It is easy to miss some of the best beer in Portland if you only go by what you’ve heard about. Due to the insulated nature of our state – most breweries (especially the crop that have opened in the last three years) keep their beers in Maine or New England, and many are on-premise or growler only, which doesn’t make it easy for non-locals to find them. The places or beers that out-of-state visitors have heard of are a combination of those that have a) been distributed the farthest, b) have been in existence the longest, or c) are the most sought after or talked about. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those are the first places that should be on a visitor’s list, however. [Read more…]
So, while I may have spent an exorbitant amount of time learning about beer and beer styles, I admit that I never came across the word Kombucha until a few weeks ago. Or maybe I had seen it and just not thought it was relevant. But when I was at a local beer store, looking into their cooler at a row of glass bottles from Urban Farm Fermentory – one caught my eye that had lots of words I didn’t know on it.
“Urban Farm Fermentory – Kombucha Culture – Chaga Chai” the bottle said.
“Handcrafted. Bottle Conditioned. Gluten Free. Keep Refrigerated. 500 ML. 1.5% ALC By Vol.”
I stared at the label and thought two things. First, this I wouldn’t be staring at this bottle in the middle of the beer/mead/wine section if it didn’t belong in that general category. Second, I like chai tea so I thought I’d bring it home and figure out what it’s all about later.
Well after some Googling I found out the answer. Kombucha is a beverage made from fermented tea, that contains live yeasts and bacteria and creates its own carbonation. So it’s in the family of fermented beverages. Typically, it is served with the actual culture still intact (think that kind of film that forms on the top of a glass of juice when you leave it out for a few days… if you are squeamish you’ll want to skip searching Google Images for this, trust me). Chaga, on the other hand, is a type of fungus that grows only on Birch trees, and has purported health benefits.
So far I’ve gathered that it’s fermented tea with fungus inside. Sounds delicious! Always up for an adventure, I decided to crack this open and give it a shot.
It pours a tea color, but with some definite carbonation present. The big bubbles almost spit at the top of the glass (like a great Czech pilsner would) and the smell is unique. It definitely has a little tea flavor, but I’m hit mostly with an acetic acid (vinegar) and almost an apple undertone. Not having any idea what this should smell like, I just dove in for a sip.
I was pleasantly surprised – the taste was a lot more like cider than I imagined it would be. There was a tight tartness – the kind that dries out your mouth a little like vinegar. But the tartness was mellowed by a bunch of spice notes – almost like the spices that would accompany a spiced chai latte. I ended up describing it as a “tart apple cider with a little bit of chai spice” when I had to fit its description into a 140-character-or-less statement. I would try it again if offered, and if nothing else it was an interesting learning experience. Also, with under 2% alcohol, you could probably drink this for breakfast.
Now, Urban Farm Fermentory is also well known for their ciders – and I had the opportunity to try their Hopped Cidah as well. This one is a little more familiar in appearance and in taste. It pours a beautiful straw yellow that’s cloudy with big bubbles. The aroma is all fresh apples and the taste takes on a very earthy characteristic – like you’ve just eaten a big part of a fresh McIntosh apple peel. The earthiness is probably due to the Cascade hops, and it adds an interesting element to it. This is not a “hoppy” cider, particularly, but the hops bring a nice new dynamic to something you might be used to.
Urban Farm Fermentory (also known as UFF) is part of the “yEast Bayside” community that includes Rising Tide Beer, Bunker Brewing, Maine Craft Distilling and Tandem Coffee Roasters. The area there seems to be rich for collaboration, experimentation, and community-focused endeavors. I can only wait with anticipation to see what else comes out of this blossoming area.