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AN INTERVIEW WITH BOUCHEBouche Kombucha
Tell us about your business in a nutshell – when & how did it start?
We are a brewery from Berlin, who specialise in kombucha based drinks and craft brewing. We started out making original flavoured kombucha in the familiar 0,33l bottle format as well as in 0,75l champagne bottles. Our approach to making kombucha has always been on the experimental side, combining selected ingredients with production techniques from beer and wine making. From the beginning, we set out to make a very high quality but still accessible product, exploring all the potential kombucha has.
Walker, Yannic, and Felix all have an artistic backgrounds, we were sharing studios in the north of Berlin, while Felix and Yannic already knew each other from university times. When Walker join the studios, he organised a group show in the US with all artists in the studio complex.
On that trip, Walker introduced the others to kombucha, which had already established itself in the States. We brought back some cultures to Berlin and Walker immediately began with home- brewing in the studio. We grew increasingly excited about the process and the flavors we could produce by experimenting with yeasts and other infusions.
We spent over a year just concentrating on understanding the process and the basic flavor of our kombucha until we grew out of Walker’s five square meter painting storage, which we converted into our first make-shift brewing room.
We admire your collaborations with other gastro partners, tell us a bit more about that and the motivation behind it.
Our collaboration with gastronomy began with Cookies Cream. After we decided to offer our kombucha in champagne bottles, we approached them with our initial results and they were the first ones to appreciate our angle of likening the kombucha to natural wine.They put a lot of faith into us right at the start and we developed bespoke flavors for them to have on their wine menu. Really without Cookies we most likely not have made it this far today.
We continued with artist editions, with which we could play with experimental ingredients or potential flavor ideas. At the same time we promoted our artist friends, who designed the labels for the limited editions. Very soon we were approached by local gastronomies to make collaboration, which was at once a great opportunity to make contacts and establish ourselves in the gastronomy scene, as well as a way to showcase our creativity in both the flavor as well as the design.
For us, the collaborations were a core part of our philosophy in operating as a business. We believe in supporting our gastronomy and retail partners fully as mutual extensions of each others brands. We lay great importance on maintaining personal relationships with our partners and cultivating a company mentality on cooperation and support. The collaborations are a lot of fun and really inspiring, even though at times we receive a lot of requests and in the end they are more work than one would think.
What is it about kombucha that you want to share with the world?
Kombucha can be very good and the potential it offers to create and experiment is enormous.
You put a lot of love into your brand image, from the packaging to the stunning warehouse. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind all of this?As mentioned before, we all have artistic backgrounds. In fact we recruited more artists and creative people to work with us now in the brewery, which is very important for us. Felix is really the brains behind our outward appearance. Very early on, he came up with the color concept and the idea for the fictional flowers – often likened to Matisse’s paper cuts or Ellsworth Kelly’s plants and concrete shapes.
We set out to create a big collection or garden of make believe flowers and plant that correlated to flavors, projects, or events or perhaps just stand alone flowers as little animated clips. On the one hand it relates directly to our artistic work and on the other it serves as very flexible basis corporate design that offers us endless variations and opportunities to expand on.
Felix puts a lot of time and care into creating flowers and concepts for every collaboration, new product, and project that we have and it really shows. In our opinion our brand image is as important as our kombucha and the two are inseparable from one another.
What sets bouche apart from the other kombucha brewers out there?
When we started making kombucha together, there was virtually no real kombucha presence in Germany, aside from a few producers, who also specialised in other products.
We came to market at the same time as several other Berliner producers and in our opinion we all offer something different. But most importantly, all of us are contributing to creating a greater general knowledge and appreciation as well as a market for kombucha.
We are proud of developing our own brewing techniques and original approaches to flavors. At the basis of all this lies Walker’s extensive research in creating processes and designing and building tanks and machines. This has been the most important step in producing our own starter in house with which we make all our kombucha. We can control the production of our kombucha from the very start to finish.
In addition to this, we are very careful in choosing the ingredients we work with, focusing on interesting pairings and mainly dry ingredients that are available all year round. We like to explore the possibilities of what kombucha can be. For example, we have combined it with hops to make it more akin to craft beer in our Lemondrop flavor. For our Earlybird, we use black tea for our fermentation and combine it with bergamot peel as our take on earl grey. For our most recent side project NOVIN, we have replaced the sugar in our fermentation with malt – a technique borrowed directly from beer brewing – and combine it with a wine reduction.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE WINE WORLD
At gastro tastings, dinner parties and the bar of a favourite restaurant over late-night glasses, this is a topic that’s recently become hard to avoid. Earlier this year, the issue became suddenly & painfully visible when catastrophic frosts ravaged vineyards across France. An early burst of warm weather coaxed vines into blossom, followed by a freak cold snap that decimated up to 80% of expected harvests in most of the country’s wine regions. The stories were heartbreaking, and the photos that illustrated them were unforgettable. At night, thousands of enormous candles were lit in rows between the vines in a last desperate attempt to fight off the frost, producing scenes of an intense and terrible beauty.
In low-intervention wine, the beauty of the industry is also its biggest challenge. Producing wine in any capacity means being at the mercy of nature, of the seasons and the temperance of the weather. No amount of chemicals can save a vineyard that’s been burnt to the ground by wildfires, or decimated by frosts. However, for industrial producers there are artificial ways to cap the damage and remain afloat. Low-intervention producers are by contrast far more vulnerable to seasonal irregularities; often the only solution is to scrap the vintage, bottle a cider and call it a day.
It’s a Catch-22: some producers are choosing not to use harsh chemicals in order to preserve the health of the soil and be kinder to the earth. However, as the climate problems worsen, large industrial producers who choose to use chemicals are doing so in such quantities that these efforts are being suffocated, and low-intervention producers suffer the consequences despite making a concerted effort not to be part of the problem
In the aftermath, we’re left with the question: what can we do to help? It’s clear that the causes of climate deterioration extend far beyond wine production, or even agriculture as a whole, and personal responsibility is only half the battle. However, reducing Co2 emissions in whatever way we can is the best way to help on an individual level, and there’s something to be said for fighting off futility with the feeling that we’re doing our part. One way we can do this is by choosing wines that are packaged differently.
Glass bottles have been used since the 17th century for storing and transporting wine. Throughout monumental changes to civilisation, the rise of democracies, industrial revolution and everything that came with it; this is one piece of technology we haven’t been able to improve. True, the machinery used to actually bottle the wine has become far more sophisticated, but the bottle itself remains essentially the same.
Why is this? Well, on a superficial level, glass bottles can be quite beautiful. Perhaps not as beautiful as the painted ceramic jars and pots used in Ancient wine storage, but certainly more beautiful than plastic. On a more practical level, glass bottles with cork seals are perfect for aging. Which is great, when aging the wine is your main priority; but what of a simple, young table wine intended for immediate drinking? Or a mass-produced supermarket bestseller with little to no shelf life? The bottles in this case are nothing more than a vessel for transportation, which is a pretty short lifespan for something that needs a lot of raw materials to produce. On top of this, transporting glass bottles emits almost 10 times as much Co2 than Bag-In-Box (BIB) or pouches, and the recycling process isn’t perfect; plenty of glass still ends up in landfill despite being disposed of correctly.
Let’s talk about Bag-In-Box. Wines packaged this way don’t historically have the best reputation, and yes: plastic has developed an image as the enemy of the eco-friendly. But let’s look at the statistics: according to a study done by the Norwegian & Swedish governments, glass bottles have a potential environmental impact of ten times the amount of Co2 per litre compared to that of BIB. In France, there’s no shame in buying ‘Cubi’ over glass bottles, and many also refill 5 Litre bottles at their local Co-op. Why, then, is there such stigma elsewhere? Quality’s definitely a factor, but more and more natural & biodynamic producers are choosing to use this format for efficiency alone. Less casualties during transport, larger-scale sales (and less back pain) for importers; it’s a win-win.
Kegged wine has also become a talking point amongst bar & restaurant owners, even more so since natural wine exploded onto the bar scene. Vulnerable wines without added sulfites are much safer when kegged, since there’s barely any chance of spoilage. A keg of wine (120 glasses, approximately) is popped in the fridge upon delivery, and stays at a stable temperature until it’s emptied; each glass remains as fresh as the first. It’s almost completely zero waste, too: no air gets in, no wine is wasted, and the keg is returned to the supplier to be refilled. The cherry on top: a 96% reduction in carbon footprint over 20 years, compared with bottles.
Unfortunately, as wonderful as these options are for certain situations, there are of course times when only a glass bottle will do. It’ll be quite a while until all Michelin-level restaurants are comfortable with filling a carafe from a keg of young Beaujolais, and there are moments that cry out for a beautifully aged bottle to add a sense of occasion. What’s important is gradually changing the wine landscape by making the right choices for the right situations. This isn’t an argument for fully reinventing our consumption, but rather for modifying it to work towards a safer future for the industry we love.