Big Easy Bucha—Brewer Q&A
Based in: New Orleans, LA
Distribution: LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, VA, NY
New Orleans is known for many things: Its music and cuisine, Mardi Gras and its stunning historic districts, but it wasn't until 2014 that it also became known for its kombucha. That's when Big Easy Bucha came on the scene and gave kombucha a uniquely Louisiana flair. Married couple Alexis Korman and Austin Sherman took the leap from home-brewing to commercial production after they realized that there were no locally-brewed brands in the city. "Why not us," they thought, and thus Big Easy Bucha was born.
Three years later, Big Easy Bucha produces five unique flavors and operates the only kombucha brewery in the entire state! We kind of feel like we're on a permanent vacation when we sip on these. They're light, fruity and floral, each with its own unique notes like satsuma, elderflower and honeysucks, delivered with impeccable fizz. Cajun Kick, Streetcar Sipper and Jazz Juice Tea are the stand-outs, to us, and really showcase what makes Big Easy Bucha so unique. There's a creativity behind these brews that is also reflected in the fun packaging; it's the kind of kombucha that can be enjoyed by purists and newbies alike.
We chatted with founders Alexis and Austin about their journey to becoming—and remaining—New Orleans' only locally-brewed commercial kombucha, and how they developed their unique packaging and flavors.
Kombucha Hunter: Austin, you had been brewing kombucha for a while before Big Easy Bucha was born. How did you get into home-brewing?
Austin Sherman: My sister Chelsea, who lives in Tampa, Florida taught me how to make kombucha. She is actually now our Bucha Ambassador in Florida since our launch into Publix this June; so it feels like that's come full circle.
KH: Do you feel like launching NOLA’s first commercial kombucha gave you an advantage in the marketplace, or did you feel extra pressure being the first and only booch locally-brewed booch brand in the region?
Alexis Korman: It is a combination of both. While New Orleans is renowned for its incredible cuisine and cocktails, it's not exactly famous for generating health products, although that is changing rapidly even in the past few years. Since we first launched, we've spent countless hours working to educate local consumers about kombucha and its incredible benefits. But trailblazing this path hasn't always been easy: At times, we felt like pioneers being first to market. However, this position is also a point of pride: We are honored to be New Orleans' original kombucha brand and the first kombucha brewery to open in the state of Louisiana. One of the joys of our business is our work partnering with small farmers in the region to create our uniquely Southern bucha flavors.
KH: How did you educate yourselves on running a beverage business? Austin, we know you had bartended in the past, and Alexis, you covered eateries and bars for magazines. Would you say your combined backgrounds helped in facilitating a successful launch?
Austin: Definitely! Out of college, I worked for years in real estate development. A lot of the ideals and principles of managing real estate can be transferred to almost any business. Instead of a house, I'm now project managing a product. But my passion for hand-crafted drinks and my work as a bartender also refined my palate and gave me a strong sense of flavor combination. As you might imagine, in New Orleans, kombucha cocktails are now a thing: I've been excited to see how bars in Louisiana have picked up Big Easy Bucha and are serving it in on-draft drinks.
Alexis: I've worked for longer than I care to admit as a food and beverage journalist, in addition to running our creative department at Big Easy Bucha, I currently serve a contributing editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine and still try to squeeze in time to travel and write for other outlets. As a writer, I always loved trying to scope out the latest F&B trends: this has served us well in undertaking the launch of a kombucha brand that was first-to-market in our state.
KH: A lot of local booch brands start out by offering kombucha exclusively on tap and then move on to bottling, but you guys launched with bottles as well, correct? Why did you decide to get into bottling right away?
Alexis: Bottles for us are central to our storytelling: While on tap is certainly a great option for a start-up brand, we wanted to immediately push our unique packaging to the forefront of our consumers minds. We had a blast designing an apothecary style bottle that echoes New Orleans' rich drink history—the Crescent City is thought to have invented America's first cocktail, the Sazerac, which was made with Peychaud's Bitters. Invented by Antoine Peychaud in the 1830s, Peychaud was a New Orleans apothecary owner and the son of an immigrant from what is now Haiti. Whether folks get the reference or not, we still love the classic shape of the bottle and have recently completely redesigned our labels to reflect New Orleans' colorful position as the most Northerly point in the Caribbean.
KH: Can you tell us a bit more about the forager you employ to help you source ingredients locally?
Alexis: Danny Milojevic recently joined our production team and is in charge of foraging—he has developed wonderful relationships over the years with small, regional growers that practice organic or sustainable farming. Currently, we source satsumas exclusively from the Zeringue Farm in Taft, Louisiana, beautiful strawberries and cucumbers from Fletcher Farms in Ponchatoula, Louisiana and mayhaws from Big Swamp Farms in Collins, Mississippi, just to name a few examples. While many kombucha companies look to the bottom line first when considering fruit sourcing, we see the more expensive and time-consuming route of local foraging as a reinvestment in the Gulf South's economy.
KH: We’ve met so many couples in the kombucha industry who are in business together. What would you say has been the recipe for your own successful partnership?
Alexis: A sense of humor! Oddly, at the end of a long day in the brewery, we still want to hang out together at home, so we must be doing something right. Some folks think we're crazy for working and living together, but we see this as a family business and a true meeting of the minds, and it's been amazing growing this bucha baby together. One other thing that helps is that we each have unique skill sets and bring something different to the table.
KH: How has the process been with opening your tap room? What were some surprises and lessons learned in getting it set up? And do you still like to serenade your tanks?
Austin: Yes! Music is integral to our taproom, we keep the tunes playing night and day even when no one is there. Our packaging manager, Max Knoedelseder, is a man of many talents and plays the mandolin: sometimes he serenades us and the bucha too, but it doesn't have to be live music. We have speakers set up throughout our building and take turns playing DJ.
Alexis: I once wrote an article on the—anecdotal—benefits of music deployed in the vineyard or during the wine fermentation process, and spoke to some winemakers from different countries who believe it has a real benefit on the final product. So I was sold that our kombucha tanks would be happier if they were constantly jamming out to music.
KH: For home-brewers who are interested in taking their kombucha commercial, what advice would you offer?
Austin: Know that it's a long road and that scaling is a unique challenge. Have a sound financial plan and be prepared to throw everything you have—financially, spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally—into your business. Also, don't bite someone else's style: in such a saturated kombucha marketplace, you have to bring something unique to consumers, or not at all.