Kombucha Can Revolution!
Once upon a time not long ago, the idea of putting kombucha in a metal can was almost unthinkable. Glass bottles and booch have been in a committed relationship since before booch went commercial. But today, growing demand for this once fringe beverage has created a need for more portable, cheaper packaging. That’s why canned kombucha is winning.
The proof: Dozens of brands—newbies and veterans of the industry—are canning their kombucha, and are excited about the results. We’ve gathered up seven founders of local brands for a roundtable conversation on why they’re canning, and what they like about it. Let’s crack this one open!
Meet our experts:
Ashleigh Lockerbie, Co-Founder/CMO, BETTER BOOCH (Los Angeles, CA)
Fun fact: Served as Rihanna’s and Selena Gomez’s background singer for over 4 years prior to Better Booch.
“We have an incredible team of master brewers, and we have a lot of fun coming up with new flavors. We have so many coming down the pipeline, the toughest choice is what to release next! We offer consistency that only comes with a time-tested, proprietary process that we have developed over the last 7 years.”
Reid Emmerich, Founder/Boochmaster, ROOT WILD (Portland, ME)
Fun fact: Before going commercial, he fermented beer, hard cider, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha in his bedroom.
”Our kombucha is inspired by nature, and the possibility of flavor combinations is limitless. We will continue to experiment with locally grown ingredients, as well as flavors from around the world. We will continue to experiment with barrel aging, beer booch hybrids, higher alcohol, lower alcohol, and other ferments. We will continue to educate and engage with the community and provide a space for an appreciation of fermentation, food, music, nature and healthy living.”
Gavin Booth, Founder, GREENBELT CRAFT KOMBUCHA (Austin, TX)
Fun fact: Has his own cooking television segment in Texas.
“Our name derives from our love of Texas hiking trails, which are called ‘greenbelts. ‘ On greenbelts, it’s actually illegal to hike with glass, so we’re proud to say that we’re the first Austin-based kombucha company where you can take our cans anywhere to fit your lifestyle. We use 100% wind energy to produce our kombucha.”
Hayden Dudley, Founder, ELEVATED ELIXIRS (Aspen, CO)
Fun fact: Is a paragliding pilot and instructor.
“Our cans—in my humble opinion—are crazy awesome, sexy, colorful and artistic. Including an element of each ingredient, sacred geometry and mountain landscapes.“
Adrian Larrea, Founder, TRIBUCHA (Raleigh, NC)
Fun fact: Likes to go mushroom hunting in his spare time.
“Our goal is to spread health, positivity, and consciousness on a large scale. Building Tribucha hasn’t been easy. It has taken a dedicated team of passionate people who want to see it succeed, and it also takes a little luck in all the right places at just the right time. We believe that anyone who puts their heart and soul into what they love, will end up being happy!”
Vinnie Pavan, Founder, BABE KOMBUCHA (San Diego, CA)
Fun Fact: Represented the band One Direction in Brazil.
“We wanted our cans to represent some of the main values of the brand: Love, kindness, happiness, health. The cans also feature a strong, empowered woman; it’s a tropical, beachy design that represents the owners’ lifestyle and the local community of San Diego.”
Chris McCoy, Founder, KOMBUCHA TOWN (Bellingham, WA)
Fun fact: His was one of the first brands to can kombucha, in 2016.
“Going to cans took a substantial amount of time and investment. It took over a year to develop a process and formulation that was stable in the cans and still contained the flavor and biological profile of a premium kombucha.”
Kombucha Hunter: What do you say to the can skeptics, who seem to think that canning kombucha is just wrong? Please dispel some common myths about canning kombucha and talk about its advantages.
BETTER BOOCH: I think for most people who fear cans, it has to do with the idea that harmful chemicals can leach into the drink due to kombucha's naturally acidic properties. It's funny, people have no issue drinking coffee out of a can or plastic bottle, or soda, both of which are much more acidic than kombucha, but seem to still fear kombucha in a can.
ROOT WILD: Don’t fear the can! As a longtime kombucha producer, I have plenty of experience with glass and undoubtedly think that cans are the future of our industry. Cans cost less to ship, less to produce and are more easily recycled!
TRIBUCHA: We became big fans of the crisp flavors and mouth feels you get when drinking kombucha from a can. We make sure to carefully control our process with the precise timing, temperature, and Ph. We also test constantly before, during, and after we put it into a can.
BETTER BOOCH: The truth is, leaching in packaging of any kind only happens at oven-hot temperatures, and even then, it's got to sit for a very long time at that high temperature. Our kombucha is not pasteurized, so we bottle and ship at a cold temperature.
TRIBUCHA: Our kombucha stays cold from the moment it leaves our tanks all the way to the grocery store shelves, which is vital for our kombucha.
KOMBUCHA TOWN: There is a big difference between home brewing and the level of scrutiny that goes into packing and production on the commercial scale. Cans have been considered safe for human consumption by the Department of Health, the FDA, the Canadian Health Agency as well as the European healthy agencies for decades. Also as of fall 2017, all domestic can manufactures were required to certify that no BPA is used in the production of their cans.
BETTER BOOCH: An argument can be made that canning actually preserves the product more effectively—a tighter seal, no UV rays, etcetera.
TRIBUCHA: We know that keeping light and oxygen out of our brew helps to give our fans more of a draft- style drinking experience.
GREENBELT: Our name derives from our love of Texas hiking trails, which are called greenbelts. On greenbelts, it’s illegal to hike with glass, so we’re proud to say that we’re the first Austin-based kombucha company where you can take our cans anywhere. We also love the fact that they’re lighter and are extremely recyclable, and do not allow light to deteriorate the flavors of our kombucha.
ELEVATED ELIXIRS: Glass is one the most rapidly depleting resources on the planet. You can get cans with a BPA free lining, limiting exposure to both toxic plastic and aluminum. Cans are lighter and can be used on river trips.
TRIBUCHA: There is nothing better than a cooler full of cans on the beach, on a canoe, or at a pool and those are places bottles haven’t been allowed in the past.
BETTER BOOCH: It's also better for the environment because cans are infinitely recyclable. Many craft beer breweries are choosing cans over bottles for those reasons!
GREEN BELT: Craft beer saw the same can revolution 5 years ago and very few craft can beer haters still exist in that category because they have seen the benefits of cans. Cans have some very distinct advantages over glass without comprising flavor at all. Cans allow for us to deliver our premium kombucha at a more affordable price due the package being lighter, one serving size, and less material per ounce of kombucha.
ROOT WILD: Cans do not leach contaminants into the kombucha, and they do not kill the culture. Our kombucha is very much alive and very happy in the cans, and we are very happy with the way our kombucha tastes in the can!
Kombucha Hunter: Will you continue to bottle or do you foresee switching to canning exclusively?
GREENBELT: We’re 100% can only.
BETTER BOOCH: If my husband had his way, we would switch over to cans exclusively, but I am partial to the bottles, so I can't see us switch to one or the other anytime soon. I think they each have their own appeal for different occasions.
BABE: We are not considering bottling right now, but we will continue fill growlers on our tasting room, and encourage people to buy on tap.
TRIBUCHA: Canning and kegging Tribucha is our focus, and we don’t anticipate going back to bottles.
KOMBUCHA TOWN: We first came to market with a bottle deposit system that we quickly out grew. The cost and maintenance with washing and re-using glass bottles could not scale beyond a small local business model. With the need for a single serving option, the can was the natural first choice because it is the safest, easiest to recycle, and is also produced in the USA.
ROOT WILD: Dealing with bottle conditioning created a variable that we wanted to avoid. By using brite tanks we significantly slow down the fermentation process and really capture the kombucha’s freshness. We use a mobile canning unit, which means an outside party brings their giant/expensive/technical piece of machinery into our space, packages the product very efficiently and leaves. This piece of equipment takes up almost half of our facility and cost three times as much as our entire operation. Owning one is not an option and, as far as I know, a mobile bottling line is also not an option. Hence, cans!
Kombucha Hunter: What advice would you give to a brewer who is considering canning their kombucha?
KOMBUCHA TOWN: Canning Kombucha is a big investment, and you need to be sure that you are ready to commit to expensive equipment with high levels of technical requirements. Also the minimum order for a printed SKU is a full truckload or 155,000 units. This being said, quadruple check you label art because if there is a mistake or something out of compliance, you cannot take it back.
GREENBELT: Like bottling, you need to craft the best version and vision of your kombucha, and then be sure to test it in both cans and bottles multiple times to see what your market prefers.
ROOT WILD : Know that there may be a substantial up front investment. Items like brite tanks, glycol chillers, pumps and walk-in coolers are expensive but a necessary part of a proper kombucha canning operation. Consider the idea of a mobile canning unit if your space and or setup does not allow for an efficient canning line.
BETTER BOOCH: We have our own canning line, but there are mobile canners who can come to you and can for you, so you don't need to take on that investment right away. The minimums for printed cans can also be pretty high, so you can get sleeves printed and wrap the can with those until you're ready to go for a bulk order.
TRIBUCHA: Do your research and make a smart business decision for your business and brewery. It is not easy to change things, and everything is twice as expensive and takes twice as long as you think it will. We suggest you find advisors in your area and go talk to them. Building a kombucha brewery has to be looked at as a business and it will have many moving parts. Choosing a can versus a bottle is just one of the many decisions you will have to make along the way.
BABE: Have enough sales in order to produce such quantities, and before buying a canning machine try to rent one or can in someone else's brewery.
ELEVATED ELIXIRS: Master carbonation. When you force carbonate, it can be easy to overdo it. If the booch is over carbonated it can make the cans quite volatile. Also, it can be difficult to get the same effervescence with different flavor profiles depending on your ingredients. For example, we use turmeric juice, which leaves a fine sediment and doesn't accept Co2 as well as other flavors. The canning process itself lends to gas escaping from the product, so exposure to oxygen over time, as well as an over-pressurized fill, can make foam and lead to a less bubbly product. There is a science to force carbonation based on time and temperature of the product being infused. It's a fine balance that we are still trying to master ourselves.
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All photos of product by Kombucha Hunter. Permission required for use.
Photo of Hayden Dudley by J Dom Smith; photo of Gavin Booth courtesy of Greenbelt Craft Kombucha.