Open Tab: Head to Evanston’s Kombucha Brava for feel-good fermentation
October 30, 2019
Kombucha — a fizzy, fermented tea beverage praised for its probiotic benefits — is often considered the niche drink of yoga mat-toting, gentrifying hippies, despite its origins in Asia. Nowadays, you can find it everywhere: from specialty grocers to Walmart to Evanston’s own Kombucha Brava.
Kombucha Brava, at 717 Custer Ave., is a feel-good establishment, and not just because their product is supposedly good for your gut. The taproom occupies a small space on a residential street and is honestly not much to look at from the outside. Past the bright yellow door, however, you’ll find a warm, welcoming world of locally-brewed booch.
Evanston couple Regina Sant’Anna and Douglas Skites opened Kombucha Brava’s taproom in July 2018 after finding success at the Evanston Farmers’ Market. They greet each customer like an old friend, inquiring about jobs and classes while serving up samples of whatever kombucha is on tap that week.
Behind the wooden counter, visitors can see the inner workings of kombucha production: piles of fruit, buckets of tea, and the large metal containers and oak barrels where the drink ferments and ages. The equipment is also a testament to Sant’Anna and Skites’ commitment to buying local. The fruit in the back comes — whenever possible — from the farmers market, and FEW Spirits, an Evanston-based gin and whiskey distillery, provided some of the barrels.
Kombucha Brava uses the FEW barrels to make their whiskey barrel kombucha, which they ferment for several weeks and then age in the old whiskey repositories to create a mildly smoky and surprisingly clean-tasting drink. The whiskey barrel is one of many interesting flavor profiles you’ll find at Kombucha Brava. Combined with some of their unique brewing processes, their flavors sets them apart from what you’ll find on the shelf at a nearby supermarket.
Kombucha is traditionally made by introducing a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to brewed tea and sugar. The living mixture then ferments for several weeks before brewers introduce other flavors. The end product is a combination of fizzy, sweet and tangy. Kombucha Brava adds their own special touches to this process, like aging the drink following fermentation or using a smoked tea as a base (for the smoky cherry flavor).
On my most recent visit, they had orange cardamom, apple ginger carrot, cucumber mint and smoky cherry in addition to the whiskey barrel variety. Apple ginger carrot is a more traditional — though not unwelcome — flavor, but the orange cardamom stood out. It’s slightly tart from the citrus and the natural acidity of kombucha but balanced with a hefty kick of the warm, fragrant cardamom spice. In short, it tastes like fall.
A quick disclaimer: Kombucha Brava brews an exceptional kombucha, but if you don’t already like the vinegary drink, it likely won’t become your next go-to spot. However, if you’ve been on the fence in the past, you should absolutely try it out.
Because they often change their offerings, Kombucha Brava may not always carry your favorite flavor, but that’s a good thing. Take the trip to Custer Avenue and give yourself some time to sit, taste whatever’s on tap and chat with the owners and Evanston residents in the taproom. Once you fill your mason jars with kombucha and tuck them safely in your tote bag, I promise you’ll walk away feeling better than when you came in.