A few years into his sobriety, Ian Ceppos found himself craving a drink. Not the alcoholic drinks he had once enjoyed, but something non-intoxicating he could drink in a social setting with friends or over dinner.
Unimpressed by the sugary sodas and juices available, and not wanting to live the rest of his life on water alone, Ceppos, a commercial real estate broker, began to explore the ancient art of making kombucha, a fermented tea with a refreshing, tart flavor that can be reminiscent of a beer or other alcoholic beverage. His wife, Liz, who had a background in business, soon joined him in the quest. They quickly got good at making the beverage, like best-kombucha-I’ve-ever-had good at it.
In the spring of 2017, they launched Cross Culture Kombucha and began offering the drink on tap in Danbury at Mothership Bakery & Cafe and Pour Me. They produce a sought-after line of kombucha. Flavors range from hopped kombucha to mojito, and they are available at more than 50 restaurant and stores, mostly in Fairfield County, and at the Fairfield and Westport farmers markets.
Cross Culture will open the first kombucha taproom in the state on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 5 p.m. The building housing the Cross Culture brewery and taproom is at 52 Division St. in downtown Danbury. Slated to be open three days a week at first, the taproom is small with a polished wooden bar and modern brewery aesthetic. Located at the front of the kombucha brewery, it will be a place visitors can try a variety of the beverages and fill growlers while hanging out in an alcohol-free environment.
Originating in ancient China, kombucha is made with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY). The resulting drink has many organic acids, beneficial bacteria, vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes that are, like other fermented foods, thought to aid in gut health.
Personally, though I always liked the idea of kombucha, my first interactions with the drink were unpleasant. Most widely distributed kombuchas I tried had a tangy, earthy flavor with a vinegar aftertaste that I couldn’t manage for more than a few sips.
Then I tried Cross Culture’s kombucha. Free of the vinegar and tang and without the unpleasant aftertaste, Cross Culture’s product was an ever-so-slightly tart and infinitely refreshing drink that reminded me of a hard cider or sour beer.
Liz says the Cross Culture secret is freshness and careful taste-testing. Each batch of Cross Culture kombucha starts as a tea. Then the fermentation process begins, which varies in length.
“We pull it at precisely the time that we think the taste is just right,” Liz says. “We call it a tea-forward flavor, rather than something that’s fruit forward or more of a juice.”
She adds that many grocery-store varieties of kombucha have to travel so far they are not as fresh and overly fermented. Some varieties also add juice, which can degrade the taste.
Liz and Ian say they don’t like to push the drink on people. As with non-alcoholic beer, for some non-drinkers, kombucha’s similarity to alcohol can act as a trigger. And although Liz and Ian’s kids, who are both under 10, love the drink, they say it’s a beverage designed with adults in mind.
Cross Culture products are bottled and sold at some retail spots, but Liz and Ian are primarily focused on getting it into restaurants and bars on tap, where it can take its place alongside other fermented beverages.
When you go out, there “are binders of options for alcohol,” says Liz, adding when you ask for something non-alcoholic, the only options will be soda and maybe milk. “It’s time for something else that people can be excited about.”