Gut Feelings: Brian Igersheim Talks Kombucha

Leave it to the North Bay to take an already popular food market and somehow infinitely improve it.

We’re only half kidding when I say there must be something in the water once you cross the threshold of the Golden Gate Bridge. Food movements flourish there. Land is sacred. Agriculture is honorable. And most recently, kombucha is skillfully crafted with top-notch ingredients, ready to make the gut of every human being a balanced landscape one probiotic punch and antioxidant zing at a time. Created by CEO Brian Igersheim, who applies his extensive knowledge of biology and chemistry to the alchemy his libations, Marin Kombucha has staked a claim on the Kombucha market—earning fans from Chez Panisse to Costco, and everywhere in between. As the brand is poised for even wider spread growth, Igersheim let us in on a few of his mixology secrets.


Q

What is the backstory of Marin Kombucha? How did it come to be and what would you say sets it apart from other brands?

A

I always brewed Kombucha dating back to the early-mid 2000s.  It never dawned on me that this would turn into a business rather I just enjoyed brewing small batches for my own personal usage. I have a background in Biology and Chemistry so have always been a student of fermentation. I was living in Maui as the Food Science Director for a large Pineapple company when I decided it would be nice to move to the mainland. So about four years ago, I moved to SF with my two little ones and decided to brew Kombucha on a larger scale. It started rather small in a commercial kitchen doing 25 gallons at a time for a few months. We quickly found success in corporate offices and restaurants and were able to scale from that point. Six months in we moved to a 1500 square foot facility and just this past year we continued our expansion going to a 5k square foot facility.

When we started, we set off to make a more palatable Kombucha beverage.  I constantly found the large brands were either to sweet or to sour with that vinegar bite.  So we played with several varieties and blends testing fermentation cycles for months until we found that balance I aimed for. In the end, I believe we have a very unique and palatable approach that is unlike any other brand on the market.


Photo courtesy of Marin Kombucha.

Photo courtesy of Marin Kombucha.

 

Q

Would you say creating these concoctions is more of an art or a science?

A

Our beverages definitely combine both elements of art and science.  On the fermentation and brewing side we are very science based. In terms of flavor profiles that is where the art comes in.  We like to play with fruits and herbs and are always mixing and matching combinations to see what surprises us and our consumers.  While we do not have the scale to bottle several flavors, we have up to a dozen keg flavors that are sold throughout the city in the likes of corporate offices and sports complexes. Our newest varieties are Melon Rose and Raspberry Cacao.


Q

What is the extra benefit of local kombucha such as yours vs. regular, mass produced kombucha?

A

On the local side it is of course always nice to help support our own community and we appreciate our community looking after us.  Larger companies have issues with product quality and consistently as they scale. For us, quality control is key and that is why we have always grown at our own pace avoiding any large institutional capital. Every batch goes through strict fermentation protocols in small sizes. At these levels, we are able to maintain and ensure quality.


Q

Are you bakers or chefs in addition to being Kombucha mixologists? The fermentation process is somewhat similar in sourdough starters; have you experimented in other arenas such as bread making?

A

While we have never forayed into the Sourdough world, I am a cook and always have added fermented foods into the diet of myself and family. I have been fortunate to travel around the world years back spending extended time in India and Europe learning and studying food and beverages of other cultures.


Q

Where do you see the business going in the near future? How do you hope to have influence in the health of the community and consumer market at large?

A

The Kombucha category is obviously a high growth category. When we started our business, we did not get into the space knowing or expecting that. Our singular goal was to provide a healthy beverages that was unique in taste and profile. Rather than eat into the existing Kombucha market, we aimed to broaden the market and put our beverages in new venues. Not all Kombucha is created equal and our low sugar content and flavor profile has helped us continue to achieve growth and we look forward to seeing where this journey takes us.  

On a more innovative front, we truly believe Kombucha belongs as a healthy non-alcoholic option throughout the food service and hospitality world and believe we can be the leaders in this space. We are now in restaurants and cafes throughout the country, and are excited to continue to be a leader in the draft kombucha world bringing a healthy alternative to consumers.  In San Francisco, you can find us in venues such as Chez Panisse, Boulevard, Manresa, and Viva La Tarte.

// Marin Kombucha can be found on tap at a variety of Bay Area restaurants, in addition to Northern California Costco stores. marinkombucha.com; Photo courtesy of Marin Kombucha.


Isabella Welch is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in history. Her writing has been featured in history journals, travel blogs, arts & culture magazines, and more. Director of Editorial & Creative Development at Bob Cut Mag, lover of stories and tinto de verano, she’s usually found wandering the Headlands.


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