Raincoast Kombucha—Brewer Q&A
Based in: Powell River, BC
Distribution: Powell River, Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island & Lower Mainland
Just a few miles north of Vancouver, Powell River is one of those ethereal places on Earth: Rainforests, lakes, ocean views, wilderness. So it’s almost certain that any kombucha that comes out of that kind of setting would taste special.
Sure enough, Raincoast Kombucha, which is British Columbia’s first commercially licensed kombucha operation, has a certain mystical quality that we find really appealing. Maybe it's the whimsical labels, maybe it's seaside the setting from which they originated, maybe it's the mix of ingredients like chaga and cloves. Whatever it is, each bottle feels like a little story from a really cool storybook.
Fairytale Rose is a perfect example. It even bears a quote from Rumi, which really suits rather otherworldly, mystical brew. Ingredients like rose petals and dried cherries give it a juicy, floral and earthy flavor. You can really taste how well-thought out and crafted these beverages are.
Old Growth Chai—is that not one of the best names for a booch flavor ever? It's also one of the best tasting booches we've ever had: a flawless, earthy, spicy and sweet, complex Chai. It’s clear that there is a lot of creativity behind this brand, which is run by Christina Maitland and Matt Klasen.
We chatted with founder Matt Klasen about how they got started, how they've grown and what the future holds.
Kombucha Hunter: How did you guys come up with the name and what does it mean to you?
Matt Klasen: When we first started looking into what we wanted to name our kombucha, we had lots of names in mind. So once we took a step back and looked at the list of potential names, we realized what they all had in common. They all reflected the beautiful west coast where we grew up and lived. So, Raincoast... living in a temperate rainforest region we get a lot of rain and that was something that touched home for us, so we stuck with it.
KH: Who designed your wonderful labels?
MK: When we moved to Powell River in 2012, we got involved right away with the arts and sustainability community. Its such an alive bunch here. One of our lovely friends, Autumn Skye Morrison—a local successful visual painter—was really excited to help us create the image we wanted to portray onto the bottles. It happened so fast and fluidly that it honestly didn't take long at all to get the sketch done. Then our good friend Tara at One On One designs did up all the final layouts, and formatting.
KH: How did you first get into kombucha brewing and when/why did you decide to transition to brewing commercially?
MK: This is kind of a funny story. Back in 2010, I was living in Kelowna, BC, and it was my good buddy Shawn who was a tree planter who got me into this whole thing. He had to head out for another tree planting season, and I remember he gave me this big jar and said, "Hey man, can you look after my Mother? Give it some tea and sugar once and a while and I'll be back in 3 months." I had no idea what it was and was slightly confused, yet intrigued.
Weeks later, I started looking into what kombucha was and how to make it. I was so amazed at the benefits of drinking it had on your body and how it had been around for 2000 years, that I had to start introducing this into my life. A year later, my friend who owned Hemp City in downtown Kelowna had just bought the building next door to him and it had a commercial kitchen in it. He asked me if I wanted to use it to make kombucha and then sell it out of Hemp City. I said, Yes, and the next day I went out to the local home brew shop, spent all the money I had on bottles, caps equipment and a bunch of glass 2 gallon vats and ingredients. Since there were no policies in place for "commercial" brewing of kombucha, technically what we were doing was totally illegal, but hey!
In 2012, my partner Christina and I decided to head back home to the coast to settle in Powell River. That year we went backpacking down in Central America and basically came up with the whole business concept while traveling. From the names, to the bottles, to brewing with crystals in the tanks. It was amazing to see it all come together. When we got home, we started at the farmers market and rented a little kitchen space in town.
Again, there being no regulations for commercial brewing and selling of kombucha in B.C. at that time, we had to approach Vancouver Coastal Health for approval. We wrote up a proposal for commercial production to be reviewed by the board of directors in Vancouver, which took quite a while. I had just gotten a job at the local brewery, so I think it helped a lot getting approved. It took over 8 months and we were finally signed off with approval! In 2013, we became the first legally approved commercial kombucha company in BC to brew and sell to the public. A day to remember, to say the least!
KH: What have been some of the biggest challenges in growing the business, and the biggest rewards?
MK: The biggest challenge would have had to be initially starting the business, going through all the hoops and legal papers to get us brewing and selling legally in B.C. Not knowing for a year or so if we would be able to follow through with our dreams of running a kombucha company was kind of stressful. The other challenge was getting our cash flow up and up in order to make the purchasing breaks on ingredients, packaging, kegs, and all the gear, etc. We started out with a very small amount of money and made our way forward without acquiring large debt. Although it would have been easier with some larger financial backing or a massive business loan, we made it work in a grass roots kind of way.
KH: What are your plans for the next few years? Would you like to expand distribution to other parts of Canada or stay local?
MK: We see the the next few years moving naturally and progressively, not too fast and not too slow. Having the brewery doing its thing, with a great a team, fresh ideas, new techniques and having tons of fun at it. It's just been the two of us up to now, so growing the team is looking pretty appealing these days. As for distribution, I'm up for anything really but representing the west coast of B.C. is what were all about. If we can take care of that without sacrificing a single thing like quality, the amount of ingredients, connecting with people and the time and love we put into brewing Raincoast then I guess we could expand further.
KH: Any advice for home-brewers who are thinking of going commercial?
MK: Love what you do and do what you love. If your doing those two things, you'll be successful at anything. Kombucha has a strange learning curve, full of ups and downs but the thrill of fermenting is one that will always surprise you and keep you on your toes! Be excited to know that your apart of this microbial revolution. You should be honored that at this time in civilization you have an opportunity to make a positive change to millions of lives and not just people. Choosing ingredients that are sustainably grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, picking conscious packaging that is recyclable and post consumer, there are so many avenues to make a difference. All you have to do is be creative and put them to practice.