It’s fizzy! It’s fruity! It’s fermented!
And it’s coming to the Connecticut shoreline this summer courtesy of two UConn alums and their personal love of kombucha – the bubbly fermented and sweetened tea that’s all the rage with homebrewers and that has surged in commercial popularity in America over the last several years.
After graduating from UConn, sibling Huskies Mike Brannan ’15 (BUS) and Ashley Brannan ’18 (CLAS) ’20 MA both moved to southern California, where they experienced their first tastes of the tart, brewed beverage.
“Here, kombucha is such a popular drink, almost parallel to coffee, where you can go to any cafe and expect to find it,” says Mike, who studied accounting at UConn. “Given it was so popular, eventually we just had to try it. And we really ended up just liking it a lot.”
They started brewing their own kombucha at home using gallon-sized kits and experimenting with different fruits, herbs, and flavors. They also introduced the fermented beverage to their father, Dave Brannan, who still lives in Ledyard. Brewing kombucha became a favorite family activity, especially during peak times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was one of our main activities every week, brewing kombucha – what’s our new flavor? – and really getting into it,” Mike says. “On the West Coast, it’s so prevalent. And then coming back east and not really seeing it as present, it’s like, ‘Hey, why don’t we kind of try to bring some of that over here?’”
The bicoastal Brannans founded their family-operated kombucha brewery – called 860Kombucha – in a 1,500 square-foot facility in Mystic stocked with 50-gallon stainless steel tanks where they brew their tea and ferment it over the course of two-to-three weeks. Their dad serves as the operation’s brewmaster.
“A lot of the equipment in there is very similar to equipment you would find in a beer brewery,” Mike explains. “The difference is really that we don’t have a top on it, it’s not enclosed, and that’s essentially how we make sure our product is not alcoholic. Because there’s oxygen getting into the kombucha. And then from there, we move everything into kegs, where we then flavor it with different fruits, herbs and juices.”
After brewing, the kegs go into the facility’s walk-in refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
“That allows us to keep a non-alcoholic product,” Mike says, “and also, it’s nicer to drink cold.”
The Brannans focus is on creating a hyper-local kombucha product – they’ve partnered with local farms to source fresh, seasonal ingredients for their brews. They plan to launch their first commercial batches in July, and have also partnered with local brew pubs, restaurants, and bars interested in adding the locally fermented brews to their menus.
“We get elderberry juice from one of the farms that we work with,” he says. “So, in our first couple of batches, we’ve had a lot of elderberry-heavy flavors. When we go into the fall, maybe then we’ll start picking up more apple, or something that’s more in season during that time. You’ll probably see us mixing it up quite a bit initially, and then trying to hold on to whatever people are really, really crazy about.”
“We get to have a lot of fun experimenting with flavors, mixing up different fruits and herb flavor profiles, which isn’t really something that you get out of the national brands that you can get at the grocery store,” says Ashley, who studied communications at UConn. “That’s a really fun thing for us to do, and it allows us to create really cool, complex flavor profiles.”
860Kombucha will officially launch on July 7 at an event hosted by Bank & Bridge Brewing in Mystic. In addition to availability at local restaurants and bars, the Brannans plan to offer growler sales out of their brewery space through their website and to visit local events – like area farmers markets and concerts – so that people can try a cup of their fizzy drink.
It’s a little bit tart, but then you get the sweetness from whatever the fruit flavor is that’s in there,” Mike says. “It’s like a fruity vinegar, but then it also has this weird comparison to a beer, where it’s very crisp and carbonated. I think those different attributes make it a really good summer drink. It’s very fruity and refreshing.”