[I]m currently splicing a SCOBY to candy with ginger. It will become a garnish for a kombucha craft cocktail I’ve created for an upcoming sustainable food festival in Chicago. The SCOBY (short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is an integral part of kombucha, a fermented tea beverage that is by far my favorite cocktail medium, and has come to be my creative muse.
Kombucha’s ancient recipe has changed over the years—evolved from a rustic beverage reminiscent of cider vinegar to one that celebrates artisanal preservation of the flavors in tea, fruit, berries, and botanicals. Kombucha as we find it in a café setting is a light, refreshing, and much healthier alternative to sodas, but kombucha tea also presents an effervescence and delicate acidity that lends well to mixing with other preserved flavors. As a cocktail mixer, kombucha blends impressively with distilled spirits. Mix kombucha into a shrub, a switchel, and with a simple syrup. Experiment with liqueurs, wine, and beer. Yes—even beer. On a hot summer day, I adore a shandy made with a nice, crisp IPA and lemongrass ginger kombucha.
A bartender of twenty years, I cut my teeth making traditional martinis and highballs at a cocktail lounge in the desert Southwest. When I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1998 and nestled into Genna’s Lounge on the Capitol Square, I suddenly found myself reaping the farm-to-cocktail-shaker rewards of the Midwest. I used the fresh berries and herbs from Dane County’s phenomenal twice-weekly farmer’s market by muddling and infusing them into spirits to create fresh, delicious cocktails. In 2008 I took my first sip of kombucha, a raspberry flavor by Madison’s own NessAlla Kombucha, and fell instantly in love with it. I loved kombucha’s distinct essences, its flavor landscape, and the unique acidity of the fermented teas. I began creating kombucha craft cocktails for a love of the art of mixology, and the enjoyment of kombucha’s health benefits. Last September, I was lucky enough to sign on as NessAlla’s staff mixologist and events coordinator, and now I spend much of my time inventing and concocting delicious kombucha craft cocktails.
Experimenting with kombucha cocktails is a lot of fun, and fairly easy. A fruity, fresh and deliciously ripe peach, raspberry or blueberry kombucha that is low in sugar and rich in antioxidants is an excellent mix with silver tequila, a bit of triple sec, and smoked lime juice, for a crisp and cheeky homage to my desert home’s margarita. The same flavors are a stellar vessel for a rum, bitters, and kombucha triumvirate, and add a bit of sass to a traditional tiki drink. There are many lovely botanical flavors out there as well—oolong, rose, lavender, lemongrass— these have all inspired me, and luckily there is plenty of kombucha on the market to use in creative mixology.
A good place to start? Incorporate a favorite kombucha into traditional up cocktails, like highballs and old-fashioneds. A honey-sweetened bourbon old-fashioned finished with a lemongrass ginger kombucha is always my go-to when introducing those who imbibe to kombucha cocktails. One sip, and the traditional flavors of the old-fashioned are brightened and invigorated by kombucha’s tart sweetness, pushing your taste buds into unexplored realms.
Brand-new Old Fashioned
In a 5 oz. old-fashioned glass
2 oz. bourbon
Muddle with maraschino cherry and dash of Angostura Bitters.
Add ice and finish with 3 oz. of lemongrass ginger kombucha.
Garnish with cherry and orange wedge.
Silver Snap Margarita
2 oz. silver tequila
.5 oz. Cointreau
.5 oz. lime juice
Combine in a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously.
Reserve ice and pour into 10 oz. tumbler with salt and sugar rim.
Finish with 4 oz. of peach, raspberry, or blueberry kombucha.
Garnish with lime wedge.
2 oz. citrus-flavored vodka
.5 oz. lime juice
1 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. oolong kombucha
Shake over ice and strain into a chilled 5 oz. martini glass.
Garnish with lemon twist.
—Jeanette Dainty is the chief mixologist and event planner for NessaAlla Kombucha