Whale Bird Kombucha—Brewer Q&A
Based in: San Luis Obispo, CA
Founded: 2013 (As Komplete Kombucha; rebranded in 2015)
Distribution: Central Coast
When it comes to kombucha, it’s good to have a brand name that stands out from the crowd. Perfect case in point is San Luis Obispo-based WhaleBird. That flying whale is hard to miss! But that’s not the only thing memorably about this booch. These are imaginative, nuanced flavors that are completely different from any flavors we’ve tried before.
Lavender Lemonade, far left, has that nice tartness of lemon with the smooth finish of lavender. The citrus note lingers, making it light and crisp, and perfect for those impending long summer days and nights. Ginger Sarsparilla, middle, is super unique. The rootsyness of sarsparilla with the mild kick of ginger at the end really satisfies. There’s a depth and pleasant sweetness to it, with a soft vanilla note. Jasmine Bliss, right, has a strong floral flavor and almost tastes like liquid candy—but a candy that's good for you! There’s a strong cherry note, and the ingredients include rose hips, hibiscus, black currants and raisins.
We chatted with co-founder Jake Pritzlaff about the story behind the name, and more!
Kombucha Hunter: Why did you decide to change the name to WhaleBird?
Jake Pritzlaff: It was a change we had been gearing up for since the end of 2014 and a lot of thought was put into it. We realized early on that our original brand entirely blended in with some of the other most popular kombucha brands and didn't give us any distinctiveness. For a long time Kombucha has been marketed pointedly and directly to the 'enlightened' or 'new age' subculture. Brands often use images reminiscent of sacred geometry or eastern religious iconography as core branding elements. By no means is our intention to shun this subculture (all our partners are involved in yoga and love the subculture), BUT we feel that we will have done some good in the world if we can bring people into the Kombucha fold who otherwise would gravitate towards soda, energy drinks, or craft beer and cider.
We chose a flying whale as our logo because we wanted something easily recognizable and unique. Myself, Mike, and our third partner Lee all have a special love for the ocean and the seemingly contradicting elements of a whale with bird wings seemed to perfectly encapsulate a feeling we wanted to cultivate. Just like the flying whale, Kombucha is made from elements that seem quirky, or strange, but blend beautifully into something special and unique.
KH: How did you get into brewing kombucha?
JP: Myself and my partner Mike Durighello met through a mutual friend while both of us were working in tech companies. Mike had already begun to make Kombucha on the side by the time I met him. When Mike's original partner, Alex, left to pursue a career in real estate, I jumped in and together we got our first warehouse and started really ramping up production. Soon after, our third partner Lee, who is an engineer, joined the team and we've been growing strong since.
KH: Any plans to start bottling?
JP: We've seriously considered bottling on multiple occasions and every time we do we arrive at the same place: right now we're able to sell every drop of Kombucha we can possibly make though kegs with no end in sight to the demand. We're servicing a really cool part of the Kombucha market by offering it entirely on tap. While we're not opposed to someday bottling, we're holding off from pursuing that until we reach the limit of where we can grow with kegs, it may be next year and it may be never!
KH: We loved Jasmin Bliss! Can you tell us a bit about it?
JP: It’s s a permanent flavor and in fact is one of our most popular! It's got Jasmine green tea, Hibiscus, Rose Hips, black currants, and raisins. We use all organic ingredients for our kombucha, source our ingredients locally when possible (all the ingredients in Jasmine bliss except the jasmine green tea comes from a tea shop in San Luis Obispo), and don't use any juices or concentrates to flavor the kombucha. We do a traditional fermentation with black tea, and when fermentation is finished we steep flavor ingredients in the finished kombucha for 24 hours, naturally infusing the flavors like a tea, so every drop is pure kombucha. In our opinion it gives a more full bodied flavor.