Just last summer, mixologist Austin Sherman and partner, wine and travel writer Alexis Korman, launched Big Easy Bucha, bringing the first locally produced small-batch kombucha to town, which they first sold specifically through Good Eggs. In just a little over six months, however, the duo has already launched a new flavor, moved into a bigger production space, introduced kombucha on tap at three New Orleans restaurants (as well as being found in bottle-form in over a dozen more), and have an upcoming product that has the potential to ignite a fermented cocktail frenzy in town. Not to mention, a portion of their proceeds benefit local charities and their products are all vegan.
Here now, the bucha do-gooders talk shop (and divulge some great local vegetarian eats).
For folks who don't know... what, exactly, is Kombucha?
Alexis: Kombucha is an ancient elixir, a fermented tea. It dates back 2000 years to China. Recently, of course, it's made a huge resurgence here in the states. It's good for you, full of probiotics, and vitamins, lightly carbonated.
Austin: And naturally effervescent. It's a great soda alternative. Listen, I was a child of the 80s. You drank a Surge when you woke up, a Jolt after basketball, and a Coke with dinner. It was like 700 calories just in sodas.
How did you two get into making your own kombucha?
Alexis: We've been drinking it independently for about ten years. Austin was making it at home. It was just for us, for our own consumption, but it was really delicious (it was the Jazz Juice flavor). I was like, why doesn't New Orleans have this? We deserve to have a brand here. Every other town that has a foodie culture already sort of has a kombucha brand. Coming from a place like New York, and Austin was coming from Denver, that was already a part of the lifestyle. So we just thought, why not try to just do it commercially, bring it to some other people.
What was the reaction early on?
Austin: We put the necessary documents in place to get the LLC filed and all those things, and we went to Good Eggs. We were like, let's see how people respond, if they'll order it. We started selling out immediately.
Alexis: There were enough people that knew what it was. Right now, we think it's a fifty-fifty split. We get people like oh my god you're making kombucha, we want one. And then we get people like what is kombuchi?
So when you went to Good Eggs that was about a year ago?
Austin: Six months! June 16.
How has production grown in just that time?
Austin: We really didn't want to fully dive into this until we could see if it was a viable business option. Our first account was Green Fork. We signed them up on draft. We started getting great feedback. Movie stars were really attuned to our stuff, drinking it, sometimes daily (on set via craft services). From there, we dove right in. Bought some bigger fermenters. Hired on a guy with a brewing background to help us out.
Alexis: It started to go from small vessels to bigger vessels, so we had to take that leap because we're starting to produce a lot, so we need somebody who can help move a 350 pound container. It's bigger than we can do physically with just the two of us. But it's been growing organically. I don't think we just decided to scale it up.
Austin: It's strategic. We align ourselves with places like HiVolt and Green Fork. We believe in artisan products that are healthy and support local business. Green Fork has been so supportive. Some of the bigger guys, they want things we can't provide at this stage, so we're more focused on smaller moms and pops.
How many places in New Orleans carry your kombucha?
Austin: We have fifteen locations. Three are available on draft: Hivolt 2 (in Uptown) and both Green Fork locations (on Prytania in the LGD and in Old Metairie). By bottle: The co-op, Canseco's, Seed, HiVolt, Sneaky Pickle.
Alexis: 3 Potato 4. Raw Republic. We're forgetting some, but they're on our website.
Are there any other local artisan products you guys are obsessed with right now?
Alexis: Old New Orleans Rum. We love working with them and their products. We're starting to kind of do cocktail pairings with our kombucha, which we're really excited about. They play really well with alcohol, and Austin has a bar background, so it's a natural fit.
Austin: We've developed three cocktails with our two flavors (Jazz Juice and Cajun Kick). Two of them have the different rums from Old New Orleans Rum, and one has a honeysuckle vodka. Old New Orleans Rum, yeah, we love that stuff.
Alexis: We love Bittermen's too. I feel like our house is stocked with so much. We have a crazy bar cart.
Austin: I worked around the country for different bar outlets for The W, and most recently at Sobou, behind Abigail Gullo, in her program. I really learned quite a lot from her. She has some thorough knowledge in classic cocktails and she's forward thinking. So we've used some of those skills to develop some awesome kombucha cocktails.
Alexis: One of my favorite cocktails is a riff on the French 75. We call it the Ferment 75; it's because Aust and I have logged so many hours at the French 75 Bar. Ours is a twist without cognac, subbing in Cathead honeysuckle vodka for the cognac, and our Jazz Juice, with all its carbonation, for the champagne element.
Are kombucha cocktails a big trend elsewhere?
Alexis: It's really big in the Northeast and LA. Also in Portland and Seattle. It's already happened. They've already had their moment. We got a story that circulated about somebody putting a kombucha tap in their office, instead of water cooler. But we're sort of at this very beginning stage down here, and we love that.
Austin: In Bend, Oregon you find kombucha on draft at, like, the gas station. In Denver, bars will have a dedicated line for kombucha, and they mix them with sours or saisons. It turns a normal beer into a bit of a sour, it's pretty interesting.
Is that the next big thing for you guys, and for New Orleans, kombucha cocktails?
Alexis: We're releasing another flavor that we want to target specifically for the bar market. It's called the Voodoo Brew. It's a coffee kombucha hybrid. It goes so perfectly with vermouth. It has this dark, bitter element with a hint of sweetness. It's perfect for a great, complex after dinner drink, a digestif, quite literally with all the probiotics.
Austin: And bar mixers can be really sugary. It's like holy crap, there's 80 grams of sugar in a tiny little thing of ginger beer, so the Cajun Kick is the perfect compliment or substitute.
Alexis: It's got heat to it.
Where do you guys like to eat in New Orleans?
Alexis: We just discovered Good Karma in the yoga studio Swan River, which I'm obsessed with. Love it. Can't get enough. Today we ate at Ba Chi Canteen, another one of our all time favorites. They have an entire vegetarian menu.
Austin: I always grab lunch at Green Fork.
Alexis: Those vegan boxes they make, with cauliflower steak and quinoa. They're so good.
Austin: Yeah, Trey and Stephanie make really good vegetarian dishes. Hmmm, where else? 1000 Figs.
Alexis: We're obsessed with 1000 Figs, and the Falafel Feast for two. We also had an amazing dinner at The Grill Room, a ten course all-vegetarian tasting and wine pairing. Daniel Causgrove knocked it out of the park. There was a bourbon chestnut soup paired with a Madeira. It was so good. John Mitchell, the somm over there, is crushing it.
Austin: It was completely surprising.
Where do you drink?
Austin: My favorite bar in the city is The French 75.
Alexis: We hang out a lot at Le Foret, and we love Cane & Table too. We get down at some of the wine bars too: Patrick's Bar Vin, Bacchanal, The Pearl. And Erin Rose is our dive bar of choice.
Anything else we can expect from Big Easy Bucha in 2015?
Alexis: We are part of The Big Idea, from Idea Village. We're in there with some tech people and other local businesses. Basically, local business pitch to win some sort of prize at the end, but we're trying to learn more about what it means to be an entrepreneur. We have a duct tape kind of mentality, and we're grass roots, so we think it's interesting for them to look at a kombucha company versus all these tech or educational companies.
Austin: It wraps up in March with the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, and at the very end twelve companies get to pitch, and the winner gets $50,000.