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Market Square brewer takes kombucha to mainstream

Symbiotic cultures of yeast and bacteria (SCOBY) ferment to make a unique tasting brew that customers can enjoy throughout the day and get a probiotic kick 

By: Julia Chernushin, Point Park News Service:

A customer’s reaction after she bought the first 16oz growler from Red Star Kombucha. Photo credit: Julia Chernushin, Point Park News Service

It was standing room only, as Naomi Auth swapped the tapped keg of spicy turmeric kombucha to fill another growler. There are only four seats in the bar, but that hasn’t stopped an expanding clientele. Her motto, “In Glob We Trust” isn’t a result of autocorrect, but rather homage to the SCOBY that puts life in her brew.

Consumer reception and appreciation of Auth’s Red Star Kombucha in Pittsburgh has her planning a global takeover, or at least a product expansion.

“I wanted to make it as good as I knew it could be. If I brew it, they will come,” owner Auth said, shadowing Kevin Costner’s words from the 1989 blockbuster film, “Field of Dreams.”

Red Star Kombucha is located in downtown Pittsburgh’s Market Square community and its products are available in the surrounding area at It’s Dogg’n It, Vecenie Distributing Co., Spirit Lodge, and The Abbey.

It is Pittsburgh’s oldest kombucha brewery, fermenting hard tea since 2012. The drink dates back centuries with some theorists claiming its birth around 220 BCE and entered mainstream America in the 1990’s.

Kombucha boasts a variety of health benefits that include amino acids, B-vitamins, and probiotics. This year, Consumer Reports placed it on the healthiest-food trend list.

In order to create her own glass filler Auth takes the base formula and adds natural ingredients like lavender and blueberry. Unique blends and a respected brew process have established a customer appreciation among her clientele. Customers of Red Star Kombucha must present valid identification of 21 years or older due to alcohol percentages present in the drink, which vary between 2-5%.

Emily Tokarczyk, 34, took a break from her job as a community doula to enjoy a glass of spicy turmeric. She has tried commercial kombucha, but favors Red Star Kombucha because it doesn’t disrupt the natural fermentation process like some commercialized brands.

“It’s real. It’s genuine kombucha and seems like it’s the best,” she said.

Mike Todd, 36, blew in the door with an empty growler and time for a flight. After trying Red Star Kombucha at a farmers market, then finding a growler at Giant Eagle by the same brand, he tracked down Pittsburgh’s only kombucha bar. He brought along co-worker Andrea Weaver, 31, who had never tried kombucha before. Auth offered samples to the customers to get them acquainted with the drink and Weaver settled on one, the Original Green, coming in at 2%. Todd kicked the keg of spicy turmeric to fill the growler for his wife and the two co-workers headed back to work.

Naomi Auth, owner of Red Star Kombucha, enjoys experimenting with spices and herbs to create her brew’s unique flavors. Photo credit: Julia Chernushin, Point Park News Service

“This is crazy, it’s better than yogurt. I can’t believe there is good stuff in there,” Weaver said.

As the national demand for kombucha increases, the opportunities for expanding the market are open. Due to the components of tea and unique characteristics of the brew, lower ABV kombuchas are more stimulating and less sedating compared to beer.

Auth posed the concept of adding a kombucha tap to a bar line. Cynthia Burk, 31, a bartender at Dive Bar and Grille in Lawrenceville, discussed the rationale as Auth prepared a boilermaker with the help of some Wigle Whiskey. Burk agreed that the addition of a kombucha draft pull on the bar line would be great.

“The Red Clover, that’s 5%. That’s stronger than some watered down beer and it’s so much better. I would love to have that on tap,” Burk said.

When consumers look for new ways to improve their diet and lifestyles, Red Star Kombucha will be there to fill the flute, glass, pint, or growler with a variety of flavors. Auth plans product expansion to several farmers markets this season that include Sewickley, Mt. Lebanon, East Liberty, and Peters Township that could aide in getting a pull on the bar industry’s tap line. Her goal is to raise awareness about the product- a product that has changed her life and continues to brighten her day.

“Wait, I’ve been missing something. [Takes a hypothetical drink of kombucha]. Okay, this is living,” Auth said with a smile.

Red Star Kombucha is located at 433 Graeme St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Open Wednesday- Sunday 11am-7pm. Prices range from $3 flutes- $16 64oz growler refills. Flights, pints, and cocktails are available.

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