial part of the kombucha culture converts alcohol to acid giving it's tartness and keeping the alcohol low (the tricky part). The culture definitely runs best on organic ingredients and filtered water. The brew process takes anywhere from 2-6 weeks based on taste.
7. What are some of your favourite styles of Kombucha ?
We love working with local bush foods where we can, and one of our favourites to date is a special Byron Bay brew we concocted for The Vista which featured local Davidson plum, fingerlime & vanilla... Another very popular brew is our Cold Drip Coffee Kombucha - this one is so popular that we have had to increase batch volume and have it on-tap weekly!
8. For someone who's never tried Kombucha, why would they try it and what does it taste like ?
We would say try it for the taste! Whilst many people report health benefits we don't make any claims about this and brew it to be as fresh as we can. We aim for our raw kombucha to taste like a light cider. Once secondarily fermented the taste varies; our ginger tastes similar to ginger beer and the native finger lime is deliciously refreshing.
On our journey it has become very apparent how varied peoples' taste buds are! We supplied 2000 kombucha shots for the TEDx talks last year in Sydney and the first reactions were priceless, varying from amazement, to this is too tart to not tart enough to too gingery etc....we would love to make a documentary based on everyone's first taste of the product.