Funky Town: Kombucha meets beer

by Catherine Currin
photographs by Smith Hardy

You likely see it everywhere—that carbonated tea with a funny name. Kombucha is trending, and Raleigh’s Tribucha is at the forefront of the fermented fun. Founded in 2014, Tribucha has grown from early days brewing in a garage to today lining shelves at Whole Foods. Co-founder Adrian Larrea says he worked toward mass kombucha production for about a decade, and he joined forces with Jon York to bring it to life. Seen at many local coffee shops and cafes, Tribucha’s flavor is distinct, but not overpowering. “We do not use continuous fermentation. Every batch is a little bit different. There are some things you can’t control in the process, and we’re not trying to.”

The fermented, carbonated beverage is non-alcoholic, and Tribucha pushes the limit on unique ingredients. Take their best-seller, called Flowers of Life, for instance: A blend of jasmine, rose hips, green tea, and hibiscus creates a just-barely-tart, crisp flavor.

Tribucha is brewed within Fortnight Brewing Co. in Cary, and the location has motivated creative combinations of the two different kinds of suds. Both teams collaborated to launch a series of kombucha-infused beers this year, Komfusions, which are the first such combinations on the East coast, they say. But Larrea has been mixing beer and kombucha on his own for years. He says he’d mix some of Fortnight’s draft beer with with a can of ’buch, and despite some sediment, the result was delicious. “It’s almost like a snakebite (a combination of beer and cider). It started as something by accident, and it was fun to try new combinations,” he says.

The first official mix, Lucid Dreamer, is a Fortnight ale made with Tribucha’s Controlled Burn to create a kombucha sour ale. This summer marks the debut of Komfusion number two, Light Worker, a unique mixture of Fortnight’s New England IPA and an unreleased matcha and yerba mate kombucha. The final product has a sour undertone with the lemony flair of an Arnold Palmer, plus a fresh green tea flavor. Larrea says they don’t intend to stop developing new products, and are always experimenting in the brewery. The two teams plan to launch a third Komfusion later this year, using the coveted Flowers of Life. “Like beer, brewing kombucha is a creative craft, and it’s about trial and error a lot of the time. Our goal is for kombucha to make its way into the mainstream.” Beer, surely, can only help that cause.