When we started our adventure in natural fermentation, we knew very little of what we were getting into. We began with a desire to make healthy food and a passion for helping people. We also have a knack for going way overboard.
We started by brewing kombucha, and it was delicious. We couldn’t get enough of it and our customers loved it. We began investigating how to scale our production and improve our product. We wanted to offer the best and healthiest kombucha on the market. At the time we thought the biggest challenge was warning people not to shake the bottles before opening. What we found was a much bigger problem.
We paid to have our kombucha tested, and discovered that it contained too much sugar and alcohol. No wonder it made us feel so good when we drank it. It’s basically healthy near-beer. The litany of questions and emotions followed… “What?? No way!! How?? Is this happening to every kombucha brewer?… I need a cold kombucha to think this over.”
We decided to test the other kombucha brands too. We discovered that most of the well-known brews contained 3-4 times the amount of sugar claimed on the label, and also had 2-3 times the allowable alcohol levels. We retooled our kombucha to ferment longer and have less sugar and alcohol, and the resulting drink was very similar to carbonated vinegar. Our labels were honest, but next to the competition our kombucha was not as tasty. We began to realize we might be in the wrong product category.
We had a meeting to talk about the fate of our kombucha ferments, and we asked ourselves a hard question: what if we’re fermenting the wrong stuff? While we were struggling to produce kombucha commercially, we were successfully making sauerkraut for home use, and seeing the health benefits of eating it regularly. Our kraut tasted better than any brand we had ever bought at the store… even the raw and organic varieties. It dawned on us: “we should try selling our raw sauerkraut!” We converted our stainless steel kombucha fermenters into kraut fermenters. We made almost 200 gallons of sauerkraut, and the response was incredible. We started selling our sauerkraut at the farmers market, and the resounding response was: “wow, I like this! This is way better than the stuff at the store.”
So it was final… We quit brewing kombucha, and started on the journey of making high-quality fermented vegetables.
We spent countless hours researching how to further improve our products and methods. Our stainless steel fermenters were a great start, but sauerkraut is an ancient food and stainless steel is a relatively new invention. Our research led us to the age-old method of fermenting vegetables in oak barrels. We normally associate oak barrel fermentation with wine, but we found they have many more uses than just grapes. When using oak, the vegetables stay crispy because tannins in the oak preserve the pectins. The practical benefits of oak barrels had us convinced, but the flavor is what made us true believers! As an added benefit, we avoid all of the nasty chemical leaching from plastic fermenters that many kraut-makers are using. In fact, since we package in glass jars, our products never touch plastic. Our sauerkraut requires a minimum of two months fermentation time, so we want to make sure we are aging in the safest and most non-toxic containers available. Oak barrels are a perfect answer.
Our journey took us back in time, to the most traditional method of fermentation available. We make all of our products by hand in small batches. That’s why we call our products Artisan Cultures. It truly is a work of art.