Duluth’s Lincoln Park craft district has gained another fermented beverage maker. But this one won’t be competing with Bent Paddle and Lake Superior Brewing. Duluth Kombucha set up shop at the Duluth Folk School on Aug. 1.
For those unacquainted with kombucha, it’s an effervescent fermented tea that has been gaining popularity over the past several years. Many claim consuming it brings a host of health benefits.
Duluth Kombucha’s owner Rachelle Rahn started drinking kombucha a few years back when she had a cold she couldn’t seem to shake. On her boyfriend’s advice, Rahn bought some kombucha at the co-op. After drinking it, she felt better, which made her a believer. She started drinking it every day and credits it with improving her health.
“I never tell anyone it’s a cure-all but it gives me more energy and makes me feel better,” she says. “It’s good for your gut health, it has probiotics and also B vitamins.”
A disclaimer for the uninitiated: Rahn recommends starting with 2 ounces a day and working up to 4, 6 and then 8-ounce servings so as not to shock the digestive system.
Because Rahn was consuming a lot of commercially-produced kombucha (which sells for roughly $4 a 16-ounce bottle), she decided to attempt making her own. After producing a batch too big for personal consumption, she made a post on Facebook to ask if friends or family wanted some. She got a quick and enthusiastic response and positive feedback, so she kept brewing more.
The next time Rahn had excess kombucha she asked for a donation and wondered if people would pay. They happily did, which led her to start Duluth Kombucha in 2016 as a delivery service, taking orders by email and social media.
Entrepreneurial ideas seem to come easy for Rahn. She used to pick flowers by the side of the road and then sell bouquets when she was a child. In college, she studied business management. She once perfected a homemade craft beer ice cream and launched a Kickstarter to help fund it but was shut down by restrictive state liquor laws. She also used to make dog scarves and sell them on Etsy.
With kombucha, Rahn appears to have found her niche. She credits local Small Business Administration counseling with keeping her focused on the steps needed to move her business forward.
Cottage industry laws allow Rahn to ferment kombucha at home and sell bottles direct to customers. She’s been brewing in small batches of several gallons per week while maintaining a full-time gig as front-of-house manager at OMC Smokehouse.
Duluth Kombucha uses fresh and organic ingredients and ferments in whiskey barrels from Duluth Barrel Works. Rahn enjoys creating unique and odd flavors like peach chai and blackberry celeriac. She’s used coffee and hops in her brews too.
“People say to me ‘You put celeriac in your kombucha, what are you thinking?’” she jokes.
The uncommon concoctions have been in demand. Each time Rahn posts about a new batch of kombucha, it sells out within the same day. People have sought her out and asked her to table at events and festivals. She has taught workshops on kombucha-making at different venues.
Rahn is transitioning out of her regular job in September so she can give Duluth Kombucha her full attention. She was planning to buy a building and open a brick-and-mortar storefront. Then she heard Duluth Folk School had studio space for rent in its new Lincoln Park location. She talked to Bryan French, the school’s director, and decided it was a great fit.
Since the folk school and kombucha business are both creative works in progress, the burgeoning West End hub for artisan and handmade goods is an appropriate locale for them. “It’s a great opportunity because I’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who are all in the same space. It’s a consortium of local businesses and makers who share the same values and vision,” says Rahn.
Rahn has the capacity to produce as much as 20 gallons per week. Eventually, she’ll be brewing in a commercial kitchen — possibly within the folk school — so that she can scale up and sell kegs wholesale.
Duluth Kombucha will start keeping regular hours in mid-September. Initially, the location will serve as a pick up location. Rahn will be on hand so that people can come in and learn about kombucha. “I get a lot of questions that are hard to answer over Facebook,” she says.
The folk school will enlist Rahn to teach workshops on how to brew kombucha when its teaching kitchen is completed. Eventually, her kombucha will be on tap at the Dovetail Café. Rahn thinks it will be a mutually beneficial arrangement and says she’s excited to set up in the space. She looks forward to helping shape what happens there.
“It will let me be creative in how I’m growing my business, but help make sure I don’t grow too fast. I want to make sure what I’m doing is sustainable and makes sense.”
Other purveyors of locally-made booch:
Snooty Fox Tea Shop has rotating flavors such as pina colada and cucumber mint available by the flight or glass in the shop. Customers can also take home a bottle or growler.
Endion Station Public House started devoting one of its taps to Saurer Kombucha in June. Marissa Saurer, marketing director for Endion’s parent company Just Take Action, brews the kombucha on site. Flavors such as cherry/ginger and mango are available by the glass.
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