ON SUNDAYS LAST SUMMER, Alesia Miller set up shop in Shorewood’s Estabrook Park, chilling bottles of her fermented teas in a bucket of ice water. A young couple mulled over which flavor to buy while Miller explained the trendy drink’s medicinal benefits. The founder of Milwaukee’s Soul Brew says her first love is music, to which she devoted 20 years of her life as a teacher. Now the ardor she feels for music is shared with this delicately fruity, not-too-sweet refresher and her nearly 3-year-old company that brews it.
How did you get started on the path of brewing kombucha?
It actually ended up falling in my lap. My sister and her boyfriend were brewing it. She kept saying, “It stinks but it’s good for you. You should drink it.” I started making it, but it wasn’t about building a business. It was about taking care of myself. Doing a little research about the industry, I learned there weren’t a lot of Black people or Black women brewing kombucha. It left out a lot of people – these cultures I felt needed to be educated on the benefits of it.
Kombucha is so mainstream now. How did you approach finding a niche in the market?
One of the reasons I got into this was to offer it to people who had never seen it, and that’s part of why I would love to push for it to be available in [unshatterable] cans – I can make it available in the corner store. It tends to be too intense flavor-wise so I came at it from, “What flavors would people enjoy?” What I love hearing from someone is “I wasn’t a kombucha drinker before and now my boyfriend is drinking my kombucha!”
What do you see coming up on the horizon for Soul Brew?
We want to grow. We moved out of The Tandem [restaurant, whose basement she had used as a brewing facility] in April with six barrels. Now we have over 24 barrels. We’re building partnerships – we just got into Urban Beets and Goodkind. We’re [on tap] at Strange Town and Company Brewing. We’re also looking at doing a CBD line. I’d love for Soul Brew to be that breath of fresh air that sparks healthy change.
EFFERVESCENT FERMENTED TEAS from companies like KeVita line the shelves of grocery stores everywhere, and loads of consumers have jumped on the wellness drink bandwagon. But, as evidenced by the blob that floats around in each bottle, kombucha still comes off as a mystery elixir. Here are three things to know about it:
- It’s not made from a fungus. Each batch of kombucha comes from a SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It’s created during the fermentation process, and while it may look like an alien lifeform, it serves as the home for the bacteria and yeast that that turn basic sweet tea into fizzy, sour kombucha. “I call it the delicious yumyums,” says Soul Brew’s Alesia Miller.
- While trace amounts of alcohol are made during the brewing process, kombucha is not technically a boozy beverage. To be sold as a nonalcoholic drink, kombucha must contain less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
- Like other fermented foods, it’s rich in probiotics. Does that make it healthy? Probiotics help fill your gut with healthy bacteria, which in turn, aids digestion. It also may help fight heart disease and manage type 2 diabetes.