Beer owns Long Island. You can’t argue with that. Cocktails and spirits might be on the rise, but it will be some time before they reach the level of breweries like Montauk Brewing, Greenport Harbor and Great South Bay. Thanks to the success of those breweries, though, like Blue Point in Patchogue (which was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014 for nearly $24 million), the foundation has been laid for newer companies to build their own names on that ground—literally, in the case of hard kombucha brand Kombrewcha, which was started in 2012 by Barry Nalebuff (a co-founder of Honest Tea) and Ariel Glazer.
When I came home one night to find an elaborate box packed with one bottle each of their signature flavors, I was surprised to see on the label that they’re made in Patchogue. What about hard kombucha doesn’t scream Brooklyn? I thought while sipping on a Royal Ginger, which tastes like ginger beer with a hint of tea. If my hometown were actually the place where this fermentation process was going down, I needed to know more.
To do that, I went over to the Kombrewcha office in Williamsburg, located in a WeWork atop a Whole Foods—a much more obvious locale. There, director of operations Chris McGrath and director of marketing Kristina Marino gave me the rundown on how and why Kombrewcha’s being made in what they describe as “a shed” at Blue Point Brewery thanks to majority investor ZX Ventures (backed by Blue Point’s owners, AB In-Bev).
McGrath cut his teeth in the beverage industry at various breweries on the East Coast, managing operations, before dipping his toes into the coffee world for a bit. He landed at Kombrewcha in the spring of 2017, helping launch their 3.2 percent ABV bottles, and now goes out to Patchogue to keep an eye on things a couple of days a week. Aside from that, folks at the Brewery themselves make sure nothing goes awry. “My job is manage the production side,” he says, which the folks at Blue Point make easy; he’s quick to say he’s not a brewer, a title he holds in high esteem.
To make the beverage, which is gluten-free and has under 10 grams of sugar per bottle, they’re borrowing from both alcohol and kombucha production “and manipulating that,” McGrath says. There’s a mother, or scoby, as you would expect, but they’re bringing up the minimal alcohol content of traditional kombucha in order to create a product that’s equally at home in bars and on grocery shelves. The full process is proprietary and hush-hush.
What the company sees it as is a drink to drink when you’re not drinking, a way to make sure you can go out and see your friends without getting too sloshed at Tuesday night trivia. This is a wide-open but growing market right now, with the introduction of Seedlip distilled nonalcoholic spirits and ever more elaborate mocktails getting their own menu sections at bars as high-end as The Aviary in New York City. Kombrewcha fits in there as a low-priced option (you’ll usually see a bottle for $6 to $8 at bars) with a bit of healthy cachet thrown in for good measure.
You can try it for yourself at various bars around the island, like The Brixton in Babylon, South Shore Dive in Sayville, Bobbique in Patchogue, The Courtland in Bay Shore, The Good Life in Massapequa Park, or pick up a pack at Whole Foods or Stew Leonard’s.