Kombucha, a fermented tea drink, is often framed in terms of its often-debated health benefits, like providing antioxidants and probiotics.
At Dark Side Fermenters, Sam and Pete Avery make no health claims — they’re just out to create some great flavors.
Sam and Pete started Dark Side Fermenters 18 months ago after experimenting with brewing kombucha in their Whitefish home, which turned out to be an easier process than they’d experienced in their year brewing their own beer.
Their concoction, which used leftover fruit from Sam’s family orchard near Polson, turned out to be delicious, and viable as an alternative to more traditional fermented beverages.
“I was working at a brewery, and I just felt like bars and breweries needed a nonalcoholic beverage that was more fun or better than just soda and water,” Pete said.
“We want to make our kombucha so that it tastes so good that it’s exciting for people who aren’t drinking alcohol to drink it,” Sam added. “If you’re not drinking and you’re going out with people, that can be really hard.”
Dark Side mixes and matches as many flavors as it might take to reach the ideal kombucha.
One staple brew, the Arabella, combines ginger, hibiscus, lime, mint, thyme, cinnamon, cloves and cocoa nibs. Another, the Misty Mountain Hop, features cascade and centennial hops alongside matcha green tea, coriander and cardamom.
Summer and winter seasonal brews are also available, with the colder month varieties featuring plums, dates, apples, pineapple and more.
Dark Side kombucha is available in more than 20 locations, including Montana Tap House, Sobba Cycle, Spotted Bear Spirits and Wild Coffee Company in Whitefish and Backslope Brewing and Three Forks Grille in Columbia Falls.
After seeing the drink’s success in other places out west, Sam said they were hoping to get ahead of the market before other businesses brought the drink to the Flathead.
“We liked it and we knew that places on the West Coast were offering kombucha at breweries instead of beer,” she said. “The things that have been really popular there have eventually made it to Montana, so we were trying to maybe get ahead of the market.”
That market here is still small, they say, but growing.
When they started the fermenting was done in 8-gallon fermenters. Now they’re brewing out of 44-gallon containers next to Apple Barrel and Sacred Waters Brewing on U.S. Highway 2, and the amount of kombucha produced and sold matches the jump.
The key part of getting the drink to settle into mainstream acceptance is time, Pete says.
“It’s just like when beer went from American Pilsners to craft beer. Beer used to be for a person without a palate. Now beer is a respectable, classy drink. That’s where kombucha is,” he said. “It’s this healthy drink and it’s kind of vinegary, and it’s supposed to be good for you but it doesn’t taste that good — that’s what a lot of people think. We’re trying to move that forward into the realm of, ‘No, this can be really fun and taste good and be dynamic.’”
The couple is also gearing up to help others start their own similar business, though not in the Flathead.
Sam recalled working at the SNOW Bus Brewfest last year, where Dave Renfrow of Maya Pedal approached her and asked about bringing her to Guatemala to help teach others to brew kombucha.
Maya Pedal is a Guatemalan-owned nongovernmental organization that has been making pedal-powered machines from old bicycles since 2001. Old bicycles can be re-serviced into devices like water pumps, grain mills, corn cobblers, coffee bean de-pulpers and other machines.
Initially Sam said she brushed the idea off, but followed up shortly after.
Now they’re headed to Guatemala in mid-February.
“Aside from the biking machines, they’re always looking to support projects that benefit self-sufficiency and community projects that provide jobs and income for Guatemalans,” Sam said. “These woman are already weavers that work with Maya Pedal, but they wanted to make kombucha. Tourists ask about it and they see it as something they could use to bring tourists into their village.”
For more information, visit www.darksidefermenters.com/