How to Open a Commercial Kombucha Brewery
Are you thinking of opening up your own kombucha brewery? Perhaps you are having so much fun brewing kombucha that you want brew on a commercial scale. Maybe you see a market gap in your area for kombucha!
Opening your own kombucha brewery could make for a great business venture. But before you dive in, it is a good idea to work out what you need and plan how you are going to set up your large scale booch brewing system. The more you know beforehand the easier it will be to budget, plan and be cost effective and streamlined.
So let us take a look at some of the main considerations such as what kind of equipment you will be needing, and how you are going to do all of the brewing. Then there are also a couple of areas where it is wise to get clued up on before you get going, such as what the shelf live of kombucha is and if it is in danger of developing levels of alcohol once it has left your premises.
Equipment to Invest in
The first consideration to give some thought to when planning to set up a commercial kombucha brewery is what kind of equipment will you be needing to invest in before you start.
Brewing Vessels & Other Items
When making kombucha at home, you can easily get away with merely using some old glass jars for brewing vessels, and some pieces of clean cloth as covers. However when it comes to making kombucha on a larger scale, you will need to look at getting some larger types of fermentation containers. We will discuss this in more detail under the next section, as this will depend on the brewing technique which you choose.
Secondary Ferment Containers
For purposes of economy of scale, it is also a good idea to plan what you are going to use for secondary ferment containers. You will probably want to do your second ferments en mass, so ass to reduce rebottling time. For this you will again need some large glass containers, but in the case of the second ferment they must be able to seal properly. Glass carboys can work well for this, providing that their openings are large enough for flavoring ingredients such as fruit to pass through. In this regards carboys can tend to be a little awkward, particularly when it comes to cleaning. Very big glass jars with sealing lids might be your best bet in this area.
As you are going to be looking at brewing large quantities of tea for your upscaled kombucha making, you probably do not want to hassle around with boiling endless small pots of water. Therefore it is a good idea to invest in some super sized pots for this purpose.
Other Kitchen Items
Besides large pots or vats, there might be some other kitchen items which you might want to purchase in larger sizes such as strainers or sieves and funnels.
If you do not have one already, a syphoning pipe will make your life a lot easier when it comes to bottling. It does not need to be anything fancy, even a short length of clean garden hose will do the job.
You will also need to source some bottles in which to package your finished kombucha. kombucha should not really be stored in plastic due to its inherent acidity levels, therefore in that regard, for the health of your customers, glass bottles are the best option. However there is another consideration when it comes to bottling kombucha for retail purposes and that is safety. If kombucha which still has some sugar left in it is left in a sealed glass bottled at a warm temperature for enough time, the accumulation of carbon dioxide can build up enough pressure to cause an explosion.
So when it comes to exploding, plastic bottles are a much safer option than glass bottles! Also, plastic bottles give an indication of pressure by becoming hard and taut to the touch – whereas with glass bottles you have no idea if they are filled with pressure or not.
If you have your heart set on using glass bottles, then it might be a good idea to brew your kombucha to a point where there is not too much residual sugar left within the brew after the second ferment. The more sugar is left within kombucha once you seal it up, and the warmer the temperature, the more capacity it has to continue fermenting and building up pressure.
Hydrometers can be very handy for checking residual sugar levels. If you are concerned about pressure build up and want to monitor your brew’s sugars levels, consider getting yourself one of these for accuracy and consistency.
Capper & Raw Caps
If you are going to be using glass bottles for your kombucha, you will also need to invest in a capper. This is a machine which ‘stamps’ raw caps onto the top of bottles. You will also need to find a place which sells the caps close to you, or order them online.
If you are going to be supplying shops to which you need to transport your bottled kombucha you should look at purchasing some crates. This will reduce breakages and time spent loading and unloading.
Another item you might want to look at with regards to your list of equipment is a printer which can print stickers or labels to which you can apply glue. As you will be needing lots of labels for your bottles if all goes well, then it makes sense to be able to print them onsite. If you can get your hands on a cost effective printer, the initial outlay might be offset by what you could save in the long run. However if there is a business in your area whose prices are competitive enough to make getting your own label printer set up redundant – then of course go for that.
As far as brewing techniques are concerned you have two options, ordinary batch by batch brewing or continuous brewing. For both of these methods you will find a plethora of people voting either for or against.
Continuous Versus Batch Brewing
Both of these methods have avid supporters. There are some kombucha makers who swear by their continuous brew system because it allows them to have kombucha on tap and it can be generally easier to keep up than kombucha brewed batch by batch. However, there are also those who say that the continuous brewing system causes imbalances within the kombucha’s microbial makeup. The reason why this can happen is because continuous brewing systems do not get completely emptied out on a regular basis. This allows for the free floating yeasts to build up at the bottom.
This is particularly true in warm climates due to the fact that the yeasts thrive in slightly warmer temperatures than the bacteria.
Which to Choose?
Although continuous brewing systems can sometimes cause the yeasts to build up, they are probably the system most suited to commercial kombucha production. The reasons for this are as follows
- If managed correctly they can supply a continuous supply of even toned kombucha.
- They can come in large sizes.
- The vessels are designed to brew kombucha in.
- They have a tap for easy kombucha harvesting.
As you can see, continuous brewing systems can make large scale kombucha making a little easier. In addition, regular cleaning can negate problems of overactive yeasts and SCOBY imbalances developing. If temperatures are severely high, then you can also combine an intermittent emptying schedule with temperature control. If you are living in a climate where the temperature regularly exceeds 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) then a form of temperature control via air conditioning or some other method might be a good thing to look at anyway. Kombucha which is brewing at too warm a temp will go into fermentation overdrive and often produce a ‘booch’ which has a shallow flavor profile.
Another perk to continuous brewing systems is that they are easily up scalable if you need to up your production of kombucha.
As with any business branding can be one of the most important elements. So take some time before you kick off, deciding what your logo will look like, what color pallete you think is suitable, as well as what the message of your brand is. Is it top top notch quality (think all organic ingredients and heightened probiotic levels), youthful vibrance, or retro sturdiness?
Once you get going with your marketing and put your product onto the shelf, you don’t really want to go changing up logos and branding, as that can be confusing and disorientating for consumers.
Storage & Shelf Life Considerations
One of the more tricky aspects of going commercial with kombucha is its shelf life. If given the right conditions – or merely enough time – kombucha’s fermentation process can continue onwards until the resulting kombucha has turned to vinegar. This is a bit inconvenient in terms of shelf life! Customers usually prefer consistency and reliability within a product. This can be difficult to achieve 100% with kombucha, due to its live nature. However the alternative is pasteurization, and with that you and the customer kiss probiotic benefits goodbye.
So, in the interest of selling the healthiest most probiotic kombucha you can, I would say that small variations in strength are not for you to worry about. That said, you do want to make sure that the buyer gets your kombucha when it is at its best.
The way to achieve this lies in anticipating supply and demand. If you are selling onsite, perhaps aim to bottle on a daily basis in order to sell the kombucha at its optimum strength.
If you are supplying shops things can get a little more tricky. If they are selling your kombucha on consignment, then you should try to underestimate how much to deliver.
In the event that shops are buying from you, it can be easy to say ‘Well hey, once they buy it, how old it gets in their fridge is not my problem.’ However from a branding point of view, it still is. If a consumer buys a bottle of your kombucha from a health food store and it is super sour they will most probably chalk up the disappointment to your make of kombucha, and not necessarily to the health shop.
Put it on the Label
to protect yourself from these kinds of situations, and to further your renown for quality kombucha – it can be a good idea to print maturity date on your bottles. You can explain on your label that if the kombucha is purchased after the ‘maturity date’ there is a chance that it could be sourer than expected.
While we are on the topic of disclaimers and warnings – it is a good time to take into account the danger of explosions which can come with bottled kombucha. While it is unlikely that kombucha will explode under low temperatures in the refrigerator, there is the possibility of this happening if it has to be out of the fridge for any length of time.
To protect others from exposing themselves to kombucha explosions (they are real!) and yourself from responsibility, it might be a good idea to incorporate into your label a warning about the potential of kombucha if left at room temperature to build up pressure.
You always want to be making great kombucha. But even more so when you are going to be selling it!While initial ferments and flavoring are key to delicious results – so too is bottling. Clumsy or hasty bottling can ruin a batch of kombucha by robbing it of bubbles. Watch out for our upcoming post ‘How to Bottles Like a Pro’ for bottling tips and tricks.
Controlling Alcohol Levels
One more thing which is important to take into account when planning your own kombucha brewery – is alcohol levels! Kombucha brands have gotten into trouble over this point before, so we might as well learn from their trials.
Usually kombucha contains a very low percentage of alcohol, generally less than 0,5%. This is too little for it to be classified as an alcoholic beverage, and as such kombucha is not subject to the stringent laws that are designed to control the selling of liquor and other alcoholic drinks.
Legal Implications of Kombucha Which Could be Classified ‘Alcoholic’
However, under the right variety of circumstances kombucha can develop heightened alcohol levels while on the shelf or on the way to the shelf. Different countries have different laws with regards to alcoholic beverages, what constitutes one, and the legislation with regards to selling them. However in the States, if your kombucha develops a level of alcohol higher than 0,5% during fermentation, at bottling or after bottling – then it is classified as an alcoholic beverage and is subject to TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau, which falls under the US Department of Treasury) laws and requirements.
If you are not keen on opening your own kombucha brewery which branches into alcoholic or craft variations, then it is really not worth it to comply to the stringent requirements and taxes of the TTB. In which case you are probably better off implementing some measure to keep those alcohol levels down!
Things You Can Do:
- Encourage the bacteria and keep the yeasts in check
- Do not bottle when there is still a significant amount of residual sugars left in your brew.
- Keep your bottled kombucha super cold, and instruct any outlets selling it to do the same.
Get an Alcohol Meter and Measure Periodically
As far as legal matters are involved with making a food/beverage product this area of possible accidental alcohol levels is probably your main concern. To be safe, it might be a good idea to purchase an alcohol meter. This way you can test you brews during fermentation at bottling, and do a few spots checks every now and again of the ones ‘on shelf’. This way you will know for sure whether or not any batches are developing levels of alcohol which are above the limit.
If you have decided to open up your own commercial kombucha operation then I am sure you are excited about it. There is nothing like being prepared to pave your way to success, so I hope that these tips and considerations have helped you to get a clearer idea of what you need, what areas to give thought to and ways to streamline your setup.
If and when you do open your own commercial kombucha brewery, please don’t be shy to connect with us, we are always keen to hear from you. Goodluck!